The author killed the dog.
The dog, people!
Dogs happen to be my favorite animal. I've had at least one all of my life. So when this dog, this wonderfully-developed, three-dimensional character, bit it, it broke my heart. Dog demises account for the reasons that I don't particularly like Old Yeller, My Dog Skip, and Where the Red Fern Grows either. When a dog goes to the Great Rawhide Factory in the sky, that's when I check out.
So this dog proved himself as a fantastic sidekick to the main character, man's best friend and all that. He was dependable, funny, and loyal as only the best of dogs can be, a true hero. All of the characters in this author's novels exude a vital rawness, and the relationship between these two particular characters stands as a testament to the author's skill at developing that fictional bond.
As readers, we follow the main character as he grows throughout a novel. And growth oftentimes happens when one experiences great hardship. The strength gained from these difficult situations - physical trauma, a bad divorce, and yes, even the death of someone close - infuses the character with the power to overcome, to defeat the dark force at novel's end. Think of the fictional heroes who lost Obi Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore, Beth March, ALL of those doggie companions, and how we ached for their loss. The main character embarks on the intended journey, sometimes with a mentor or sidekick, be it human or animal, and when that relationship suffers, it catapults the main character into a new realm of realization.
I struggle to put my character's through that angst. It doesn't come naturally, so I'm not slaying bodies and fragile psyches with glee as I write. On the contrary, the suffering I inflict tends to materialize throughout the revisions. It's almost like I'm preparing the character(s) one blow at a time (which seems even more cruel now that I think about it), and each revision raises the degree of suffering.
I did finish that book, by the way. I tried finding solace in another book on the same night I cursed the death of the dog character. But after grieving for him for a few days, I fetched the book off the shelf again. It was a great book after all, aside from that one gut-wrenching plot point. I got through it, even enjoyed the rest of the story.
So go ahead and pull out the stops on your stories. Don't be timid taking life-or-death risks with your characters. You might be surprised by the emotional weight of a scene when the unthinkable happens to one of your characters. As long as eliminating a character makes sense to the story, try it.
But please don't kill any dogs.
KILLING THE DOG: READING (AND #WRITING) GUT-WRENCHING SCENES by @dmalonebooks http://goo.gl/aO5EDj #TheArtistUnleashed #WriteTip #SelfPub
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