Okay, short post, quick question. I'm thinking about killing off a kid in my third book. Non-gratuitously. I have no real problem with killing off the kid -- as it's an act that drives the story -- but I know some will object.

I'm just curious to know where everyone stands on such things.

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I think you should go ahead and bump the child off. As you said, it serves to further the plot, and a child is a powerful death. Lots of motivation there.
As others have said .. it depends on how you handle the material. The more upclose and personal the deeper the waters you'll wade through. ... Failing that, kill the buggers. ... And if you really want to pull the heart strings, knock off the kid, but save its puppy.
All depends on context (neat answer, innnit? Fits any situation. "Want to go get lunch?" "It depends on the context."

Personally, I don't have a problem with it, though I admit that if I see it coming, I'll skim, because I can't stand to read about child abuse in the newspaper. There was one particular case in South Carolina, on a story I had to edit, and it still disturbs me.

But if the story's good elsewise, I'm not going to stop. "Christine Falls" by John Banville has got a dead baby in it and it doesn't seem to hurt its reception any. And Giles Blunt's "By the time You Read This" has an extensive description of child abuse (in the context of a woman getting therapy), and he handled it well.
I hate it when kids get killed, but it happens. As long as it isn' to graphic?
Joan
As a reader, my feeling has always been that if someone objects to what's in a book, then maybe it's not a book they should be reading. If there is something in a book that I have a problem with I have the option of closing the book and not finishing it-blaming the writer for putting it in there seems foolish. It's like parents blaming television networks for what their children are seeing on tv every night-if you don't like it, turn it off.

I'm always careful when I recommend books to people for that very reason. I don't want to tell my mother, who made me turn off the movie Hostage because she was too worried about the people who might get hurt, that just because she loved The Book of Lost Things that the rest of John Connolly's books would be perfect for her. That would be lying. There are others, however, that I would have no problem recommending all of John's books to because I know that they realize that what happens in a book is fiction, not reality, and that as long as it is germane to the story, well, anything can be forgiven.
If it drives the story, then no problem.

I dislike novels which simply throw something like that in as a cheap way of raising the emotional stakes - if the death wasn't there, the plot would still work out.

For me what makes the difference between done badly, and done well, is not the death itself but the way it's reflected in all the other characters in the book: the way it changes them. Bad novels go something like: death...woe is us, trauma trauma...ok, back to normal now, and on with the plot. In good novels, all those affected by the death are changed in very profound ways.

Just read a fantastic novel, "Ice Moon" by a German writer called Jan Costin Wagner, sadly the only novel of his in translation. The protagonist's wife dies in the first chapter of the novel, and although there's a plot which drives the novel outside of that, never for a moment, not for one scene, is the character of the protag not coloured by that.
...I don't see the problem. In 'real' life kids are killed all the time - every day all over the world - mostly by their parents or guardians. I'm working on my fourth novel, tentatively titled CREATURES OF HABIT, and a priest kills a young boy in the opening chapter. The Catholic Church may object - but then they would, wouldn't they ?

Slan go foill,
Pat.
I came close to it in a story that appeared in the first issue of Murdaland.
A pedophile takes children but doesn't kill them. My reading group at the time
I wrote it basically said burn the story and I sat on it for five years. Then I saw
a description for what Murdaland wanted and it seemed to fit and they
took it. Having said this, I won't do it again. I felt sick at seeing it in print.
It wasn't gratuitous violence but the maniac has stayed in my head ever since I wrote
it. I also regret writing it from his POV and making him somewhat sympathetic.
There, I am glad to finally admit this.
Here's the thing. I have no objection to kids being killed as a part of the book (and my neighbor's kids in particular. *rimshot*)

The problem to my mind isn't whether or not it's tasteful non-gratuitous or necessary. If the way you wanted to write it hadn't already passed those tests you wouldn't be asking. The problem is that if you want to have something so huge, so laden with emotional baggage you'd better be prepared to write the hell out of it. Anything less may leave some readers feeling like it was insincere or a gimmick.
Not that it would keep me from writing anything I felt was needed for a story, there are times when some scenes can be gratuitous. For example, I don't need to see the look on a five year-old kid's face as a knife is buried in her heart. For me, personally, such a scene would go too far. Would be gratuitous.

That said, when I originally wrote the post above, I was having some concerns about what might or might not be acceptable to the majority or readers, but I've since come to the conclusion that I'll simply do whatever the story requires.
It's a book, for crying out loud. I know you'll hear objections, but it's just ridiculous. When you actually consider killing a kid, we have a problem.

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