December! For those imaginary people who don’t know and are deeply concerned about the status of my NaNovel, I did hit the 50,000 mark on the 30th, although the book itself probably needs another 20-30K. I’ll aim to have it finished for the end of the year, but I will now also have time to write other things, such as – this very blog! I am excited. Upcoming topics include how Steven Moffat went from being my hero to making me want to string the Eleventh Doctor up by his suspenders and feed him bowties until he learns that agonising sexism does not enchant me, and weird metaphors using hair colour to stand in for gender and why gender in general confuses the hell out of me if I think about it for more than 15 seconds.
However, first, what we obviously need is one more NaNoWriMo post to wrap-up my thoughts on the month. As I’ve noted before, the most powerful bit of wisdom I got in terms of teaching myself to write again was the dual realisation that 1) if I gave myself permission to write terrible stuff instead of perfect prose, I could actually write much more and much faster than I thought, and that 2) it still did not suck. But beyond that, there were some other fascinating moments.
I posted some time back about the internal conflict I faced when the only character in my novel that I felt able to kill off was, unrelatedly, also the only major gay character. For whatever reason, QUILTBAG presence was also one of the major topics of discussion on the NaNoWriMo forums this year (I’m told they have trends like that every year), and at least one gay person spoke up to specifically state his absolute scorn for the Bury Your Gays page of TVTropes. Not for the (in his view) obsolete trends of killing off gay characters, but for people who have the TVTropes obsession with cataloguing things and so automatically categorise every single death of a character who happens to be gay as ‘dead because gay’. He said, basically, that he was less concerned with whether the character dies and more with whether they were any good while they were alive.
So I thought more about the physician (Lukas) and why I had been uncomfortable about killing him off, and the first scene he showed up in, and realised that the problem was not so much any of his character traits as his flatness – not so much a character as a device. Once I started writing him in circumstances that got real reactions out of him, he became far more interesting – shy, sarcastic, intensely overworked but totally adores his job, that sort of thing. And with a more 3D persona, I found the idea of killing him off much less uncomfortable. (Conversely, the king has received much less pagetime than I expected and remains kind of flat – I’d feel weird about killing him off, because it would seem to me more like that was the only purpose he served, which I don’t really think any character deserves.)
However, spoilers, Lukas is still not going to get killed off, because I’ve also determined that I’m just not that into it. There are far more interesting ways to show that the situation is serious or to make a permanent harmful impact on a character. (Additional spoilers for the end of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series: with a couple of episodes left to go, the current villain catches the heroes in a trap and manages to kill off a bunch of secondaries. He also gets his hands on Xander and gouges his eye out with his thumb. Scariest gorram thing I had ever seen a villain do, and this is a series on which villains have successfully killed the heroine twice and Willow once flayed a guy with her mind.)
When a character gets killed off in a story I’m reading, the majority of the time I don’t really feel sorrow – I either feel cheated by the author, because they’ve invested time in a character and then abruptly cut off that storyline and made the character development irrelevant (George RR Martin, I scorn at you, and same to you, every Star Wars author involved in developing Anakin Solo’s storyline) or vaguely “Well, that’s unfortunate, but I still know the heroes will be okay” (this is what Brandon Sanderson usually gets from me). The first author who comes to mind as evoking a real sorrowful reaction to the death of a character is JK Rowling. If it makes sense to say so, I think when she killed someone off, she managed to do it in a way that brought their character arc to a real end (thus I don’t feel cheated) while still allowing that their life should have continued (thus their death still hits me emotionally). How she does this – I am not sure.
And it is increasingly clear to me that Lukas’ character arc is not over by the end of the book, because I know there’s a sequel ready across the sea, when Eliane and Théo return home after this story ends, and both of them are rather important to him right now – I think he’ll be going too, at least temporarily. My characters have thus far been stomped by collapsing houses*, blown up in alcohol fires, sliced by broken windows, shanked with a juggler’s knives, nearly drowned, savaged by an unkillable berserker, seared with magical radiation, and we’re not even into the part of the story where things really go bad. It’s safe to say they’re really going to need the magical surgeon with them in the sequel if they want to keep the majority of their limbs.
Also, one of the last scenes I wrote before hitting 50K was a fantastically hybridised argument/flirtation/medical treatment between Lukas and Théo and I’m finding it hard to imagine that I could ever get tired of those two. I guess I’ll see what happens once Lukas’ claim/excuse that Théo might be an assassin sent to topple the government becomes too improbable for them to not properly mack on each other.
*Connor and Haldis actually managed to burn down the same house twice in twenty-four hours, which is kind of impressive if you think about it.