1. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    In Regards to Character Deaths

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Acanthophis, Nov 8, 2013.

    So tomorrow I'm writing a random scene where a certain main character gets killed off. This is something I started thinking about when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out. I remember watching Qui-Gon Jinn die and was wondering why his death was drawn out over several minutes while everyone else was dropping dead instantly. I came to the conclusion that his death had to be different than everybody else's because he was the main character.

    Does it have to be like that, though? A drawn out death gives a reader or a viewer time to come to terms with what is happening, but what about an instant death? I can't think of a time where a main character was just killed, there always seems to be some sort of buildup to their death, it never just happens. In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark's death isn't drawn out, but the buildup to it is. Is the buildup/tension necessary?

    Picture an old western shootout between two people, they usually buildup to the moment when both characters pull their guns out and start shooting, letting the person watching or reading know what is about to happen. What if a character just pulled their gun out and instantly shot the other dead, giving no time for the audience to realise that someone is about to die.

    So is killing a character off instantly worse than using buildup? Does it make the reader lose focus on what comes next if they're still thinking about something impactful that had no warning?

    Anyway, I hope this makes sense, I often have a hard time asking questions which I don't know the answer to. :p
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Well... keeping the GoT theme going, some of the characters death were a paragraph long. Like an FYI.
    The Red Wedding was drawn out but mostly because it takes a while to kill an entire wedding party.

    Killing them after a build up keeps the reader going "zomg, zomg zomg!!!!"
    Killing them suddenly makes a reader go "no.f'ing.way!" or "Wait, what?"

    One gives them hope for a moment, the other a sudden shock.

    Neither is better than the other, but a good mix of it a in book is healthy so it doesn't get repetitive.
     
  3. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Building it up gives some attachment to the character and helps the moment stick. It can be done suddenly too, The Walking Dead TV series is known for (and very damn good at) this when character deaths are sudden and unpredictable just like real life events. The deaths still Impact all the same.

    It really all depends on how you want to show the death, either way if the audience is attached enough it'll stick
     
  4. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    I think building it up is worse. Especially if it is the first time a main character dies, cause as it is building up the readers will be like "No he won't die!" then as shock embraces them they will go to sleep in tears. Then you swap that back and forth, sometimes being no buildup and other times buildups, to keep the readers on their toes and not knowing what comes next.
     
  5. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    From my perspective, I can see value in drawing out the scene of when the fatal blow is struck and the heart stops. There is an emotional impact, especially for characters that are liked. If the character knows they are going to die, there may be some final acts they can get in, a final farewell.

    I also see value in a sudden, quick death. That can leave a more lasting impression on the audience than a slow death. It leaves an audience thinking "This can't be happening. Did I just see what I think I saw?"
     
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  6. MrPizzle
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    MrPizzle Member

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    As long as the main character doesn't falls under a situation where he obviously must be killed but the villain comes up with a shitty reason not too such as In Breaking Bad where Walt and Jesse are held hostage and the Los Pollos guy (can't remember his name) didn't kill him despite how obviously dangerous he is.
     
  7. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    Thanks for the input. I tried it in both ways and I prefer the sudden and quick method, but obviously I'll have to apply both to avoid repetition.
     
  8. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    If you don't remember Gustavo Fring's name then I won't assume you know why he didn't kill Walt. He needed him, else he'd lose millions and millions AND millions of dollars.

    Sorry off topic, but I had to.
     
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  9. MrPizzle
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    MrPizzle Member

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    And if you remembered, Gustavo at that point wanted Jesse under him, he knew that Walter is a growing issue. Both were manipulating Jesse due to his skills, at this point are just as good as Walter's.

    The only logical solution for Gustavo was to kill him right there and build up Jesse's skills even more. Walter even tries to walk into his house with gun only to be warded off by Mike, Walter then also tried to convince Mike to join him instead as well.

    How can you not see Walter is becoming a threat?
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2013
  10. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    normally I see the significance of the character is proportional to their length or fashon of death. sometimes a quick death adds shock ie. tasha yar in stng but no matter what our how the death it is the aftermath and reaction that gives any of the deaths their substance.
     
  11. Remus Penn
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    Remus Penn Member

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    Killing them after a long buildup can give great suspense and excitement to the story, but killing them instantly will shock the reader (an instance such as this once left me staring at a page with my mouth agape for several seconds). I think it really might depend on the character and the way they die.
     
  12. Catrin Lewis
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    It's not necessary to go heavy on the buildup and foreshadowing, but you have to remember that sudden death and arbitrary death are two different things. The former, treated properly, can keep the story going; the latter will make your reader think "What the hell was that for? Cheat!" and yank him right out of it.

    So to avoid being arbitrary in your literary killing spree, you have to ask yourself, is this a story where the reader might expect the characters to be at risk of death and danger? If so, that might be all the foreshadowing and buildup you need. In each instance, who is the character who dies? Someone who habitually takes risks or someone who's usually very careful? Someone who's in the danger zone, or Joe Blow sitting at his breakfast table when a tree crashes through the roof?

    Another question you have to ask yourself, what plot purpose does the death serve? Maybe I'm writing what seems to start out as a love story, and here's a young man's fiancee who gets hit by a bus right after they've picked out the ring. OK, now she's dead. How does this affect the young man? What does he do that he wouldn't have done had she remained alive? As the author I have to answer that question. When I do, her death has served the purpose of forwarding the story.

    Because then it would be a simple murder, not a shootout. If you want to keep your reader guessing, you can always jump into such a scene right as the quicker draw fires, but afterward you have to do some work to let the reader know it was a shootout in the first place. And you probably couldn't present it this way anywhere but at the very beginning of your story, before the reader knows who the characters are and why they're opposing one another. Otherwise, the shootout would be expected to occur eventually.

    However you write it, the emotion and impact of a major character's death has to be acknowledged in some way before or after (could be something as simple as "Oh, sh!t, we've lost Billy!"), unless you're writing a dystopian novel where nobody gives a damn anymore. And in that case, it's likely your reader won't give a damn, either.

    If you're going to have a multiple body count, approach each death in the way that best forwards your story. I wouldn't worry about "alternating" buildup and no buildup. Use what each situation and each character demands.
     
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  13. RabidChipmunk
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    RabidChipmunk Member

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    I honestly think it's less about how drawn out the death is. As other's have said, both have their merits. A character crawling away, bleeding his last has a different, but ultimately just as effective, emotional impact as a character getting shot through the heart by an unseen sniper or other such thing. What matters is how the characters react to it, and how the story unfolds afterward. Will this death be forgotten about, or will it completely change the story forever? Be sure to make the audience realize how the game has changed because of this death. Make sure it maintains its impact.
     
  14. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    I love killing characters. It is heart breaking as a writer to kill off a character, but if done right, it just makes it so awesome.

    Lets look at examples.

    Like Boromir, his death was satisfying, (oddly enough), he was a evil man yes, but we know where he comes from. A character death is nothing with out the necessary build up, without the emotion we as a reader have to the character it makes it so meaningful. This deep connection we have to characters, their pain transcends into us. Without these meaningful moments with this character we do not understand them, we just see them as a fictional character.

    Make the characters death worth something. But sometimes, like I know from certain writers (George R.R. martin) you make the characters death meaningless. Which not only infuriates the reader, but it makes it so ridiculously awesome that we cannot hope but love it for what it is.

    I mean Qui-Gons or whatever his name is, was very sad, but poorly executed we never felt the connection, slow deaths are meant to be sad. I mean look at the most classic example. Darth Vaders Death in the Return of the Jedi. His death was long, he had been wounded severely by Sidious, but still he lived on, and looked upon his son and smiled and died! We all cried at that ending because Vader was an amazing villian, (minus the prequels), because we saw him as more than just a robot in that one scene where he chooses to save his son. We see him as something greater than a trope, greater than some dark lord, we saw him as a father that wanted to save his son.

    But I am mischievous and I like to kill my first main character in a really fast way. Such as them getting stabbed in the throat by their student. Because I love screwing with the reader mostly.

    Anyway good luck, and keep writing.
     
  15. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    It depends on what effect and reaction you want the readers to have. A minor character dies quickly: "Oh, that was unfortunate." A minor character dies slowly: "This must be important because you're spending so much time telling me about it." A major character dies quickly: "What? He/she died? Now? Really? Can this be real? Will I still enjoy the rest of the book? I hope there's some resolution as to why it happened and that the remaining characters are all the stronger for it, despite their mourning, but it can't be real, can it? Noone would kill off a main character with one sentence. There at least has to be some way for him/her to come back, or it might just be that the characters are supposed to think he's/she's dead, but then they'll come back to save the day later. That must be it." A major character dying slowly: "Woah! This must be an important moment in the book. Everything depends on what happens next."
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2015
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  16. Glen Snow
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    I'll echo the rest in saying that both have their merits and opportune moments.
    You have writers like GRRM who, even though I love the SoFaI books, you can't really invest in the character because of the ever present sword of Damocles that seems to fall at random upon their unsuspecting heads.
    Then there's completely out of scene character deaths. The example I like to use is Harry Potter. Rowling kills off several characters with only brief explanations on how they died. (Not a huge fan of this)
    My personal favorite is the quick & dirty method. A sniper's round through the head of a supporting character. A traitors dagger across the throat when all appears clear. A mountain lion stuffed in a sock drawer. The goal for these is to make the reader pause and have a WTF moment.
     
  17. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    To draw from what I'm working on. The MC dies in the end, but by that time, he has become the protagonist and the influence character has become the MC, but that is neither here nor there.

    I intend to keep him alive and suffering, wanting, needing over three scripts, then in the end, kill him, but I intend to make him as real as possible. Giving him real wants, needs and pains.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Farscape and Game of Thrones - SPOILER ALERT:

    When I think of character deaths, I remember the death of Aeryn Sun in Farscape, at the end of Season Two. It was totally unexpected, and a MAJOR event. She's in the air in her Prowler craft, chasing and being chased by the John Crichton character in Scorpius-head mode, and you assume she'll escape. She's a main character, right? One half of the love story. And then, suddenly, she's ejecting from the ruined craft into a frozen sea, trapped by her seat belt, the seat breaks through the ice, and that's it. Next scene, we're at her funeral, complete with a grief-stricken and remorseful Crichton, lovely frozen corpse, etc.

    One of those head-slapping OMIGOD they CAN'T do this moments in TV storytelling. And it came at the end of the Season as well, leaving us with several months to contemplate the repercussions. Things did move on at the start of the third Season (Aeryn gets brought back to life in a sci-fi-plausible way, as she was frozen, not injured) ...but the impact of that moment still sticks with me. If you're going to kill a character, that's how to do it. Kill one you don't expect to die, and do it in a way the audience doesn't expect, without any buildup to 'death.' Danger, yes. Death no. There is a certain expectation in stories that major characters will not die, so when one does ...wham.

    I've often thought about this, and wondered what would have happened next if Aeryn had remained dead. The entire story would have changed focus. If you wipe out a main character, this will certainly be the result. The story will not go where your readers assumed it would. This gives you lots to work with, but if you don't handle it well, you can really devastate your readers to no purpose.

    I feel this has happened to George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire saga. Eddard's death at the end of Game of Thrones was excellent, but some of the others seem unnecessary and wasteful of character time, and I've certainly stopped reading. I have no interest in investing time in major characters who are going to die, just to provide yet another plot twist...
     
  19. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Really? You stop reading for that?

    I find it rather exciting to never know who's going to die next, and some characters dissapear for a few books and pop back.
    The sudden death reflects real life. In real life you don't have a huge build up to someone's death, it just happens, be it in battle or assassination.

    You'll notice, say that

    SPOILERS FOR FIRST TWO BOOKS

    Eddard's death is drawn out (I mean, you know he's going to die. Joffrey's a sick bastard.) whereas some deaths, such as *that person who dies in book four in an unfortunate area* is quick and unexpected.

    *Readers of a Feast for Crows will understand
     
  20. Renee J
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    I don't remember who dies in book four.
     

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