Thursday, October 18, 2007

We interrupt this blog post about David Simon and The Wire to mention…

You could win an exclusive writing masterclass with Ian Rankin with the Scotsman & National Library of Scotland short story competition. Well, if you live in Scotland and can get your hands on a newspaper, anyway.

Wondering what David Simon has in mind to follow The Wire? Apparently, he plans to take on the Big Easy.

I miss Baltimore already.

Okay, this blog post really isn’t about David Simon and The Wire, but yesterday I noticed a friend and regular reader of this blog mentioned elsewhere they didn’t know who David Simon was, which made me realize I have obviously neglected fulfilling my regular quota for expressing my enthusiasm for Simon’s work.

But I can actually sum it up in short order in a way that this person can appreciate. David Simon is Laura Lippman’s husband.

I know this person knows who Laura Lippman is.

Okay, okay, The Wire does have something to do with my albeit scattered thoughts of the day. You see, I recently finished Frailty, and despite my angst over the book my first reader has assured me it’s brilliant. However, in bringing book 2 of a series to a close, my mind has already turned to the next project…

And I’m asking myself the question, Is it ever safe to kill off a protagonist? I’ve asked this in a bit of a looser format over at Crimespace but then, I also expect writers to be a bit more forgiving on the issue. After all, it’s our imaginary world and we’ve set ourselves up as God, so shouldn’t we be able to make the life and death decisions?

I have absolute admiration for a series like The Wire, where season after season, popular character after popular character has bit the dust. Season 1, episode 12… I can’t believe George Pelecanos* did that to Wallace. It’s probably the most disturbing scene of that whole season. And yet, completely fitting.

I’d like to believe that if it was truly fitting for a character to die that I would be brave enough to kill them off, and defend that choice. I have definitely killed off peripheral characters, close to protagonists. There was one in SC I really didn’t want to kill, but it was the right thing to do.

The problem for me is that I become attached to the protagonists, likeable or loatheable, and begin to feel their pain. I don’t even like putting them through the ringer. I don’t get some perverse satisfaction from tormenting my main characters. (Okay, there are a few peripheral characters I’m happy beating on from time to time, but not my protagonists.)

I suppose the reason I’m having such conflict over this is that one of my upcoming projects includes a story where the/a protagonist must die. Toward the end of Frailty I found myself procrastinating, not wanting to deal with the next scene because every scene was bringing me closer to something I didn’t want to do.

Am I the only one who finds it hard? Do I have some abnormal bond with my characters that’s making it difficult, or does everyone go through that? You know, as a reader I’m usually forgiving. As long as I feel it fits the tone of the work, I’ll accept the author’s choice.

But as a writer I find some of those big decisions tough to make.

* And if I had interviewed George Pelecanos for the upcoming Spinetingler Issue, I would have had a chat with him about that. As it is, we hope to have the new issue up in a few weeks, and there is an interview with George…


Brian said...

David who?

Seriously though, on a mixed list of writers (regardless of medium or genre) Simon's name is up there for me.

I think the breakdown is as follows:

The New Orleans show has filmed a pilot but hasn't gotten the green light yet.

The next next green lit project is a mini-series adaptation of Generation Kill, Evan Wrights book about the first wave invasion in Iraq. Imdb has casting info up already.

Anyone who is a fan of The Wire HAS to see The Corner. If only because some of the same cast is used and it is really wild seeing all these cops as junkies.

I wonder if he will write another book?

Whats great about Lippmand and Simon is that one handles the suburbs and one handles the city.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You are the Little Engine Who Could.
And The Corner was great. I wish that had had a second season.

Barbara said...

Have you read the New Yorker piece on Simon? It's great.

Both Elizabeth George and, more recently, Karin Slaughter killed series protagonists and a lot of readers were furious and swore never to read them again. I don't care for either series so have no opinion on how important it was for the series to move in that direction, or if it was just a shocker to shake things up, but the depth of anger was surprising to me.

It was like they'd murdered their friends!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Brian, LOL. Yeah, Simon's name is up high for me. When you watch something like The Wire you realize just how high the bar has been set...

Patti, I wish I was! As it is, I'm trying to find a place to buy housecleaning motivation.

Barbara, I thought of George and Karin Slaughter as well. In both cases I haven't read the work in question, so I can't offer a personal opinion, but the venom has been intense. I'm not sure it really surprises me, though, because that's one of the things about series characters - people do feel they're like family. They get possessive. They return to the series to catch up with old friends.

I think killing off a major character is quite a risk. For some reason, people seem to handle it better when it happens on tv.

John McFetridge said...

Oh, I don't know. I stopped watching The Wire when Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale were killed off (yeah, I know, I'll pick it up again soon, don't worry).

It wasn't because I really liked those characters (though I did), I thought it was the first cop-out on The Wire, the first time they tied up a loose end like that. Or really, in America, most organized crime eventually gets legitimate and I had wished they'd followed that storyline.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Um, John? Avon Barksdale wasn't killed off.

See, if you'd kept watching you'd know that! And Stringer? The man went up against Omar. Remember what Prop Joe said about going up against Omar? May as well shoot myself now and get it over with.

I CHEERED when Stringer bit it. I mean, the actor was fine to look at, but the character killed one of my favourites, so he deserved it.

John McFetridge said...

Over on Crimespace I mentioned what Ian Rankin has done with Big Ger Cafferty. That's the kind of thing I mean.

It's also the kind of thing you can really only do with series novels. Or, with cable limited series like The wire.

(I really just meant the way the Stringer-Avon relationship ended).

norby said...

Yeah, killing a character off, that's serious.

The Elizabeth George book-I didn't really like the character that much, but I was heartbroken when she died. Teared up even.

So even if the character isn't a favorite, killing them can be a big deal.

Josephine Damian said...

Take "Cold Mountain" and "The Horse Whisperer" (book, not the movie). Both protagonists are killed off at the end, and those novel are all the more effective, have more emotional resonance because those characters died.

My guess, a writer needs to ask themself: Why kill that character? Because you're sick of them and want to move on (Arthur Conan Doyle), or the character has served his or her purpose in a series and are now just taking up space (reason enough to any writer), but the writer must always consider the reader's attachment to that character.

Think twice before killing off someone.

Bottom line: if a character's death profoundly affects another significant character and is a huge factor in character arc, then I say killing them is a good idea.

Death is part of life, and every reader can relate to the profound sense of loss. I cried my eyes out when Inman died, and if you REALLY want a good cry over a character's death, check out "Bloodties" by Jennifer Lash (the late mother of actors Joseph and Ralph Fiennes).

PS "The Corner" was brilliant!