Sometime back, I was commissioned to write a short story for an anthology for children in the ten plus age group. After brainstorming for few days, I zeroed in upon a story about a ghost.
Thinking that it would be a unique idea I brainstormed some more and finally wrote the story and emailed it to my editor.
‘Oh my God,’ the editor said on the phone. ‘You started the story with the death of the main character. Children just won’t like it. Please write another one. This story won’t do.’
All my reasoning that as the story is about a ghost, it had to have death, met with a refusal. My main character was a ten year old boy who meets with an accident while on a school picnic and both the boy and his sister become ghosts. After that, starts their training as ghosts.
In this case I felt that the death of the main character had a strong reason behind it. But my editor was unwilling to accept the story. I even told her that children today are smart and are aware of death and accidents, but she was adamant that the story would not go down well with children because of the death factor. At the last minute I had to write another story for the anthology and send it.
The editor’s arguments made me think, that does starting a story or even a book with the death of a main character spell its doom. Do people shy away from such stories. I felt that the death in my story was justified. There was no flashback, about what the boy was before he died. The story started from the boy’s death and how he turns into a ghost and is accepted into the world of ghosts. I had to show death, as the boy just cannot turn into a ghost one fine morning.
Children read in papers about school buses meeting with accidents and children dying. They even see deaths in their own families: their grandparents, aunts and uncles. So it’s not as though they are not aware of death. I have heard small children say that so and so has gone to heaven, or is with God.
What do you all think? Was I justified in starting the story with the boy’s death? Do you think my editor was right? What would you have done in either place: my editors and mine?