I’ve been “accused” by my readers to kill my characters too lightly, and listening to them, you could easily get the impression that there are people dropping dead on every other page.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, people die in my books. People die in real life, too. To try and understand what my readers say, let me look at my four novels and see who dies, and why:

Family Ties:

This is the one book where no one actually dies in the book. However, the book arc story is the funeral of the main character’s mother. Anna Meyer is already dead when the book begins, so I’ll take her death upon me. Her passing is the catalyst for the story being able to play out, for Sascha, Dan, Mike & Helene to take a closer look at their own lives and deal with the demons they all carry with them.

One more “dead” person is being referred to, and that is Anna’s husband, but he had been dead for years. Does that even count? You tell me…

Casualties: 0-2, depending on how you count… Or less than 1 casualty per 90 pages. All deaths were “natural” causes.

Jonathan’s Hope:

Let me say right out, that there are a couple “fatalities” here, and even our main character “dies”, at least for a couple of minutes. I still remember, and probably always will, the moment when I saw my fingers type the ominous words: “Two hours later, Jonathan died.” I remember the anguish of what I had done, and the fear of how to deal with the fallout. Would I have to erase and rewind chapter after chapter and rewrite the entire story? When the words had been written it was just after lunch, but I had no stomach to continue to work that day. When I finally did, I took a chance and continued where I had left off, and low and behold, things worked out…

So who dies in this book? Sean is the first fatality, and like Anna in Family Ties, he’s already dead when the book begins, and we only meet him through Dan’s memories. However, he is a vital supporting character as his relationship with Dan shaped Dan into the person he is at the onset of the story. Jonathan’s parents both pass away in the book, and in both cases it is necessary for the story’s development. The death of Jonathan’s mom is needed to provide Jonathan with the freedom necessary to build a life of his own, while his dad’s suicide at the end of the book provides closure and is a logical conclusion of his father finally accepting responsibility for his acts.

Sadly there are a couple more deaths to report in this book, including a dog, in the book’s epilogue. Trust me when I say that I cried me a river when I wrote the final pages of this novel… Yet without it, the book’s title would have no meaning, and it is the epilogue which connects this last death to the very first, thus closing the circle, and it’s prompted at least one reviewer to say that this is her “favorite of all my books”

Casualties: 8, or 1 per approx. 27.5 pages, four of those were from natural causes (such as high age)

The Opera House:

This book starts with someone dying, and since this is the second time I do this (Anna already being dead), I can see how people would react. LOL Jason, Raphael’s son, dies of leukemia in the first chapter.

Without that chapter, we wouldn’t have a story to tell, so that was necessary.

However, I am happy to report that he’s the only casualty in the entire novel! Not bad for being a book from me, eh?

I don’t believe that people should die just because of death itself, but to serve the development of the story. I feel the same way about sex, dialogue etc. Either it serves a purpose or it’s not going in.

Casualties: 1, or 1 in 253 pages!

The Fallen Angels of Karnataka:

I know what you’ll say, this book should’ve been named the “Carnage at Karnataka”, but give me a break, right? This book, like Jonathan’s Hope plays out over a great many years, and you should expect people to pass away in such a period of time.

In this book, the distinction between “killing” and “dying of natural causes” is important, just as it was in Jonathan’s Hope. I don’t write crime novels, and it is always very obvious who did what and why, but in a story spanning over four decades, it would be crazy to assume that no one dies.

We have the Holbergs (old age) and Haakon’s parents (age) who contrast with the deaths of Michel, Avi & Jay, and finally Charles (who is dead already at the beginning of the book) There are a couple of characters who disappear, such as Ali, where even I don’t know where he is and what he’s up to these days…

This was the first time I actually wrote about a murder, and I’ll have you know that it wasn’t easy writing. Killing someone on paper feels really bad. Now I don’t know (thankfully) what it means to kill people in real life, and I hope I never will, but the anguish I went through was considerable, and I have very vivid memories of Avi & Jay’s final moments, as I do of the bench scene in Paris. I can transport myself back in time to that glorious November day whenever I want, and shed tears with Haakon… It was one of the most difficult scenes I ever wrote and I still cry every time I read or think about it.

Casualties: 8, or about 1 every 31 pages, half of which die of natural causes.

Opus 5:

About five thousand words into my new story, I’m happy to report that the casualty list is somewhat higher, we’re talking billions, and I guess I’ll finally earn the label I’ve been accused of carrying for so long…

One of the most significant losses in the past year: my mom

In real life…

I’m forty seven years old, and if I look at my own life, and the people I’ve lost around me, the list is pretty tall:

1 great grandmother
1 great aunt
4 grandparents
2 uncles
1 godmother
1 aunt
1 cousin
2 grandmothers in law
1 father in law
1 mother
1 bonus dad
1 teacher
2 class mates from primary school
1 neighbor

Those are the people I remember just now, a list quite long. Twenty people I knew, that’s 1 funeral every 2.35 years, of those I would say that 6 were “premature”, i.e. accidents or diseases at a very young age. But whether it is accidents, disease or not, death is part of our life, whether we like it or not, and as an author I feel that my stories wouldn’t be realistic enough if I shied away from death.

Besides, death is the flip side of life, and just imagine all the life I’ve created, all the wonderful and amazing human beings that have been given flight in thousands of people because of my writing:

Sascha, Dan, Mike, Helene, the twins and the girls…
Jonathan, Dan, Sean, Dennis, Parker, Mary and the amazing Rascal…
Raphael, Micky, Brian, Chris & Angela…
Haakon, Mahender, Ole, Ali, Hamadi, Vladimir, Nanju, Neela, Rajiv, Mrs. Holberg, the Olafsens…

I feel very privileged to have been able to create those characters, and I invite you to welcome the latest addition to the family: Willem, from Opus 5. You’ll like him, of that I’m sure.

Have a great Thursday, and – if you’ll allow me a piece of advice – worry less about those you’ve lost, and care more about those still in your life!

Hans M. Hirschi

The Island Digest

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