A Time To Kill (Your Characters)
Warning: If you are not caught up on Super Powereds: Year 3, then there be spoilers down below this point. Read on at your own risk, and know you were warned.
Generally speaking, I don’t often talk about why things in SP or Corpies happen the way they do. I feel like the stories themselves answer those questions through the ramifications actions have, and that as the story progresses things fall into place. For this example, however, I thought it was worth talking openly about my choice to kill a Lander student. One of the things I’ll get occasional e-mails about is how I feel about writers killing off their characters, and why I hadn’t done so. I’ve never been able to give a full answer to that question, knowing this was on the horizon but not being able to discuss it. Even today, I might fully articulate my thoughts on the matter, though I’m damned sure going to give it my best shot.
So… I killed off Sasha. I’ve known this was coming for a long while, basically since Year 2 began, although who was going to meet their end wasn’t always set in stone. But I’ve had years to think this plot point over, and while at times I wondered if it was necessary, no matter how I turned it around in my head, someone had to die.
As both a consumer and creator of books and movies, I hold the firm belief that no character should ever die without reason. Even in bloody ones like Game of Thrones, the constant death serves to underline the chaos and unpredictability of the world. It’s necessary so that the viewer/reader never feels too safe loving a character, just as the characters themselves never truly feel safe in their world.
Why did someone have to die in Super Powereds then? Because as the series goes on, you’ve all gotten to see more of the world surrounding Lander. It’s not an ideal place at all. People being randomly chosen to have unnatural gifts has sewn hatred and envy; and among those graced with such power not all see themselves as humanity’s protectors. Except for a few flashbacks though, you only ever hear about that in hypothetical or historical terms. Older Heroes talk about the world, but on Lander things are safe and semi-serene, comparatively.
The attack on Lander’s campus was a taste of the darker parts of the world outside its secure halls. That was their real world breaking through the one they live in during training. And in that world, the stakes are much higher. Mistakes come with costs, and sometimes even doing everything right means that people are lost.
Death is not a thing I think should be thrown around lightly. Any character might be one that a reader has deeply connected with, and killing them can… well it can really suck. Not to mention their absence might weaken the remaining work as a whole. It should be used purposefully, and in this case I did it to signify the shift in tone and world outlook that was occurring as the students edge closer to leaving their protected world and entering the dangers of their future career.
Hopefully that conveys my ideas on when and how death should be wielded as a tool by a writer, but even as I write this on Thursday the 14th, before even the teaser has gone up let alone the next chapters where death is confirmed, I’m sure some of you will have asked in the comments why Sasha? Why did she need to die? Was she stuffed in the fridge just to piss of Vince and traumatize Alex? I don’t feel like she was, but how you interpret her death is something only you can decide on.
For me, Sasha was probably one of my favorite characters for much of the series. She had aspirations, determination, trust-issues, bigotry, loneliness, uncertainty, and rage all showcased on the pages. Amidst all the characters who were stalwart or brilliant or bizarre, I often think she was one of the most human ones in the bunch. Sasha was flawed, far from perfect, but to me, she was always at least trying to be better. She apologized for her bigger fuck-ups, and tried to make amends where it was possible. No one, me least of all, should take her to be an ideal role-model, but as I’ve said from the start: this story was me doing my best to try and write how things would go if real people got super powers.
Sasha was a somewhat polarizing character; some readers couldn’t understand why the other students still tolerated her, while different readers felt she was more charming for making mistakes. Given time, she might have had an arc of true redemption where she grew more as a character. She almost certainly would have been a contender for the final spots amidst the Heroes. But Sasha didn’t get the time, her journey wasn’t completed.
That, ultimately, was why I chose Sasha to die. Because there was so much potential laid out in front of her, so many different ways she could have risen or dropped as a person. Losing all of that in a single night represented a greater tragedy than it might have been with other characters. And as an author, it genuinely hurt me to lose her, along with all the possibilities I could have written for her. If I wanted the death to be genuinely sad, then it only seemed fitting it be one I would mourn as well. As I said before, death is not a tool I use lightly, but if I have to wield it then it’s my responsibility to do my best to wield it effectively.
I do have one last thought on Sasha before we wrap this blog up. Much as she can, and should, be judged by her actions over the course of the three books, I feel like equal weight should be given to the way she passed. Sasha was not ambushed, or overtaken, or killed by some misjudgment. She died putting herself between a fellow student, a friend, and someone meaning to do them harm. Sasha was purposefully written to be imperfect, yet when I was drafting those chapters it never even dawned on me to alter how she would meet her end. She was always destined to go out doing her best, protecting others, embodying exactly what it meant to be a Hero.