The first book I ever wrote (alright, let’s say the first book that I ever finished writing) was supposed to be a prequel to another book that I really wanted to write. Now the rather obvious thing about a prequel is that any characters that are supposed to appear in subsequent stories are obliged to look after themselves. They might go through some torrid times, suffer the odd unexpected mutilation or disfiguring scar and the like, but, fundamentally, when the reader closes the book at the end, they have to be still alive. On the whole, this is quite important. Unless you’re writing about the undead, or some sort of eternal embodiment of good, evil, carrots, etc. Or they might be wizards with clever arcane ways of not being dead after all.
Or maybe it was a vision, or a dream, or maybe they time-travel from the past to appear in future installments before travelling back again in order to be snuffed out at the appropriate point… OK, OK, there are quite a lot of ways of getting around a character being dead. That’s not the point.
The point is that my leading protagonist wasn’t undead or a wizard or a time-traveller or the eternal avatar of some sort of root vegetable. He was an ordinary sword-slinging Joe. He was supposed to stay alive and play an important part in events to come, and he didn’t. This wasn’t some sort of accident, either. He set out to die with deliberate intent. When he left on his quest in chapter five or six or whenever it was, he already knew he wasn’t coming back. And he didn’t.
Non-writers boggle at this. How, they wonder, can a character possibly die when that’s not the author wants? How can they take on a life of their own to such an extent that the omnipotent creator of their world is no longer in control of their destiny? The trivial answer, obviously, is that they can’t, that said omnipotent creator can write whatever ending they damn well feel like. But it doesn’t work like that. Characters have to act with an internal consistency that drives them onwards and forces their path. Their choices are made for them, not by the author, but by their own beliefs and drives. The path of a tragic character, in hindsight, should seem almost inevitable, or perhaps swing on one decision, apparently of little consequence, early in the story. That’s how it works for me, at least. That’s what I like in what others write, and so that’s what I aim to follow. My character set off on his path, reached the end, duly died, and that story was much the better for it. The sequel never happened.
Why am I posting this? Because I’m about a third of the way through the King of the Crags, I’ve just stuck two characters in a room together, and had a very unexpected result. And this time, not writing a sequel will make my editor extremely tetchy.
It seems I have a bit of thinking to do…