15 October 2009 - 4:53 pm

Killing my boys

I started writing this post a couple of months ago (has it really been that long?), when the deaths were fresh and my reasons clear. Unfortunately, I got distracted by numerous things and put it on hold. Now I’ve had the chance to actually finish it up and post it, so here we are.


As I said in my post on killing characters, I never kill off a main character lightly. Recently in the Apocalypse Blog, two of the original central cast have fallen down: Ben and Dillon. Of the two of them, Dillon was the hardest for me.

I’ve given a lot of thought to how and why I killed off these two characters, both before and after I wrote the posts. As this blog is partly a chronicle of my AB writing adventures, I wanted to put those thoughts down here.


Ben was earmarked for a violent end when the nature of what he was became clear, and I had that in mind almost from the start of his relationship with Faith. Because of the way he was killed, setup and preparation were required to make sure it made sense, for all the characters involved.  There are elements of the lead-up planted pretty far back – it was a tricky balance between laying clues and not setting up any flashing neon signs.

Despite all the planning, Ben surprised me. His reactions to his own situation and the monster he was becoming weren’t entirely what I had anticipated, and it would have been nice to spend more time investigating the nature of that. When you live with a character for months, they have a habit of taking on their own paths – it’s part of what I find fun about writing this way, in this form.

But at the same time, I didn’t want to drag out Ben’s story forever. He’s a very internal character, the kind that lives in between the lines, and Faith was constantly trying to pull him out of that space. I think much of his conflict came through anyway, especially in his suicide-by-cop ending. It was no accident that he attacked Matt and forced Faith’s hand; he wanted to be stopped, permanently. He wasn’t the sort of person to go stand out in the rain and let death come – he was angry and begged for a more violent end. And maybe, just maybe, he was hoping that someone might be able to save him in the end.

He represented a tough choice for Faith, a test of her nerve and character, with repercussions that she is still working out. She has struggled with the violence of her broken world since the blog began, escalating up through incidents such as Kirk and the knife. How she comes to terms with what she has done will determine who she becomes, and I’m not sure how she’ll react in the next violent encounter – kill again, or hold her hand back and hope for the best to avoid more blood? That’s part of what’s fun for me – finding out which way they’ll jump next.


Dillon, however, was not so straightforward. His wasn’t a death I had planned for months in advance. I had it in mind for some time before it happened, but only as a possibility, one that I wasn’t sure I could carry through.

I could easily have let him survive to reach his family and have a bittersweet farewell with Faith and her friends. Whatever happened, there would have been a parting of the ways when they reached his family’s location. (I could have had his family missing or dead so that he would stay with the group, but it would have seemed forced and overdone – we’ve already been through that with him once (when they reached his family’s home) and to do it again would have been lame. So, his family had to be there, and there wasn’t a good reason why he wouldn’t stay with them.)

We’d also just been through a major parting, when the current Seekers left the university and some of their core members behind. The situation was ripe for something different (I try to avoid repeating things where I can), something more.

And every now and then, I like to put in a reminder that this world they’re walking through isn’t safe. It’s hard and dangerous, and people die. Ben was an internal threat to himself and the group, but the external ones are worse and shouldn’t be forgotten. It begins to strain the credibility of the story when the core characters all stay intact while everyone around them falls – that sort of thing annoys me in stories, so I try not to let it infect mine.

Coupled with that, I wanted to give Dillon a chance to have one last, bright moment before he left the story. He died defending his friends – the littlest, youngest one of the group got the hero’s death. He is, in many ways, a reflection of the best parts of the Seekers, so that seemed fitting for him.

When I first considered Dillon’s fatality, the image I had in my head was of Faith walking up to the steps of his family’s house with him in her arms. I knew that she would push on even if he wasn’t going to make it, and that seemed important. She finished his business even when he couldn’t, and she took him home. I think that’s important for the Seekers – they keep their promises, even if it takes months (and let’s face it, some of this stuff has taken months to get to). They keep pushing on even if it seems pointless, because the important things aren’t always obvious.

Unlike with Ben, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to kill Dillon off until I was writing the scenes. I had all those good reasons to do it in my head butting up against a deep attachment to the character. Everyone likes a happy ending and killing Dillon was like killing a puppy. I felt so mean. On top of that, I was afraid that it would be an unpopular choice with my lovely readers.

At the end of the day, I decided to brave it out. Take the hard choice and run with it, and make it as bright and fitting as possible. I didn’t want to shy away from something I thought would be good for the story just because it might not be popular – it was a chance I wanted to take, and it was so worth it. Luckily, it was well-received, far more than I was expecting (I love my readers so much).

It was difficult to write. It’s one of the few parts of AB that has actually made me cry when writing it. Poor Dillon. Ben’s death was difficult to get down because of the logistics of it, making sure that everyone’s actions were natural. Dillon’s death was difficult because it was upsetting and I was determined to do the puppy justice.

Good Grief

The grief of the group – and Faith particularly – was different for each of the boys, too, and that was also part of what I wanted to show. With Ben, it was tainted by resentment, horror, and a hefty slab of guilt, largely but not entirely due to Faith’s finger being the one on the trigger. The aftermath of Dillon’s passing was cleaner – still painful but far less complicated and weighed down with other issues. They could all grieve openly for him.

Overall, I’m happy with how they came out. I hadn’t planned to lose two major characters so close together, but I think that the deaths were qualitatively different enough that they didn’t blur together, or overshadow each other. Reader reactions matched – and even exceeded – what I had hoped for.

I haven’t got any more major character deaths lined up for the immediate future – which isn’t to say that they won’t happen. I have to keep us all on our toes, after all.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)


  1. Svenja says:

    I totally hear you on the independent characters front! One of my characters decided to die even though he was supposed to be a main hero who saves the day… that caused some plot problems. 😀

    I was really sad to see Ben and Dillon go. But in the context of the story, when I look at it as a writer and not a reader, their deaths did make a lot of sense. I like that in a story – when characters die and I feel sad, but on some level, I know WHY it had to happen. I’m attached because they’re written well, but I accept their deaths because they’re also written well and contribute to the story. If that makes sense.

    October 15th, 2009 at 11:11 pm

  2. Mel says:

    Hee, I love it when a character decides to head out into left field. And at the same time… aaahhhh. 🙂

    And yes, what you said about Ben and Dillon does make sense. (I’m flattered that you consider them well-written! Thanks 🙂 ) I don’t like arbitrary deaths, or writers who play with a reader’s attachments just for the emotional kick in the nuts. I prefer to go for the ‘HOLY CRAP okay it made sense but DAMN’.

    Thank you for trusting me as a writer. I hope to continue to be worthy of it! 🙂

    October 17th, 2009 at 2:10 pm