Sunday, July 6, 2014

Confessions of a serial killer

By Karina Bliss


I have a confession to make. I’m a serial killer. To be specific I’m guilty of matricide, patricide and parricide (killing of a close relative). I suspect I’m not the only one. I suspect many, many romance authors are similarly cut-throat about killing off extraneous characters. In my defense I don’t often murder on the page – okay, twice, including my June release Bring Him Home – Usually I do it in backstory.
But I always thought I was judicious about it. Thoughtful. Surgeon-like. The majority of my superfluous parents were on a cruise, helping out in Africa or enjoying retirement on the Gold Coast.
That’s what I thought.
When I actually checked through my ten books to see how many hero and heroines were orphans (i.e.: parents dead at the beginning of the book), I toyed with sending sympathy cards to my happy couples. With your genes, don’t bother saving for retirement.
Worse, I discovered I’d dispatched these hapless innocents in unkind ways. They died addled with alcohol, killed in a car accident, after suffering a long debilitating illness or dropping dead of a heart attack.
But you’re my accomplice. Yes, you. Because you don’t want these people constantly interrupting the romance either.
And there are worse offenders than Super authors. I’m sure the parental body count is higher in suspense and paranormal. It’s very hard to be snarly and dangerous when your mom is phoning to remind you to come to dinner next Thursday because Aunty Marg is in town. Surely it’s no ‘accident’ that Eve and Roarke in JD Robb’s In Death series are both orphans?
But be assured I’ve already been bought to poetic justice. I’m currently writing the fourth in my SAS hero series which means I have many, many secondary characters clamouring for space. I can’t default to my usual homicidal tricks because I’m dealing with heroes from previous books. And I gave them Special Forces training which makes them impossible to kill. Instead I have to delicately negotiate boundaries while I’m muttering things like, “I hear the Bahamas is nice.”
And trying to avoid what author Joanna Bourne calls ‘scenery with arms.’
She thinks readers can care about a maximum of eight or ten characters.
Here’s a link to her blog on the subject.
http://jobourne.blogspot.co.nz/2010/10/how-many-characters.html

So how many characters can you care about in a book? Do you want studly ex heroes or parents and siblings to get page space?
Make a comment and go into the draw for any of my backlist books (except Mr Imperfect). Make your pick from my website: http://www.karinabliss.com/.



41 comments:

marybelle said...

I just want 'central to the plot' characters in my reading. I don't need a large supporting cast. They get in the way & as you say take up space.

Amalie said...

It depends on the length of the book for me. If it's longer, like Supers, I can handle several. I would totally love pushy mom calls during intense scenes though. Comic relief. You know, unless it's just not the place for comic relief. I've heard there are such places :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Karina,

Looking forward your newest in June.

I have to say I'm a minimalist, I can only care about 4 to 5 characters in a book.

Carol

Toni Kenyon said...

Hi Karina

You can give me a cast of thousands *grin*, just don't introduce them all in the first chapter. It takes me a while to get to know people!

Wasn't it Donald Maass who encouraged us to reduce our characters and create more tension by combining them? Maybe a cast of thousands isn't a good idea.

'Scenery with legs' (or was it arms?) I can't remember, but the concept appeals to me. ;-)

Toni

Sonya Natalia said...

I’m pretty sure the worst serial killers are Young Adult authors. It’s rare to find a book about teenagers where the characters actually have to answer to anyone older than them!

For me it really depends on the book. Most of the time I don’t want to really care about more than about five characters. I adore romantic suspense, but only have space in my heart for the main couple, and maybe a couple of sidekicks! I think I have more tolerance in Supers, or in – say – the Virgin River series. Those books tend to have more of a “community” feel, and I expect my sexy hero to come with a pushy parent or two!

Karina Bliss said...

Got it...Marybelle and Carol for small casts; Amalie and Toni will cope with larger.
Amalie I like your idea of a pushy mom as comic relief. I just read Nora Roberts' The Next Always and there's a scene where the hero and heroine are all dressed up for their first hot date. Her son opens the door to the hero then throws up on his shoes. He's sick and the date's cancelled.
Toni, good point about minimizing characters in the first three chapters. I'm off to check the current WIP.

Karina Bliss said...

Sonya, yay. YA authors are the worst. I'd forgotten about them. I love Robyn Carr's series, she manages to ease characters from previous books in seamlessly.
Another thought on suspense...isolation raises the stakes. You don't want the characters to have too many people to turn to.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Karina,

In November, I was thinking of killing a character. I'd never killed off a character who'd had scenes and dialogue before and I wasn't sure I could do it.

I posted a blog and then deleted it because my "discussion question" was "What's the best character death scene you've ever read?"

I decided that was the creepiest blog question ever and that I needed to rethink my topic. Funny how authors think about about the same stuff.

I'm with Marybelle and Carol. I prefer a small supporting cast. I don't mind that parents in romance novels tend to have a life expectancy about 20 years less than the norm.

You have my blessing to continue your wicked ways.

Pamela Hearon said...

I like a few extra characters--especially best friends or meddling elderly ones. Yeah, they get in the way, but that only adds to the fun!

Mary Brady said...

LOL, Karina, funny you should bring this up. I'd like to hire you!

I'm currently reading a book that I have committed to read. I'm into chapter three and there is no hint of a story, only people. I don't dislike people as a rule, but I would like at least one of them to breath a hint of plot onto the page.

Worse, the book I read before this one had way too many friends and family members to keep them all straight--thank goodness for the sake of the story, I didn't need to know any of them.

So if you could read books before I get to them and snuff out the unnecessaries... TIA

alinaduffer said...

Hi Karina! I have to say for me it depends on the book. If its a single book then I prefer less characters. But if it's a series then by all means give me the whole family. I love seeing families and friends in stories. They can spice things up and make them more interesting or fun.

Have a wonderful day!

Quilt Lady said...

For me maybe 3to4 any more then that I kind of loose interest. Guess I have a simple mind.

Jeannie Watt said...

Hi Karina--I'm a minimalist, or try to be. That said, when I submitted the manuscript that became my first book, the editor who was working with me gently pointed out that I had 42 characters with names. I don't think she was exaggerating. I named everybody!

I don't mind a lot of characters when I read, but I want them to be introduced slowly. The story I'm reading now had a holiday scene with aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, sisters, lots and lots of kids. I think they were people from past books making appearances, but I had no idea who they were and was highly confused by the time the turkey hit the table.

liztalley said...

LOL! Love this topic :)

I find myself doing the same. Had lots of orphans, lots raised by grandparents, etc. but my next series features a family matriarch and I had fun with her - she complicates with her expectations and meddling. I happen to think it's realstic because I, like, experience that every day of my life. LOL.

I really, really like a good cast of secondary characters who enrich and complicate things for my h/h :)

Cathryn Parry said...

I think this theory is why I gave up reading the "Game of Thrones" series partway through book #2. I just couldn't keep track of all the new characters. Book#1 had me caring about 6-7 of them, and that was my limit. (Still, I'm happily waiting for season 2 to start!)

Karina Bliss said...

So Ellen, did you end up killing off your character on page? I like your question, what's the best death scene you've ever read? I'm going to think on that while I do the school run (no connection!).
Karina

Karina Bliss said...

Pamela, seems like the favorite use for minor characters is as comic relief. In my fourth book, Second Chance Family I had a toddler lightening the mood of a funeral which sounds awful but worked on the page.
Karina

Karina Bliss said...

Mary, a new career as a sniffer dog for too many characters. I like it. Good luck with your reading, hope there's a plot soon.

Karina Bliss said...

Alina, I have huge respect for writers who juggle long series with recurring characters. Nalini Singh is from my neck of the woods and she keeps folders outlining hair and eye color, character appearances in books...if she can't remember a detail she asks her fans who remember everything.

Karina Bliss said...

Quilt Lady, I wonder if our enjoyment of multiple characters is reflective of whether we're extroverts or introverts in real life. I prefer smaller casts generally and socially I enjoy one on one rather than big parties.

Karina Bliss said...

Jeannie, did the turkey have a name? :) It sounds like a series book which can be hard work sometimes if you're coming in fresh.
I'm impressed. Forty-two named characters. How did you get around that...lots of culling?

Karina Bliss said...

Liz, gotta love those family matriarchs. I have to say I have a fondness for meddling minor characters myself. And if you're experiencing that in real life, it's therapy, right?

Karina Bliss said...

Cathryn, fantasy readers seem to have bigger memory banks...the casts are always enormous and they have no trouble remembering them. I had the same problem with Lord of The Rings when I was reading. In the end I just skipped to the sections with the characters I cared about.

Laney4 said...

I get confused easily, so the less characters the better. If there are over 4 or 5 right at the beginning, I have to write them down so I know who is who.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Karina,

Nope. I didn't kill her. I decided she wasn't a big enough character to hang an emotional turning point on her death. (Is it more cold-blooded to bump off characters or to decide they're not worthy of a death scene? Hmmm.)

The blog was partially inspired by an article I read that said JK Rowling had almost killed off Ron Weasley. The article said an entire generation of children would have been scarred.

Children! I would have been devastated. Ron is my all-time fave.

Here's the interview clip: http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/news/a348148/harry-potter-author-jk-rowling-considered-killing-ron-weasley.html.

I hope your school run went well. :-)

Karina Bliss said...

Laney4, I like those family genealogy charts at the beginning for keeping characters straight. They used to be popular in 80s sagas.

Karina Bliss said...

Ellen, not important enough to kill. Yes, that's damning with faint praise. But I know what you mean, you want your emotional turning points to give you the best bang for your buck.
Ron was my favorite too (and ahem, the only one in the movies who could act in the early years).
I still remember my shock when I got to the part where JK killed off...lost his name, Cedric?
That would have to be a great death scene because it was so unexpected in 'children's' fiction. I was reading it to my eight year old at the time. He was fine, I was a mess.

linda s said...

I like short series, maybe six books before I drown in characters I can't remember. I like when the secondary characters are going to be front and center in a following book. But I always skip the page or two of grocery lists of who turned up to the town picnic with how many babies. If I only read one book or one series, it would be easier to keep track.

Karina Bliss said...

Linda S - "But I always skip the page or two of grocery lists of who turned up to the town picnic with how many babies."

Thanks for the laugh. Not to eat I hope.

chey said...

I think the number of characters I can keep track of is 8-10.

Na said...

I can come to care for many characters so long as they are meaningful or distinct in a story. The main characters definitely have my attention but I want others introduced as well to round out a plot. Also it depends on the length of a story.

Karina Bliss said...

Chey and Na thanks for dropping by. Looks like we're fifty-fifty on casting preferences. Looks like Joanna Bourne was right. 8-10 max.

Emmie said...

I had to laugh when I read your post Karina! I remember one of my crit partners commenting on the number of babies I'd killed in some of my early stories and I was shocked! I could only remember one, and then she listed a heap! But it's all in the interests of providing character depth, isn't it? So that's okay!

Karina Bliss said...

Emmie, (I deliberately didn't mention the babies).
Hand on heart, no animals have ever been harmed though.

Kathy Altman said...

Well, Karina, you definitely caught my attention with the title of your blog! And LOL on not being able to kill off your Special Forces characters. How inconvenient. I agree that 6 is a good number for characters you have the energy--and/or memory--to care about. I tend to get carried away myself and this is why a critique partner is important for me--I know the characters because I've been with them for a while. A reader, not so much. (What do you mean, 14 is too many for one scene?!) I do try to be creative as to how I get rid of unwanted relatives, but then again I don't want to make their deaths more interesting than my story. :-) Great post!

Karina Bliss said...

Kathy, critique partners are great aren't they? And mentors. Authors Robyn Donald and Daphne Clair run great workshops in NZ and they told me once I had a lovely grandmother and then added. "Now get rid of her."

Rogenna Brewer said...

LOL--Karina. I plead guilty, too. I've even maimed a couple heroes.

As for how many extras are too many...
when I can no longer keep them straight, or care to keep them straight.

Linda Henderson said...

Well, I don't want the extra characters to take up too much time in the book. I usually just like a few passing scenes with them and then maybe they get a story of their own. I'm a series story junkie. And you're right, Hitchcock is the greatest. I just watched Rear Window again the other day.

Snookie said...

I love the extra characters as long as they don't take up the storyline of the book. It's nice to know they're around, but they don't have to be front and center like the main characters. I love the longer books because you can get into the parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends etc. Makes the characters more real! I understand to some extent having to kill people off though, someitmes it's the only way to explain why the hero/heroine has problems relating or communicating!

Bri said...

I like when the other characters have some page space, but want the majority of the pages to go to the hero or heroine or interactions with them. Parents are nice if they make a few appearances, but do not want them interfering everyday as romance books are a break from reality for many readers. I can deal with ex heroes, if they are a natural part of the life of the hero and heroine. (as Dan was in Viv's story)

Colleen C. said...

I do not mind secondary characters if they add to the hero and heroine's story... I do not want a lot of the focus pulled away from them... I like when they show you more of the main characters' personalities coming to life with the interaction with others.

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