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11 December 2006 @ 01:32 pm
The fictional character's survival guide  
So, at a holiday party last night with some fellow Arizona children's book writers, we got to talking (by way of a discussion of Stranger Than Fiction, which I've not seen yet) about what it takes for a fictional character to survive to the end of the story. About what we would teach, if we were running a survival school for fictional characters.

The most obvious, first and foremost lesson was: If you can't be the hero of the story, make sure you're a minor character. The hero has a good chance of surviving. So does the mailman. But the secondary sidekick is probably toast. But make sure you're not too minor a character. Then you become easy to kill again.

A corollary, or maybe just another way of putting this being: Don't be so compelling that your death would make for good story. But don't be so minor/barely noticeable that you make convenient cannon fodder, either.

But surely, this is only the beginning. What other survival tips do you all have, for fictional characters who'd like to survive the machinations of their writers?
(Deleted comment)
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on December 11th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC)
How could I forget: Don't be a teacher. Especially not a particularly wise one. Especially not a particularly wise teacher responsible for the teaching of a major character.
~twilight~_twilight_ on December 11th, 2006 10:07 pm (UTC)
If you're the character that people love to hate, learn a valuable lesson about life, friendship, etc...
Emma Bull: Make a notecoffeeem on December 12th, 2006 03:41 am (UTC)
...and then you can die tragically!
~twilight~_twilight_ on December 12th, 2006 04:12 am (UTC)
I'm still rooting for Snape. ;)
~twilight~: anime_me_twilight_ on December 11th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
How could I forget this one? Don't be the beloved pet in historical fiction. ;)
kimberly gonzalezkimberlycreates on December 11th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
- Don't invade Earth

- Don't sell out your country to the aliens in order to save your own neck

- Don't be anybody's beloved pet at any time

- Don't fall head over heels in love with a young foreigner after your spouse dumps you

- Don't have a major fight with your significant other the day you have to go off to war, do something heroic, then reunite with him/her

- Don't get anybody pregnant before going to war -- use protection!

- Conversely, if you are impregnated by the hero/sidekick/minor character, you stand a pretty good chance of surviving -- so don't use protection! (Just understand that your baby's father will likely not see his child born.)

- Don't be anybody's mentor
Johndjonn on December 12th, 2006 12:30 am (UTC)
First person narrators almost never die. (I'd say "never", but SF and fantasy tend to bend this rule occasionally.)

In murder mysteries, the character the protagonist is trying desperately to clear of the murder almost never dies. He or she may go through severe physical or emotional situations, but most of the time the character survives; the author needs that character to keep the protagonist motivated.

In SF/fantasy, being the protagonist's mentor works about two-thirds of the time; either you survive, or you get promoted to quasi-immortality. (Mentors who do die the Bad Way tend to do so in the first few chapters, and have typically made the mistake of trying to take on the villains themselves rather than leaving the job to the protagonist.

Characters in funny novels and stories tend to have much less risk of death than characters in action/adventure novels, murder mysteries, thrillers, and so forth.

Romance novel villains have a far better chance of survival if they avoid deflowering, molesting, or physically injuring the heroine. (Seduction is sometimes safe, but only if the villain is good enough at it to make the heroine believe it was All Her Idea. Otherwise, it's much, much safer to resist the urge to bed the protagonist.)

Stay out of all forms of spy novels and thrillers unless you have an ironclad contract as either (a) the comic relief, or (b) technical support for the protagonist (i.e. supplying gadgets, historical briefings, etc.). If your author is writing a horror novel, however, neither of the above roles are safe. *No one* in a horror novel is safe, with the possible exception of the Ultimate Evil Force opposing the protagonist, who never dies for good no matter how often the protagonist or the author thinks otherwise.
aranelaranel on December 12th, 2006 03:15 am (UTC)
If you're in a murder mystery, the safest person to be is the sleuth. You are likely to be attacked but very, very seldom will you actually die. The most dangerous person to be is often someone who (1) knows something the sleuth doesn't but hasn't yet revealed it, or (2) is the red herring the reader suspects till very nearly the end of the book. It's also relatively safe to be the killer--certainly moreso than being an innocent suspect or other innocent connected with the crime. Unlike in certain other genres, being the sleuth's longtime sidekick or friend has a very low death risk.
Holly Blackblackholly on December 12th, 2006 12:41 am (UTC)
What a great idea!

- The hotter you are, the longer you'll live. Dress accordingly.
some guy named Larrylnhammer on December 12th, 2006 04:07 pm (UTC)
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on December 12th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
This explains so much. :-)
J. Kathleen Cheneyj_cheney on December 12th, 2006 12:54 am (UTC)
So we're watching all the seaason of Stargate. My observation: You don't want to be one of the team member's alien boyfriends (for Carter) or girlfriends (for Daniel and Teal'C).

Generalization: Don't have an affair with a prominent member of a long running TV series. You'll die at the end of the episode.
(Deleted comment)
J. Kathleen Cheneyj_cheney on December 12th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
Some of them last several episodes, but you know they're doomed as soon as you see one.

(Were only in season six, so I'm sure we'll run through a bunch more guys (and gals))
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(Deleted comment)
dsgood on December 12th, 2006 02:10 am (UTC)
Don't disagree with the writer's political beliefs.
Emma Bull: Make a notecoffeeem on December 12th, 2006 03:44 am (UTC)
Or do.
Johndjonn on December 12th, 2006 02:12 am (UTC)
Advice for villains: choose an Evil Goal that does not require the death or permanent removal of the protagonist. The number of times you can almost conquer the world and survive is much larger than the number of times you can engage in death-duels with the protagonist and survive.

A villain with a sense of style, wit, and/or humor will live longer than a villain who is merely a ruthless psychopath (except in a horror story).

A wise villain does not make alliances with allegedly higher evil powers (demons, elder gods, shadowy councils of Illuminati); such powers tend to react badly to failure, and will kill you on a whim without even giving you a properly dramatic death scene.
aranelaranel on December 12th, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)
And whatever you do, don't work for the main villain. If you can't be villain #1, it's a really poor choice to be a bad guy at all.
Malkin Greymalkingrey on December 12th, 2006 03:01 am (UTC)
If you're about to go into battle, or on a dangerous mission of any kind, don't show anybody the photo of your sweetheart you've been carrying with you in your wallet all this time. If it's your wife's picture, you're somewhat safer, provided you didn't get her knocked up on your last home leave and she's just written to you with the happy news.

If you've only got one day left before retirement, or only one mission left before you're due to get rotated out of the combat zone, whatever you do, don't let the author know.

If you're a tired old cop with only a few weeks left on the job, and your supervisor tries to partner you with a still-wet-behind-the-ears young hotshot on his first day with the force, consider spraining your ankle on the front steps of the station house and getting reassigned to desk duty for the duration.
Emma Bull: Make a notecoffeeem on December 12th, 2006 03:53 am (UTC)
Be irreplaceable: "Sure, the protagonist can pilot the starship, and shoot like an Olympic champion, and is guaranteed to win every space dogfight ever under any circumstance. But does she know the greeting rituals of the SooKooChi tribe, without which it will be impossible to get through the jungle to the giant idol of Kaplooi and steal the fabled gem that is its eye? No? Then she'd better be nice to me."

If you are a pulp adventure fiction character, do not be polite and well-spoken. If you are, you're the villain, and the trash-talking uncouth hero will throw you into your own tiger pit at the end of the (very short, we're-talking-Ace-doubles-here) novel. This great truth was revealed to me in a long-ago issue of Mad magazine. Also true for cheesy adventure movies and serials.
agilemonotreme on December 12th, 2006 05:32 am (UTC)
Science procedural version
Don't be a scientist in possession of both a deadly virus and incredible hubris.
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