Sometimes They Have to Live

Guest post by Jay Wilburn. I’ve had the privilege of working with Jay on 3 anthologies– So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, The Actuator 1.5: Borderlands Anthology, and the forthcoming Windows into Hell. He’s a pro all the way, and I’m thrilled to have him post on my blog.

“Sometimes They Have to Live”
by Jay Wilburn

Kill your babies is a common recommendation for writing. It is a broad piece of advice. It refers to pages and scenes within a story that don’t serve the story. Those have to be cut no matter how cleverly worded they are. It refers to flashbacks and dreams and back stories and tangents. They may be things that are beloved by the author, but often they are the very things that hold the story back. It can of course refer to the actual characters within a story. Sometimes a character has to be erased from existence or absorbed into other characters instead of standing alone. It can mean that characters have to die.

Dead Song Book 1 final cover

Not everyone gets to live until the end of every story. George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, the Walking Dead series both television and graphic novel, and others are well known for no character being safe. This is part of the appeal of these authors and stories to the fans. Everyone is in danger at every moment. The story becomes intense and the losses are anticipated with great dread. The problem in a long running series though is that after the sense of loss and history of certain characters, they often have to be replaced by new characters. When these new characters meet their end on the buzz saw of the infamous character killers, their demise lacks something and their replacements are sometimes kept at a distance emotional by readers. There is a novelty and a true power to a story where anyone can die, but there is also a cost in too frequent deaths.

Some of the power in characters not making it through the apocalypse or the war story is both in that anyone can die, but deaths aren’t one after another. If the death of a character is meant to catch readers off guard and move them the way the characters within the story feel the loss, then sometimes they have to live.

There must be a core of the story characters that make it through. Readers benefit from having some characters that have been with them since the beginning. These characters hold the history and know the full scope and meaning of the series. They can refer back to moments that carry meaning throughout the series. Often, these moments hold more potential than the death of these characters would.

Dead song book 1 CD Cover Idea-001

There are moments when it is time for characters to go and those moments must be chosen carefully, if we are serving the readers. Their lives and deaths matter to the story and matter to the audience. If they don’t, then killing them off in a creative way isn’t going to carry much punch anyway.

Check out the latest book and music from a new series by Jay Wilburn!

The Dead Song Legend Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals –

The Sound May Suffer – Songs from the Dead Song Legend Book 1: January –


About the Author: Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at


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