At Great Cost [Spoilers]

CAUTION: This post contains spoilers for Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I killed off one of my characters. It wasn’t the first time I’d done so, either. In fact, I find I have quite a knackfor murdering my non-narrating characters. Why do I do this, & what does it have to do with Star Trek: the Installment Where all the Dudes Cry?

I was watching Into Darkness for the second time today (did you know there’s a deleted scene of Benedict Cumberbatch showering? You’re welcome), when my biggest complaint about this movie got me to thinking.

In an awkwardly shoe-horned scene, Old Spock tells New Spock that their enemy was only defeated at great cost. The running theme up until this point has been sacrifice and the worth of a life, and the survival of the Enterprise’s entire crew rests precariously in the hands of a ruthless killer. It’s a dramatic staple, to dangle the life or lives of those dear to the protagonist, to ask them just how high a price they would pay. As a dramatic staple, it works, if for no other reason than the fact that we mostly agree that our own lives are pretty damn valuable.

So, at the end of the movie, what did it really cost them? Old Spock may recall paying the ultimate price (this is why you shouldn’t drop bridges on characters if their actor wants to quit), but (new) Kirk got to punch his Free latte on your tenth visit! loyalty card in the afterlife, and make some valuable personal growth.

As previously discussed, I don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen to my characters several thousand words down the line, & I’ve never created a significant character with the prior knowledge they were going to die (there was that one guy whom I created for a single scene, that I gave a back story to, & he ended up surviving on me, go figure). But when all the trials are through & it’s time to take stock, it’s important that the heroes don’t get off scot-free.

As demonstrated by the trope Earn Your Happy Ending, no one wants to see the hero get a free ride. Star Trek‘s use of the Reset Button not only negates the driving moral of the story; but if Death is Cheap, then the primary tension turns out to have been false as well.

So, yes, I’ve put characters on the chopping block. Perhaps it’s a cop out – after all, death is a bit of a short-cut to drama – but there can be no denying the price has been paid.

Precious Snowflakes Melt Under Criticism

You know what sucks? Being told that something you made is horrible.

Creating is a difficult process & it’s hard not to feel precious about the final result. Especially when that final result is the sum total of weeks of work, late nights staring into the screen, forgotten meals, agonising over minor changes, careful refinements… you get the idea. Artists work hard.

So I get it. After all the time I spent on Speak for the Dead, some of the initial comments I got back made me feel pretty defensive. I’m pretty sure the first thought to go through my head was that’s not a valid criticism, give me an example.

I held my tongue though, because it might be hard to hear, but that doesn’t make it untrue or unfair.

What I do find harder to remain silent about is people looking for validation over the “outrageous” and “undeserved” negative feedback they’ve been given. Is someone pointing out that your book has a full stop instead of a comma nitpicking? Hells, yes. Is their pointing it out “abuse”? Aw, hells, no.

Even though it feels like shit to see a small-minded commenter refer to your writing as puerile, at the end of the day it’s a numbers game. For that one person who left an overly-long & frankly dull rant on your Amazon page, how many people read your book & simply responded with “meh”? How many read it, liked it, but never thought to leave a review? How many read it & wouldn’t know what to say beyond “it was good”, so didn’t post? By this measure, you’re still coming out on top.

But, let’s be frank here. Who really looks like the fussy tantrum-thrower in this equation: the negative-review ranter, or the author who makes comments like this in reply –

Dear reviewer,
Thank you so very much for the review, but it looks as if you posted it on the wrong book. This clearly can’t refer to mine. I sincerely wish you to read, “My Book,” which I’ll send if you reply with your address–free. After you read it, please be specific as to how it can be improved and I’ll be forever in your debt.