Challenge,  On Writing

Editing and Reading Observations… Part 10…

Character Issues…

I am reading slowly through all the Pulphouse submissions. So if you haven’t gotten anything from me yet, don’t worry.

Got two things about characters I have observed in stories lately that just drive me nuts. Again, most of my story returns are for reasons I have talked about in the first nine parts of this series. But these two character problems tend to crop up about one out of every twenty or so stories.

Born on Page One…

To be honest, I had this writing problem in my first years. The character has no past and shows no opinions that would have been formed in the past. No likes and dislikes also formed in the past The focus of the character is in the now of the story and forward into the problem of the story.

To a reader, the character “feels” made up and thin. As an editor I can spot these fairly quickly when I realize I don’t care about the character at all. Usually just a page or so.

Don’t solve this with flashbacks early in the story, just make the character real, with opinions based out of memories and likes and dislikes based out of history. Called Depth.

Kill the Viewpoint Character…

Now there are ways to do this correctly and tell the reader that the viewpoint character is going to die right up front. I have no issue with that kind of story at all.

The stories that drive me crazy are the well-written ones that pull me through and then at the end the character dies. When I was printing up and reading everything on paper, the manuscript would go against the wall with that kind of thing.

And I always had to wait until the next day to calm down enough to write a response. Nothing makes me angrier than a writer wasting my time.

Doing this without telling the reader right up front shows a complete ignorance of what fiction and storytelling is all about.

And a hint, if you get to the end of your story and have to shift viewpoints to explain your story to the reader, you have screwed up as well.

So onward with more reading.





  • Terrance Davis

    Thanks for these observations! I’m seeing a lot of likely reasons for my recent spate of rejections in these posts. I’m resisting the urge to rewrite the rejected stories, considering the rejections as practice. Valuable reading!

    • dwsmith

      Don’t rewrite. That’s walking into the past. Just have fun with the next stories. And get them out. Always move forward.

  • Tina Back

    A few years back I killed the MC in the last paragraph in a story.
    It is true. You will get a sternly worded email from Dean the next day. Don’t do it.

    I’d like to add that this is cultural. I grew up elsewhere. Europeans have a way higher tolerance for open endings and main characters dying on the last page. But a late un-flagged death rip out the hearts of American readers and they will never ever forgive you.

    Trust Dean on this. Don’t do it.

    • Jason Mq

      I was gonna say this — classical tragedy ends with a death, usually the main character.
      Dean would’ve rejected Hamlet, MacBeth, and a lot of other classic literature.
      But modern Americans don’t like tragedy. We think it’s a wrong take on life, for some reason.

      • dwsmith

        And if you were writing in classical times, your audience would have been fine. But last I looked this is 2024.

        And it has nothing to do with Americans, since we publish internationally these days. This is western fiction (not the genre) and is the way it works.

  • Glyn

    Hi Dean,
    I have just finished a 9 part saga in first person. My MC has been through hell and the only to save his sons wide is to die, thereby taking the villain with him. He was injured and a lot older, he was also tired of fighting. My readers have told me they cried at the end. In this instance, was I wrong to kill off my main character?

    • dwsmith


      Doyle tried to kill off Holmes and it didn’t work so well. But you must have done it right if you didn’t lose readers.