In the five-book series of novels called the Rebecca Series, almost every major character, good or bad, sooner or later, gets wounded or, in a few cases, killed. In the latest novel in the series – A Fearful Thing – the most severe wound is actually administered by Rebecca to one of the bad guys.
In this story, set in 1985, the height of the Cold War, Rebecca’s newly developed knife-throwing skills result at one point in her rifling one of her Barrington Swords 12-inch competition throwing knives, from a distance of 30 feet, into the upper arm of a Soviet KGB agent who is poised to murder two Americans that he and his team have kidnapped. The razor-sharp knife severs the assailant’s bicep, ripping apart both muscle and the nerve pathways to his hand, the hand which, until that instant, is holding a Glock handgun.
I think that, if an author is going to write action stories about good versus evil, some level of violence is necessary or there is simply no realism in the story. Think for a moment about today’s world. Violence is everywhere, much of it deadly. If a
good-versus-evil action-focused novel is going to seem plausible, some people are going to get hurt. Some may not survive.
In the example I just gave from A Fearful Thing, it is one of the antagonists who is wounded, but, just as often in my novels, it is one of the protagonists. Since my novels are Christian-themed, I think it important to deliver the message that Christians are likely to be wounded – not physically, we always hope – but emotionally, at some point in their Christian journeys. The physical wounds that my characters incur are the visible manifestations of the kinds of emotional wounds that we are likely to experience.
Plot tension is often enhanced by threats to characters we care about. For example, early in the writing of my first novel, The Face of the Enemy, I explained to my wife Linda that I was planning a scene for the novel’s climax in which Rebecca, always the central character, might be wounded in such a way that she would become permanently (physically) impaired. Don’t you do that! said Linda with considerable force. Don’t you do something like that to her!
At that point, Linda had only read about 100 manuscript pages in that first story, and already she was so emotionally committed to Rebecca that she was incensed that I would consider that kind of wounding. As readers of the Rebecca Series have discovered, Rebecca is eventually wounded in a quite visible way, but not in any way that causes her to be physically or mentally impaired.
My stories are not tragedies. Even though the main characters may be hurt at some point, I do not allow them – the main characters – to be killed. There are literary critics who think that that represents a flaw in fiction writing, and that death and disappointment and despair are essential components of a successful story.
Not to me.
I want us to be filled with hope that good can prevail. And our life experiences tell us that it can.
But often enough.