Kill the Main Character

I like stories where important characters die. Sometimes violently. Often suddenly. Always by surprise.

I am reading George Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I am deep into Book 4 and have lost count of the number of seemingly major characters who have died over the previous four books.

My favorite TV show of the moment is The Walking Dead. I just caught up with the first half of season 3. ***Spoiler alert: from the beginning of the show to the most recent episode, people die. Lots of them.

I grew up reading both horror and fantasy novels. I read both genres for years and then just stopped. My complaint with both genres was lack of surprise. No matter how unique the adventure, how bold the quest, how vicious the monster, you could rest assured that the hero would survive and overcome. Dull, dull, dull.

When you know the hero is going to survive, there’s really nothing at stake. I love the moment of frisson when a major character fails. The whole narrative spins. Every assumption about the rules of the story get reexamined. Everything is fresh and uncertain and the characters who remain get a lot more interesting because there are no guarantees. Everything is suddenly at stake.

This works best in stories of epic scale, tales with plenty of major characters to spare. But you can’t just stock the shelves with disposable bodies. You must first make me care about them. I need to relate to their motivation and root for them to succeed. Don’t let the death be entirely meaningless. The death should be quick and merciless. It should happen suddenly from an unseen direction, but it cannot be random and it must advance the story and increase the dramatic tension. The death must diminish the hopes of those who remain and then, inexorably,  force them to grow and inhabit their potential in unexpected ways.

Don’t write the same story over and over again. Invent new rules. Twist the old rules. Be brave. Force your characters to be brave. Kill your major characters. Don’t let the reader get too comfortable. I don’t read to be comfortable. I read to destroy my beliefs and unmake my assumptions. Surprise me. Don’t let me relax. Disturb me. I will thank you. I will read your books.

Reading is fun again. Thanks, Kindle.

Just finished reading George Martin’s Game of Thrones. A truly great read. I enjoyed this book more than anything I have read in recent memory. Someday soon, I may write a fuller review. Not now.

For now, I’m just struck by how much fun it is to read. For the past year or so, I’ve been reading fairly serious stuff and thinking a lot about the mechanics of reading on an eReader. I have extolled the virtues of reading on the iPad and I stand by those comments. But reading on the dedicated Kindle reader is more fulfilling in some ways.

Reading on the iPad has a bit of artificiality to it. The iPad is great for my technical and professional reading. I can cover much more ground and gather news from a variety of sources. But the reading I do on the iPad is primarily for information, for learning, discovering and understanding. My iPad keeps me well-informed.

Somehow in all of this, I had forgotten how healthful it is for me to read for escape, to immerse myself in the details of a time/place that does not exist. I love print books because they are single-function devices. A good fiction book is an escape pod. You get in, pull the cord and go where it takes you. You don’t strictly get to decide where you are going. You are just going somewhere that isn’t here.

But, let’s be honest, print books are sometimes a bit of a drag. You’ve got to carry them around, keep up with them, remember to stick them in your work bag for lunch break, and you never seem to have them handy when you find yourself with an unexpected 15 minutes to read.

The Kindle, like a print book, is a totem. It is a magical object that does that same one thing. Except I can carry it everywhere because I can read on my eReader, my iPad app and my iPhone. Being able to pick up the story when and where I want is a liberating experience. It makes reading fun again.

Having written all this, I’m not sure if this post is about the Kindle making reading fun or simple my own rediscovery that fiction is fun and helpful to my overall well-being.

Either way, I love to read. Reading is fun again. I am grateful, at least in part, to Kindle for helping me rediscover that.