Guest Post from Karen Heuler: Let’s Be Brutally Honest Here

Photograph of Karen HeulerSo, how many people have you killed?

I mean, characters.

And how long have you been doing it?

I have to confess: It was hard for me to kill my first character, but after that it got easier. I actually stopped noticing how many there were or who they were.

I occasionally killed a major character, at the end, but even before I got to the end it was possible for me to kill minor characters as if they were placemats. I even people killed people I wanted readers to love. If it bumped up the plot, I was all for it.

And then I suddenly realized that I had gotten used to killing characters. I was killing them without remorse.

How many, I wondered, had I killed?

Ah. I didn’t want to go back and count. It was like going back and counting calories after an expensive dinner out. Why ruin it?

More than ten? Of course. Hundreds? Possible. Thousands?

Well, actually, even more than that. Like a great many writers these days, I’d killed off a proportion of the planet for an apocalypse that caught my fancy. It was a particularly lovely apocalypse. It would make a wonderful, visual, stunning movie. Not your usual, squishy, guns and guts and screams and hands-smashing-through-glass kind of movie, either. A grand and glorious apocalypse with lots of people dying in a very artistic way.

See? Even now I’m proud of it.

I remember being outraged by how easily Orson Scott Card got Ender to destroy a whole civilization and then absolved him of responsibility. Nope. Own up, Ender! Responsibility exists!

And yet.

And yet, I kill people.

How long will it go on? Will I ever grow tired of it? Will I switch to stories where no one dies; where, in fact, people fall in love and have babies? They could be strange new babies; I could, conceivably, do that.

Because even though I feel no guilt, I feel that I should feel guilt. It somehow isn’t right to say these weren’t really people and I didn’t “really” kill them.

Besides, I’m sure that the idea of killing is not a slippery slope. It isn’t, is it?

Just because I can write about it so easily doesn’t mean I’d ever actually do it, right?


Bio: Karen Heuler’s stories appear in literary, fantasy, and science fiction magazines regularly. Her 2014 novel, Glorious Plague, was about a strangely beautiful apocalypse, and her second story collection, The Inner City, was chosen as one of the best books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly. She lives in New York City, where murder never happens and rents are extremely low.

Enjoy this writing advice and want more content like it? Check out the classes Cat gives via the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers both on-demand and live online writing classes for fantasy and science fiction writers from Cat and other authors, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and other talents! All classes include three free slots.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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