Sunday, 7 February 2010

Why Do They Have to Die?

Uthaya Sankar SB counsels young writers against killing off their characters gratuitously in an article published in New Straits Times, 2 June 2001.
.

RAVI is a youth who fails his SPM and gets involved with the wrong group of people.

.

Later, he gets kicked out of his home and decides to go and meet his adopted uncle, a well-known sculptor, in Ipoh.

.

Seven years later, Ravi, now a rich and famous sculptor himself, decides to go back to meet his parents and his elder brother in Kuala Lumpur.

.

Alas, he is told by a neighbour that all three of them have died in a road accident.

.

Thus ends a Bahasa Malaysia short story by one the participants in my creative writing workshop.

.

Sad? Funny?

.

I would say, a failure.

.

Truth is stranger than fiction, says Philip Mason, the author of Would You Believe It?: Odd Tales fron a Weird World (1990).

.

He adds: Fiction has to make sense (but) the world out there is under no obligation.

.

I tell young writers never to kill a character unless there is logic to it. But then they show me published Bahasa Malaysia stories where certain characters die for no specific reason.

.

Awang Akil is found dead in the second last paragraph of “Peneroka” by Muhd Surur Dasuki (Cermin, 1990). In “Saki” by Syed Agil Al-Sagoff (Terbuang Jauh, 1991), Nek Piah is found dead.

.

Mystery? For the writer, maybe, but not nearly tantalising enough for the reader.

.

There are worse cases. Monolog Sasterawan (1991) has four stories which employ deus ex macina, a literary device whereby something divine or supernatural intrudes on the story to resolve a plot point.

.

In Mustafa Jusoh’s “Gelandangan”, Amin and an old man get hit by a car in the second last paragraph. Don’t even bother wondering if they survive the accident.

.

A bunch of bad guys die towards the end of “Gua Keramat” written by Siow Siew Sing. Good moral for the kids and lovers of Hindi movies.

.

Why do they have to die? Maybe to make the readers shed tears. Maybe it’s the Bollywood influence. Perhaps these writers have realised the effect of one basic element: emotion.

.

If a writer manages to tickle the emotions – be it anger, pity, joy or sadness -- then it is a successful attempt. He or she has used imagination to convey the emotion from the story to the reader, and I would personally like to congratulate him or her for this victory.

.

But why, unless there’s a very good reason, kill the very character who has helped you to convey the whole story?

.

One of the topics covered in my workshops is how to write the first paragraph for a story. I also tell these young writers how not to end a story. One of the don’ts: never kill a character just for the sake of ending your tale.

.

Just say you are writing a story about a beggar who has won a lottery. On his way to collect the money – or better still – on his way home, he’s hit by a car and dies on the spot. To add emotion, you say that he was holding the money close to his chest.

.

This kind of writing makes me wonder if the author didn’t know how to finish the story. Is that why he conveniently arranges for the poor beggar’s death?

.

Or perhaps the writer couldn’t figure out what his character was going to do with all that cash. Best way out: kill him. What a sadist!

.

I tell my students to make their endings reasonable and logical. If the character deserves to live, let him live. If he has to die, make his death meaningful. You wouldn’t want people laughing out loud after reading what was supposed to be a sad short story.

.

If at all a character has to die, make his death worth it. There’s no doubt that readers sometimes like to see the bad guys die; it gives them a sense of victory.

.

But how about letting the bad guy live to regret what he’s done? What about including some intellectual or philosophical elements which give the readers something to think about?

.

As the number of thinking readers in Malaysia is growing rapidly, sadistic writers are going to have a very tough future unless they start thinking of good reasons for killing their characters.

.

Better yet, they should simply think of other ways to end their stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sila gunakan Bahasa Malaysia atau Bahasa Inggeris yang betul apabila mengemukakan komen. Hanya komen yang menggunakan bahasa yang betul dari segi ejaan, tanda baca dan struktur ayat akan dilayan. Pencemaran bahasa diharamkan!