1. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    How do you react to the protagonist's death?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Metus, Jan 18, 2012.

    I am very heavily leaning towards killing my main character at the end of my book/series. He would die just after the resolution of the main plot. The resolution/epilogue of side plot arcs would be taken over by the protagonist's best friend and love interest.

    My question: Does the death of the protagonist kill the ending of the book for you? I wouldn't want to write in the tragic ending if it would be too depressing. It's supposed to be bittersweet, not miserable.
     
  2. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    It can work - I've read novels where the protagonist dies at the end, and although I really didn't want that outcome, I appreciated it had to be. Sometimes killing your MC is the only ending you CAN do, because you've stacked the odds so high against them that anything else would be unrealistic or would require a deus ex machina to get them out of it.

    I actually think Tolkein wimped out not killing more characters ;)
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    What would turn me off about the protagonist dying? Well, I think if it didn't seem to fit in with the story on a whole, know what I mean? If he got randomly killed for no other reason than the sake of dying, I might not take it as well.

    To me, if you're gonna kill off the protagonist, there has to be some underlying sense behind it. There has to be meaning to it. I mean, you're bumping off the hero, not Random Mook #124. The hero deserves a more dignified death than 'woops, he took a laser beam to the chest by Random Mook #124.'

    I don't really know that much, so I'll leave it to the experts.
     
  4. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Personally, I hate it when the MC dies at the end. I can't think of a time when it hasn't irritated me. I know it is very much a personal gripe, and there are definitely plenty of situations where killing the major character(s) is the right thing to do in terms of the story. For some reason it just gets on my nerves.

    Having said that, I think you'd have to be careful to pass the MC crown onto another character for the finale without losing the readers' interest - the death of the protagonist and the resolution of the main plot combined might seem too much like the end. I'm not saying it can't be done, by any means, but it could be a good challenge.
     
  5. Jared King
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    Jared King Member

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    Personally, its never fun to have the main character of a novel reading die (because you've become attached to them) but I certainly understand and appreciate what the author was doing if it is done appropriately. In your case it sounds like a suitable way of finishing things off having a character who was close to the MC ending the book. The only thing I would suggest is trying to make sure that you don't leave too many plots for this secondary character to close; I think it would be better to have that final section be very concise, even limiting it to the epilogue as you suggested, otherwise it might seem to drag on and readers might leave unsatisfied with the ending.
     
  6. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    As some have mentioned already, it has a lot to do with why & how the MC dies. If they died for a stupid reason or in a way that's not very dignified (like slipping in the shower, or randomly getting hit by a laser as Link The Writer mentioned) it gets aggravating for the reader. If the death of your MC coincides properly with your ending, and is created smoothly and flows with the rest of the plot, it can be done appropriately. You can move a reader, in the good way, by making them emotional or...you can make them angry. Everyone reacts to stories differently though. Haha.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tragic hero stories make me feel sad. I know it's pretty shallow of me, but I am a sucker for a happy ending.
     
  8. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I had exactly this problem when I was finishing up Dragon some months back. In essence my hero had built his spaceship, gone out an saved the day, rescued his family, and ended an intergalactic war, but at the same time due to a decade of illicit drug use etc, was dying. I had three choices of course.

    The first was that I could kill him off, let him die the conquoring hero's uber death. In many ways this felt the right ending to the book for me. But at the same time I'd invested so much time and emotion into writing him, that I thought I simply couldn't stand him dying. My decision not to use this ending even having written it was also based in part on the book Shipwreck by Charles Logan which I read as a kid. In essence it's a sci fi where the hero crashes on an alien world and has to survive alone, with no real hope of rescue. The entire novel, and it is a very good read, is a story of survival against the odds. But the last line is 'And there on that rock, by the edge of the sea, he died'. Powerful, gripping, (even now, thirty years later I remember it) but not what I wanted to read. I couldn't do that to my hero or my readers.

    The second ending was the happy one. Parades, warm comfort of a missing and presumed dead but miraculously returned family. Most people I know like happy endings, but as I wrote it, I simply couldn't take it. It was just too happy for want of better word.

    So I went with the third option, the unknown, cliffhanger, which leaves whether he lives or not an open question. I hope readers will appreciate that. But it also does one thing more, and something I had not considered at the time, it leaves me with a potential sequel.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  9. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    That sounds so incredibly boss.:cool:
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It didn't do Romeo and Juliet, King Lear or Macbeth any harm! Of course, they are all tragedies, and the mp dying in a tragedy is normal. If you want to move away from a tragedy to something bittersweet then I would suggest that the death of the mp not be because of a fatal flaw ("hamartia") but because of a strength, and I would suggest that the death should achieve something worthwhile to the character (such as saving somebody or something he loves). To make it bittersweet I thing the death has to achieve something considered a success.
     
  11. isnotgood
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    isnotgood New Member

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    Me too, i like happy ending. But in some times it will work for you. Better though is to kill him but to have some other second persons live at the end and be happy.
     
  12. isnotgood
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    isnotgood New Member

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    No that sounds like Goku's death in Dragonball Z. Spaceship, saved the day etc. Goku is here again!
     
  13. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    depends on wether you want the reader to react or not.
    Dying is one of the easiest way of ending any story along with a happy ending.
    a reader knows that before even picking up a book so by logic he or she would be expecting it and to that I would conclude no reaction whatsover.
     
  14. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    I agree with this. Romeo and Juliet were pointless deaths and achieved nothing - pure tragedy, no bitter sweetness there. King Lear and Macbeth were victims of their own fatal flaws - vanity and ambition respectively. The only way to make a death bittersweet is to have it prevent an outcome that would be even worse, or have a positive impact that outweighs the tragedy.

    Is there any kind of unexpected positive that could result from his death? Something that would make it less senseless and compensate for the loss?
     
  15. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    I agree. Teachers of mine have always wondered why their students hated Shakespeare. It's not that they didn't understand it. They were all AP classes who were forced to translate every line. The deaths were just pointless most of the time. Yeah, that's why it's a tragedy, but that's also why my peers and I disliked it so much.

    Death of the MC isn't bad, as long as it serves a purpose. If it's a dying MC just for the sake of dying, you've wasted a good character. But that's just my opinion.
     
  16. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    It depends how it's done. Please don't just have it happen for the hell of it, for shock value. Make the death meaningful to the story and make sure it fits in with the general feel of the story.
     
  17. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Actually the deaths of Romeo and Juliet aren't pointless at all. For the romatics I suppose they show the transcendance of love and if two people cannot live alone without the other that death is preferable. And for the play itself they show the complete pointlessness of the feud between their rival families and end it. Their death ends the feud.

    And for those of us who can't stand the bard, it signifies that the play is coming to an end!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  18. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    As long as the MC solved the major problem, beat the bad guy, resolved whatever inner conflict, and found what he/she was truly after.
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    From the literary perspective, the point of a death in a (well-written) tragedy is to show the consequences of some tragic flaw, usually in the character who dies (Macbeth) but sometimes in the environment or culture (Romeo & Juliet). Of course, if you want a feel-good story that point won't count for much.
     
  20. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think the MC's death can be very powerful, and the happiest of endings. What is the MC's character arc? Does he even have one? Look at all the James Bond stories. Bond never changes, never goes through a real arc. He just takes on this month's villain, defeats him, and carries on swilling vodka martinis. The whole adventure was just another notch in his gunbelt. Boring, in other words. The adventure didn't really MEAN anything to Bond as a person, as a character. He just comes across as some kind of invincible superhero who defeats the villain and lives to fight another one next time.

    But a MC who dies (or is at least allowed to die) at the end has a reason to live, if you know what I mean. The adventure he embarks on isn't just another day at the office, it's something vitally important to him - so important he'd be willing to die for it. He literally gives his life for it. If the hero dies in the service of a greater cause than himself, it magnifies the significance of the adventure he embarked on in the first place - it strengthens his whole story.

    To some extent, if the hero doesn't die, his adventure is less meaningful. Metaphorically, he just comes home at night, orders a pizza, watches some sitcoms on TV, and gets up and goes on another *yawn* adventure *yawn* the next morning. There's nothing really on the line here, as far as he is personally concerned. Maybe he saves the world, but if it doesn't affect him personally, it won't affect the reader much.

    The ultimate way for a story to affect the MC personally is for him to die, or maybe to have the person he loves most die. Something has to be at stake for us to really care a lot about the story. If the hero fights valiantly, ultimately sacrificing his life for his victory, but achieves that victory, then that's a more powerful story, I think.
     
  21. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    Lots of good advice here. To address earlier concerns, if I do end up killing the mc, the plot arcs would not drag on and on forever. I agree, continuing the book to long after the mc died would devalue his death.
     
  22. Miss Jo
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    Miss Jo Member

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    For me when the MC dies it's a total love/hate reaction. It's those books that generally get the most emotion out of me though so in the end I think it's a good idea. I think it can be one of the most powerful endings and one that would stick with a reader for a long time no matter what their initial reaction is.
     
  23. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    Perhaps that's why I dislike Romeo & Juliet so much. I loved the story up to the end, but the end has always pissed me off. However, perhaps that's because from an early age, we see cartoons make fun of Romeo & Juliet (because TV shows always showcase Romeo & Juliet as their play, and hardly any other play, lol) and the ending is ruined for us early on at an early age. I don't think anyone goes to class and starts Romeo & Juliet without knowing the ending. So perhaps my views on Romeo & Juliet are tainted, haha. Either way, I wish they wouldn't have died at the end, but I also understand that you can't always have a cookie-cutter-into-the-sunset-ending.
     
  24. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    on second thoughts bittersweet is something that should would stay with you forever or for quite a while.
    The problem I see with a character dying is that once it is dead you would forget about it.
    If it was still alive then you are more likely to cultivate the bittersweet within you for a full effect.
    As the saying goes dead and dusted and that is not what bittersweet is about.
     
  25. Daydream
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    Daydream Contributing Member Contributor

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    I personally don't like if the MC dies. I've found that people don't like unhappy endings. After so much struggle to beat the bad guys/save the world/make the person they love fall for them we want to see them lead that happy life the wished for. The MC pretty much deserves a happy ending or an ending where the reader can think about what the MC is going to do with his/her future. I finished the Hunger Games Trilogy a while ago and have to say I was pretty disappointed with the ending. It was quiet depressing, especially with all that she had to go through.
     

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