1. pirate1802
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    pirate1802 Member

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    Concerning deaths and avoiding redshirt characters

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by pirate1802, Jun 6, 2014.

    So, in my current work three groups are embroiled in gangwars against each other pretty much from the start of the story. Say, Tom, Dick and Harry. Tom has three important characters (as in I don't want them killed quickly), Dick has two such, and Harry has one. The problem I'm facing is this: In shootouts between them, if only random unnamed mooks die whereas the important ones escape, then that would seem a little too... convenient? Whereas if the main ones are prematurely killed then that would screw with my plans for the plot. Introducing characters only to have the killed later doesn't seem to solve it either, because it becomes apparent why they are there.

    Ideas?
     
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  2. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    This is something I've been struggling with in my WIP because a lot of people die and I need all the main characters alive so I can kill them off later. There are a few things you can do to make the danger seem more real. Firstly I make sure the main characters have a lot of near misses, if they're in a dangerous scene they won't necessarily die but they'll get out by the skin of their teeth. With this sometimes the reader can feel a little cheated if all the main characters are almost dying but never do. It all depends on the number of fight scenes and how big each of these groups is. Are all of these characters 100% necessary right until the end? If any of them stop being useful then they're fair game to be killed off just don't make it obvious to the reader that you're killing them because they've outlived their usefulness. You will probably have to draw more characters in because no one cares about nameless, faceless strangers. If you can't make characters important to the plot then make them important to the other characters, if you want the reader to care the characters will have to.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2014
  3. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well you can always injure characters rather than kill them.

    Characters created to be killed, feel less like they've been introduced as cannon fodder, if their death gives some sort of real impact to other characters.
    Characters could feel the need to avenge the death of their comrade, or they need to re-evaluate their plans because they've lost someone with specific skills/contacts, or one of your future planned shootouts could happen at a funeral of a dead character.
     
  4. pirate1802
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    pirate1802 Member

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    Yeah I've been doing that exactly, have my MC evade a bullet that flew inches above her head, and end up with a broken leg the next day, lol.

    I guess the trick is in introducing more minor characters who have some purpose other than dying, and limit the amount of shootouts in general.
     
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  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have one where my MC gets mutilated throughout.

    Between "Page One" and "The End" three people get killed. Well, four really but the first is just the catalyst for the storyline. Of the others, one of them is a throw away - a tertiary character that I didn't even know was there until he showed up. But the other two are close friends of the MC deliberately crafted and carefully groomed for their moment on the stage.

    The first is introduced as a long-time and very close friend of the MC. He plays his part and then, less than a third of the way in, he gets killed off. But his death is a recurring subject and source of pain for the MC throughout much of the rest of the book.

    The third and final is a new friend who gets killed near the end. (Apparently, I did such a great job creating a 98.6 character here that I have had a lot of push back and people mourning over his death!)

    Throughout the story, however, the MC finds himself facing down death several times, giving the sense of a more than superficially precarious thread of life.

    In the first chapter he gets hit by a car driven by the #1 bad guy. It's a sideswipe and not a head-on but bone bags and cars are a bad match up in "hand-to-hand" combat so he does sustain some damage. He has to deal with a cracked rib, dislocated shoulder, lots of soreness and severe bruising across a large portion of one side of his body throughout the rest of the book. (And I have to remember what he's feeling as he makes his way to the end of the book, measuring his injuries against lapsed time and the degree of healing he might experience along the way. Somebody slaps him on the bad arm, he can't take the shot without some reaction to the shock of pain.) His injuries also help to move the story along, btw. Later, he gets shot. Then, at the end, he gets shot several times, none fatal of course, thus surviving for more mayhem in book two.

    The tough part about tormenting your primary characters like this is that you have to weigh their injuries against what you need them to do after that. (Don't have someone get shot in the leg and then run two miles in twenty minutes.) A "flesh wound" kind of injury, a piece of shrapnel grazing the forehead or a glancing blow from mace or sword wouldn't incapacitate but would offer a sense of real danger for your characters. And, when killing a secondary or tertiary character off, don't have them just vanish from the landscape. Keep them "gone but not forgotten" at least for a little while - depending upon their degree of closeness to the MCs.
    And, btw, there are many, many, many... many... who went to war and never so much as a scratch. So, if you present the environment as appropriately threatening, even if the MC never sustains serious injury, the reader will accept it.

    Look forward to reading some of it. Good luck.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2014
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think the key is not to create the characters solely for them to get killed. They have to serve some other purpose in the story. However, that purpose doesn't always have to be revealed before they die. You can have aspects of their lives come to light after their death. In this way, the reader gets to first experience the dulled "so what?" reaction of someone dying whom the reader doesn't know, followed by the pang of realization that the death was tragic from someone else's perspective. There can also be some characters who we come to know only slightly, but still have some connection to the story other than that they got killed.

    If you read Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambroseb (nonfiction), you will also get some sense of what I mean.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The solution is obvious. Develop a character or two as if they were principle players. Get your reader attached to them. Then WHAM! One of them gets drilled a half dozen times in a random drive-by. Another saves a bag lady from an out-of-control furniture truck and becomes one with the truck's grill.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Oh...the warmth...:D
     
  9. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Cogito . Start off with more key players. Don't let the reader know or be able to predict who is going to end up making it to the end of the novel.
     
  10. pirate1802
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    pirate1802 Member

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    So that's where GRR Martin got those ideas from, I see. :p
     
  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Seconding @Cogito ! That's what I've been doing with my and @T.Trian's WIP.

    Then your next problem is... How to establish several characters in a way that the reader will care about them and remember them but still do it in a way that s/he can't guess who's gonna die. :agreed:
     
  12. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    " In shootouts between them, if only random unnamed mooks die whereas the important ones escape, then that would seem a little too... convenient?"

    While you're afraid of falling into the trap you're describing, I'll remind you that in many of the real life gang related shootings. A lot of the time, the intended target isn't the one who's shot. How many times have you heard of them shooting up the wrong house? If you want I'd support you using a factual basis for only killing unnamed "mooks" but I'd hope you'd include the horrendous nature of the collateral damage. Maybe your main characters show up at the funeral of the victim and you can express emotion through their family members.
     
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  13. GoldenFeather
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    GoldenFeather Active Member

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    Yes, it would seem too convenient. That's why I suggest you don't show how important they are in the beginning of the story. Allow them to be just regular characters, and everytime they survive a shootout, their importance will grow and grow.

    For example, if one of them is responsible for, say, acquiring weapons, don't let the readers know that he is the "weapons" guy in the beginning. Focus on the conflict. After a shootout or two (that he survives), THEN mention "Hey, but Harry has access to guns. Don't you Harry?" and from there pull out the benefits the characters bring to the story, that way instead of having all the important characters survive, have SOME characters survive and THEN make them important.

    You know what I mean?
     
  14. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I think the problem is you have started out with the wrong mindset, you have started by thinking of them in two categories "cannon fodder" and "characters".
    You should just characterize them all to nearly the same degree as any other characters, maybe not quite equal, but don't just give them a name right before you send them on their way. Make them actually mean something more than just cannon fodder.
     
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  15. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally I think this can be solved not by adding more characters or killing off ones that are more main. The problem here is Supension of disbelief. If you constantly have any character cornered in a way that seems screwed to them and yet have them walk away clean then it makes it hard to suspend disbelief. What you need is a way to show and express that them living is actually the more reasonable conclusion. See if there is a shoot out, yet a character notices things are getting bad before they get bad and maybe shots out a light. Or hell maybe he shots out a light once it gets bad and you say "He was smart and played it well, thats why he lived." Then your fine. It makes sense. Its only when ten guys all have a clear shot, yet they can't even graze him that it becomes much harder to suspend disbelief as it feels more like "they suck, not that he was good."

    Does that make sense?

    Another method I would personally imploy in a shot out is survivors guilt. Or lack of saving someone. Fun fact, doesn't have to be a character even. Could be a nameless by standers. See not sure your characters but if one is in a shoot out and a innocent walking by person takes a bullet and dies. You can have a really nice scene of them angry at themselves or others. This adds a feeling of helplessness or of grief. Again it gives this sense of realism "Yeah, he didn't shot but someone did, to him that is almost worse". Because in a gloomy situation, nothing gloomy happening can hard to understand.
     
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  16. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've got an idea. During a shoot out, one of the characters gets shot and slumps to the ground. One of your protagonists looks at him and says:

    "Who was that?"
    "Dunno, Dave or something"
    "Dave? Shame, he seemed like a nice guy."

    Then the shoot out continues.

    As others have said I would create at least a couple of other principal characters with an interesting arc, who get killed off. But they need to be central character's from the get go; otherwise the sudden development of a secondary character will be a huge pointer to their imminent death.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    First, you need to analyze whether this is really a problem, or whether you're creating one in your mind where it doesn't otherwise exist. You can look at it as important characters surviving, or as those characters being the important ones because they survive to go on and present the remainder of the story. Books with violent conflict are going to have deaths, and it generally doesn't make much sense to elevate the characters who end up dying to the level of main characters.

    I'd give them the amount of characterization the story requires, and not worry too much about the whole red shirt thing. If you develop things as the story dictates instead of worrying about externalities I think the end product is likely to be just fine.
     
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  18. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    You can also have a protagonist take over the role of a deceased character. ie: have him/her step up to the unexpected challenge. Kill a mentor instead of a henchman. That's a test for reader loyalty, but I've enjoyed a few stories where what we thought was the main character is eliminated early. It can have a side effect of making the risks the protagonist takes later more suspenseful.

    One of my favourites is that Romeo and Juliet starts with Romeo's obsession with Rosaline, who drops off the face of the earth after he sees Juliet.
     
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  19. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I like surprise deaths - apologies if this may be off topic. But they don't always work for every story, what I mean is, I have a section I'm working on now in which the MC and a couple of his extended family members are dragged into a situation where one of the family members is shot. The story then follows the MC who (with one other person) manages to return safely - having gotten what it was they were after in he first place - to much hugging and yay-ing. It's not until we time skip to a week later where the family has gathered at the MC's parents' home for the dead person's funeral, that we get a flashback detailing his actual death with his family by his side.

    As this character has come through so much in the first book and then in this one, killing him off was a hard decision and one that I know, will upset people but it had to be done. In order to make the character worthwhile and give him a good send-off, I chose to do it this way, giving my readers first, the shock element, that "he died ... He DIED??" moment but then turning it into a comforting and emotional ride where the funeral is actually quite small and meaningful rather than big and brash.

    Do I think you always need to consider the reader when deciding these things? Maybe, but I don't let that decide where my storylines go. I would much prefer my readers throw down my book in disgust at something like the above situation, but then pick them back up twenty minutes later because they just have to know what happens. Sort of like a rollercoaster ride rather than a carousel ride. In the real world, I prefer carousels, maybe that's why I write rollercoasters! LOL.

    Apologies for rambling xx
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Or, bring in a secondary character who seems ripe for the killing off, but actually, a main character gets killed off and the secondary character takes his place until the end of the story. Which is a good way for him/her to then gain the trust of the other MC's still alive.
     
  21. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Killing off need not be instantaneous. The poor sap can linger in the hospital or elsewhere for as long as you need him/her maybe even skirting death a few times before finally expiring.
     
  22. Wynter
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    Wynter Active Member

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    I suppose if you're having separate shoot-outs throughout the novel, do all of your main characters need to be there? As in if you're running multiple PoVs and you've built backstory to your characters three could have been at the shootout while the other three were elsewhere, with family or doing another job.

    Interlace the characters but there's no real need for them all to be there, every time, thus working around this in a way and when you feel one needs to be bounced off then bounce him off in the next scene.
     

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