Thursday, 29 September 2011

' "I'd kill you in a second." He laughed: "yeah, I know." '

Today I learned some sciency things about the brain. Did you know that as well as the fight or flight response that we have in times of stress, there is also another response? We freeze. Of course, in the real world, these situations apply less to freezing in front of sabre tooth tigers thus leading to being eaten, but more to normal every day tasks which we find difficult. As in- homework looks hard! Can’t do it! Freeze! Which in turn leads to procrastination.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I’m finding the idea of maintaining a blog and a full time PGCE stressful and the result is that I Freeze! and procrastinate on my blog, whether through not posting much or not commenting on other people’s blogs. But I want to get better and I will try harder. For anyone wondering, I am still reading your blogs. What would help is if there were any definite topics I had to write about, so if anyone has anything they would love to hear my *opinion* on (I don't know why you would but still) let me know. :)

So, boys and girls, after that rambling introduction I thought I’d talk about the topic of death- or more specifically, goodies killing baddies. Death is a funny thing in novels. In real life, I’m a pacifist. I don’t agree with killing under any circumstances. That’s not to say that I think all rapists and murderers deserve to live, but that I don’t agree with the act of the person who has to electrocute or inject them- I don’t agree that anyone should be a killer, legal or otherwise. But anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here so I’ll get back to the point. In real life, death isn’t taken lightly. I have my views. You have yours. Mr and Mrs down the street have theirs. Most people will have an opinion on killing. Most people don’t ever expect to see it in their lives.

With that in mind, try now to imagine seeing someone get killed. Blood, guts, bowel releases, the whole extravaganza. I know I’m being graphic here, but it’s to help make you place it. If it were me, I’d be throwing up at the sight. I’d probably faint, histrionic as that sounds. 

So why in books is goodies killing baddies often taken lightly? I’m talking about protagonists who kill villains and don’t even blink. They look forward to doing it. They desire it.

I think it’s general consensus now that readers want true-to-life characters who react properly to things, but the death of a bad guy is still lacking that grounding in reality. I think part of the problem is that as authors, most of us have no idea what witnessing a real murder feels like, so we assume that if it’s a bad guy then we won’t care.

I could be wrong but I disagree with this. I’ll admit I feel queasy at the first sight of blood so I’m always going to be on the stronger end of the spectrum, but I think that it doesn’t matter who’s injured or killed: the sight of someone who’s insides are clearly outside should set our gag reflexes going. When it comes down to it, the sight of a dead person should strip us down to our basest instincts: Humans want and expect to see other humans alive, not dead. Obviously, I’m not talking about army vets or doctors here, but for the average guy on the street who becomes a reluctant hero and then finds they’ve killed someone, there should be more of a response than ‘oh, he’s dead.’ I think the sight of a mutilated body will always come across as wrong, no matter whose it is. 

This can go a step further. Why do we make our protagonists want to kill the bad guy? Would we, ourselves, be so eager to kill someone in real life? There’s no coming back from killing, and I do believe the act changes you. If a protagonist decides they have to kill someone, this should be done after an agonising amount of thought.

Yes, I’m overthinking it. If you don’t expect this from me by now then I don’t know whose blog you’ve been reading but it isn’t mine. Perhaps you could argue that the news has desensitised us to violence, but I think that seeing something on a TV from the safety of your house and actually living it are poles apart in their differences.

Is this a topic any of you’ve ever thought much about? Have you found yourself killing off a baddie and had your protagonist act completely blasé about it? Have I now sent you into an editing frenzy as you quickly change your characters’ responses? (Trust me, I’m not expecting that J). I’m fully aware that the above is just my opinion so feel free to let me know if you agree/disagree with it and why!


Selina said...

I learned that last week :P so I feel like a know it all already. I think to kill off a baddie, you need to distance yourself from a character so much that it doesn't mean anything to you. Otherwise you end up feeling for fictional characters and it can be like a complicated relationship

prerna pickett said...

my characters don't usually kill baddies, in fact the baddies they deal with aren't even human, and I think that would make some what of a difference. I can't picture murdering another human being, fictional or otherwise (that's not entirely true, if anyone ever tries to hurt one of my children, I might rethink that whole not killing thing, but only parents can get that one). But I do like when characters knock off another person and show real emotion about it.

Ashley Nixon said...

Ekk. I find my characters are sympathetic or afraid to kill their enemies when the opportunity comes. I think some of it is honor, and really, though they hate them, they aren't that excited to take lives.

That said...I did realize my characters (the good ones) come from a bad past...and are deeply regretful about it. They struggle more internally.

I agree that I don't agree with killing in any way...I think perhaps, in my books, it is merely...a part of the world? The types of books I read (mostly fantasy) kind of warrants this type of behavior. It's the days of Richard II, Edward IV, Henry VII Henry VIII--all they did was begin wars!

Ruth Josse said...

Hey, I have an award for you over on my blog!

Peggy Eddleman said...

I totally agree! And even if I didn't, I don't think I could write it. I have a really hard time making characters really bad.

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