Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Don't Kill the Dog

Wow, I'm making up for my days off by giving you enough posts for all of them.
Anyway, Diana Peterfreund had a very interesting blog post today:  Don't Kill the Dog
The comment string is where it gets most interesting.  Seems most people genuinely don't like the death of animals in books, and several mentioned the death of a child as even worse.
The two comments I left are telling.  'Cause, well, there's a dead dog and a dead mother and child in my book.
From One Highland Night (c) 2007
The keening wail of a child brought his head back around, and his eyes found young Geordie huddled on the ground next to the body of a dog, its black and white fur stained red with blood.

"Oh, no…" Her voice was quiet behind him, full of sympathy.

"Geordie, lad," he said. "What has happened here?"

"They…they shot him!" Geordie wailed between sobs. "They shot Aodhair!"



He swore violently. The lad continued to greet, and he gripped his shoulders. "Are they still here, in the glen? Are they in the village? Tell me, lad, and quickly!" His voice was harsher than he meant, but he had to know. A hiss of indrawn breath behind him indicated the lass's disapproval.

"N-nae…I dinna think so." The boy looked down, stroking the top of the still head between the ears. "He was a good dog, was Aodhair. Why did they have to shoot him?"

He gentled his voice, despite the tension thrumming in his veins. "Because they are Campbells, and bastards as ye said, aye? I ken it doesna make it easier to bear, but ye must listen—listen to me now, lad. It isna safe here. There are Campbells to manage, and we need all the men we have back in Glenstrae to protect it, should they come again."


Frantically, she put her ear to the boy's chest, listened for a heartbeat, a gasp of breath. There was none.

"Oh no, no…"

A sound from the bed, a rustle as the woman turned to look at her. Bloodshot eyes found her own and bored into her with feverish intensity. She couldn't hide the truth from her face; her own shock was too new and too raw.

The woman turned her head away. She might have been crying, save Elspeth knew she was too dehydrated for tears. Still, the frail body shook quietly for a few moments, clutching the even smaller body of her son.

God, what do you say to someone who's just lost a child?

All she could think to do was place a comforting hand on the woman's and bow her head, let her have her grief. At length the bony shoulders stilled. Elspeth looked to the woman's face and was startled to see a wild, distant look in her eyes.

"Do you…do you want some water?" she asked, with some alarm.

Eyes now closed, the woman's head shook from side to side.

"We'll take you with us…back to Glenstrae. You can recover there."

The head shook more violently. The low, ragged voice, forced through a throat parched and raw, issued once more from cracked lips.

"[There is naught more for me here, naught for me to live for, now.]"

The woman spoke to her, directly, and this time she managed to make out some of it. A phrase, an explanation—nothing to live for.

No husband, no son. Had she loved her husband? Had the son been the only thing that bound her to this life, made her keep living after he was gone? Dying of a broken heart had always seemed so tragically romantic but now, as she faced the reality of it, she realized it was merely tragic.

So...am I in for it now?  Tragic, historic, worldbuilding detail or senseless deaths that will get me flamed by readers?


Precie said...

Ah, that's a tough one.

But...have you read Brooks's "Year of Wonders"? About the plague? I'll admit I stopped reading halfway through, sobbing hysterically, and haven't gotten the courage to go back. But I think it was realistic and necessarily true to history.

In one of my wips, there are going to be a few deaths. Probably not a dog, though. I dunno. We'll have to see if I can screw up my courage enough to actually write those scenes. :)

NBB said...

Well, I guess people who read historicals expect a few deaths. Be they child, animal, head of the family.
Beings die, especially with all those clan feuds going on.

You don't list one death after another just for the thrill, so *I* think you're doing fine.

Shaylin said...

For my money, "tragic, historic, worldbuilding detail" that will get you flamed by readers. In other words, these are very real details, very genuine to the world in which Elspeth finds herself, but at least some of your readers (though not all) are going to be unhappy with them. The readers who are most like you will, I think, be best able to handle them. The people that pick up your book looking for a bit of fluff to read on an airplane might find a bit more reality than they bargained for.

Lor said...

Jenny, you're writing historical fiction. It's fiction and you need to make a believable world. Dogs die. People die. Don't stray off the path. I haven't read the other post you're talking of, but maybe it's a different genre? I think in historical fiction it's important to tell it like it is/was to make a more realistic story. These were really nice bits by the way.

Precie - do read World of Wonders. It was beautiful actually. A little pathos in a novel can only bring the reader in more. I love a good cry when I'm reading something. Who didn't read that letter at the end of DG's ABOSA and not cry.