Guest blogger: Elise K Ackers
I was listening to an audio book in my car recently; white-knuckle driving, my heart racing to keep pace with the odometer—the main character was up against it, and I was right there with him. Nate’s arms were pinned and the thugs surrounding him were threatening to kill his loyal little dog. Breath held, I waited for the last-minute save, for someone to intercept, for good to triumph over evil.
But the rescue never came. The dog died. Horrifically.
I had to pull over. Shock became grief, which became anger. What the hell, author? I loved that little dog—you made me love him! Didn’t you love him, too? Too far. You went too far.
Had it being a book, I would have thrown it.
Or maybe I wouldn’t have …
Unable to hold the words against my chest, I held myself, and waited. I listened as Nate wept over the body of his best friend. In my mind, I was on my knees beside him. His loss was my loss, and the author was as evil as that unthinkable act.
A few days later, I’d calmed down. I’d finished the book, and hindsight had shown me the foreshadowing I’d missed. I’d also reached the book’s satisfying conclusion. It was Nate’s need for justice that had fuelled his courage. His loss had been the turning point.
I still hate that the sweet creature met a cruel end, but I don’t hate the author anymore. In fact, I admire her. I realised that she had been brave with her story. She’d taken the plot blade and wielded it, and the outcome was a book I’ll never forget.
I have read thousands of books full to bursting with characters I adore. I’ve suffered with them, triumphed with them—I was at their elbow for every smart remark, courageous act, and clumsy mistake; and yet, I didn’t always wish them a happy ever after. The story might have been weakened by such a thing or, worse yet, made unrealistic. So when authors promise me loss and heartache, I brace for it—when they deliver, I mourn. These authors’ names are embossed in gold leaf in my mind.
Then there’s the flip-side: when the author doesn’t deliver. When the author has become too emotionally invested, too attached to her or his fictional creations. They carry their readers forward with high stakes and deadly drama … then find a loophole. Everyone’s fine. Cue the sunset and the fade-to-black. Personally, that leaves me feeling cheated.
I recognise that there’s a place for happy ever afters—and I’m a sucker for them; but sometimes it can read like a cop-out.
Imagine if JK Rowling’s epic seven-book saga had ended with Harry waking from a dream, or if the final battle we’d all been waiting for had run its course without a single good-guy fatality. We didn’t want anyone to die, but it was war—for seven years these characters had been fighting for their lives—death was inevitable for some, or else would we have believed the stakes? Would we have bought into the darkness and malice, if it had consistently come to nothing?
JK Rowling did not wait for the seventh book to break our hearts—as many of us know, she started breaking them much earlier. She introduced us to someone enchanting or otherwise—someone we couldn’t imagine the story proceeding without—then she ripped them from existence.
I applaud her for it.
George RR Martin is similarly bold with his characters’ fates.
As an author, I consistently come up against this choice. It’s not always a matter of life or death, sometimes I just have to ask myself if my characters get what they want. Will I be brave, will I dare to upset my readers? Will these same readers later thank me for my tough decisions?
My romantic suspense title, Small Town Storm, was full of such conundrums; how far could I twist a mother’s love, how much weight could I heap on young shoulders? The day I introduced a character I knew would eventually die, was the day I understood what all the authors before me had done.
They’d done what was necessary to keep a reader turning the pages.
I still think about that little dog, and I still pity the boy who lost him. That right there, is a success story. A horror story, a tragedy—it’s all of those things, too—but it’s what keeps me coming back to fiction. I don’t want the emergency exit, I want the full ride.
Cheers to brave fiction, hurrah for characters who run the full gamut, and thank you to those authors who dare to abandon the easy path. I’ve lived and died a thousand times through your courageous words.
Elise K Ackers
Nineteen years after a devastating crime almost killed her, Erica Lawrence has returned home. In the small town of Olinda, her story is legend. And now everyone knows she’s back, including top cop and her childhood friend, Jordan Hill, the only person to ever touch her guarded heart.
When a woman’s body is found brutally murdered, suspicion soon falls on Olinda’s newest resident and even Jordan must admit that the evidence is stacking up against the woman he swore to protect.
While Jordan and Erica struggle with their feelings for each other, the murders continue and the tension in town grows. Together, they must find a way to prove Erica’s innocence – before she becomes the killer’s next victim.
You can buy Small Town Storm here.