1. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Killing Off Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by MilesTro, Jun 23, 2013.

    Do you like to kill off your characters? George R. R Martin does because he want his readers to care and fear about his characters' safely. I find his strategy to hook his readers very interesting. When I watch action movies like James Bond and Rambo, I know the heroes will always escape from death. It isn't interesting unless you think your favorite character will suddenly die. I'm think all killing off my main characters in their final book just to freak out my readers as a conclusion to the characters' epic quest. But that is just a thought. Some authors said it is hard for them to kill off their characters. I guess because they care too much about their characters. However, it can be interesting if the hero dies after or before they save the world. What do you think?
     
  2. CyberFD
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    CyberFD Member

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    Well, for me it depends on how the death is going to affect the rest of my cast, and how all of them will react. It's more fun when my characters care about each other, because when I kill one of them off it can be a tragic scene. If my characters hate each other or if I don't particularly like that character, it's not as much fun to kill off my characters. It's not like it's too hard to kill of characters but I like to have fun while doing it.

    Does this make me sound like a serial killer?
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    If the death of a character enhanced the story in some way, then go ahead. Never do it for sadistic amusement, or just because some great stories having character dying. On the other hand, never really understood when authors say "I love my character so much and can't kill him off", anyway, if you love your char shouldn't your aim be creating a strong and memorable char even if you have to kill the char for that. Believe me, sometimes killing a char is the best way you can show your love for it.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Speaking as a reader, not as a writer, I'd say go ahead and kill a character or two. But don't start killing too many.

    You're quite right. A sense of jeopardy is lost if no main characters ever die, or worse yet, if they die and then come back to life —grr, hate that in fantasy and sci-fi.

    I remember well, that moment in Star Trek, Next Generation, when Lieutenant Yar was killed by that black goo thingy. YIKES. So unexpected to have a main crew member die. And while she returned as a hologram in several episodes, she never actually came back to life.

    I watched the series from then on with my heart in my mouth. Knowing that a main Star Trek character could actually die really intensified the suspense for me. Even though none of the other main crew members ever died after that (until the movies), it was always there in the back of my mind that they might. Excellent ploy.

    However, the other end of the spectrum ...George RR Martin. Eddard Stark's death was fantastic. Unexpected, and really pushed the plot into new territory. However, I actually stopped reading his books after the fourth one, because I got so fed up investing time and interest in so many characters, old and new, only to watch them getting killed off—sometimes to no great purpose.

    I think you need to strike a happy medium. If I were you, I'd be careful about killing off characters just for the sake of it. The readers may end up feeling they've wasted time investing emotion and thought into these characters' predicaments, and will lose interest in your story.

    BTW, if you read the reviews of George RR Martin's books on Amazon, you'll discover that LOTS of former readers, who were very enthusiastic to start with, have abandoned the series for the very reason I cited. (Also because there is no end in sight yet either...but that's another story.)
     
  5. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    Never kill a character off just as a tool to freak out your readers. Do it if it fits with how you want your book or series of books to progress, but never just as a tool of shock, as that can get old very quickly to your readers if you plan to write many books in the same created universe – not to mention make it harder for readers to want to get invested in characters.

    Some writers find it hard to kill off characters because it should be if you believe in your characters. If you think it is hard for you to read a favourite character of yours dying you can bet it’s harder for the writer that created them. I know the worst I've felt about a character death was when one of my favourite authors – R. A. Salvatore – who wrote with the same characters for over twenty years suddenly started killing them all off, except for one of them. When he killed off one that was my personal favourite it was like losing a family member and I actually couldn't bring myself to read the next one in the series for nearly two years. Sounds like a sad case, but twenty years of reading a character you can get quite attached. :)

    As a writer myself, I do kill characters, but not always. If you do it, do it right. Your readers can go postal if you write a character death badly, or it doesn't make sense with the story. One example I saw was with the game, Mass Effect. It was a good game series but the ending of the final game was so badly written the public went nuts over it, so much so that the company had to patch in a whole bunch of extra story to tie it off better. Okay, that is a game, but it's still writing as it is an RPG/Action game and it's no different for books really.
     
  6. michaelj
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    michaelj Senior Member

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    I'd personally only do it if it benefited the story. So far, none of my main characters are close to death but most of them are in dangerous situations where they could end up dead. I'll try not to kill them but if they die then so be it.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Like many other writing questions, it really depends on the story. Killing a character can be painful, especially a main character. In two of the novels I've done, I've killed the MC. Both times, I knew from the beginning I was going to do it. The first time, it was a woman who suffered a lot before she died (and I actually cried when I wrote it). But since the final segment of the novel was about how her husband and son cope (with the help of a close friend), it was necessary. The other MC died much younger at the hands of a criminal, and his death actually served a number of purposes in the story.

    In my current project, a historical in which there is a MC in each historical period portrayed, I am only planning on killing off (before his time, that is) one MC. Then again, that could change.
     
  8. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    So far I haven't killed of any of my main characters and I will not do it in the story I am writing since it wouldn't enhance the story. Still, the story is far from finished so perhaps something unexpected comes up and a character needs to die for the greater good of the story. Someone very important to one of my main characters died a bit before the story and that has a very heavy influence how the story develops. If that person hadn't died, the story will have turned out completely different, even though it doesn't even happen in the story.
    Just killing someone off because you feel like it, isn't a good idea. I do believe that killing of a major character will have an impact on the story one way or another. I will always think carefully before killing characters. I do love my characters a lot, but I still hurt them even though i don't like to do it.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've said this before, but I think you can do both your story and your character a disservice, sometimes, if you don't kill them off. If your character is a hero facing impossible odds to save the world, and at the end of the story he dies to accomplish this, then his sacrifice affirms his heroism and elevates him in the reader's eyes. If he succeeds without dying, it looks like either the task was too easy, or he's unreasonably lucky. Either case cheapens both him and the story.

    Or take the example of the movie Titanic. Jack has to die in the end, otherwise he won't remain eternally young and wonderful in Rose's heart as she gets old. What if Jack had lived? Fifty-five years later, he's fat, retired from his job as an assistant shoe store manager, sitting on the couch drinking beer and bickering endlessly with Rose about everything from politics to the weather. Is that romantic? No! So he dies, becomes elevated in Rose's mind, and fulfills his role in the story. I'm sure many fans of the movie cried when Jack died, but would they have if he had lived? No, and the movie would never have been as popular.
     
  10. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    I think this is a better thread that I ever posted. What if in the beginning of your story, you show the main character dying, and then in the rest of the story you his earlier life and conflict before his death. Would readers still invest to read about the character although they know he is going to die?
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but that's probably the surest way to piss off all your readers so thoroughly that they'd never pick up another book with your name on it again. By all means, kill them off if that's what the story needs! But don't kill them off just for fun - esp not for the ending. You do that, all you're gonna do is disappoint the reader with a bafflingly incongruous and unnecessarily tragic ending that serves to anger the reader far more than impress.

    Take "Across the Nightingale Floor", for example:
    One of the key characters, Lord Shigeru, dies horribly at the end of the book because an infuriatingly convenient plot device allowed their assassination plans to be sabotaged (though the reader knows it would've been a success but the author used the excuse that somebody sabotaged it because they didn't believe it'd work). Then his lover Maruyama also dies by drowning. Both of these deaths were extremely abrupt and utterly unnecessary - and you've been egging them on for the entire book and they were just about to succeed when an unlikely reason caused it to fail, next chapter, suddenly all your favourite characters are dead! Their deaths were pointless, unnecessary, and infuriating.

    I can honestly tell you, I'm not reading the rest of the trilogy. The ending was such a disaster because of some very pointless deaths. If you're gonna kill key characters, give them a reason to die, let their death serve a purpose or a higher meaning. But if you're killing them off pointlessly, your readers aren't gonna thank you for the surprise. They'll hate you for it. You've just killed someone they love for fun - what other reaction did you really expect?
     
  12. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    I guess I'll have to go quoting another video game like a previous poster.

    In the very beginning of "Brothers in Arms" you witness the death of a soldier, and possibly your own death. The rest of the game is a flashback leading to that moment. It was actually very strange getting to know a character you knew was going to die. It did not, however, detract from the character. It really set the stage for the video game: this isn't about fun and shooting, we're giving you a story that is as dirty and grity as war. And there may not be a happy ending.

    Like I said though, the story was very solemn and dark because of it. But it fit the setting of world war two.
     
  13. Vault
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    I wouldn't do it for pure shock value, but I like doing it with shock value as a major factor. I make sure every death has meaning to the story, or it's wasted. If shock value is part of it, as long as it adds to the story, I'm all for it. I, too, also like giving the reader the feeling like no character is safe.
     
  14. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    I have more trouble killing off villains, even if they deserve it.
     
  15. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    So basically you just need meaning, which makes sense. It sounds like you cannot do stuff in your book for fun. Well it can be about fun as long as it has a meaning to the story. That is what makes it believable.
     
  16. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    I watched an interview with GRRM where they mention his taste for killing off main characters.

    He said something along the lines of, "You watch Rambo or James Bond and when they are stuck in a dangerous situation, surrounded by villains, you know 100% that they will escape. I don't want that. I want my readers to be scared. Will they survive? Who knows?".

    I like that.

    If it was purely for shock value and nothing else then I'd shit-can it. But if it's used, like the example above, and created effectively with purpose within a story then, personally, I cant see anything wrong with it. But just like Mckk said, be wise or it will piss off more readers than gain any.
     
  17. Sir Awesome
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    Sir Awesome Member

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    Call me crazy, but I have somewhat of a 'system' for killing of characters. I am a bit too sensitive with stuff like that. I have this never ending story thing where I send my dead characters to. Kind of like an after life of my own imagination.

    Is that too weird?
     
  18. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Yes. You should be committed.
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you can kill them off for shits and giggles, but I think the story should be clearly tongue-in-cheek in that case, so that the reader knows to kind of remain on their toes and not take everything too seriously.
     
  20. Sir Awesome
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    Sir Awesome Member

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    What do you mean?
     
  21. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Well, you are too weird. Somebody should fit you for a straightjacket.

    Weirdos shouldn't be allowed to live with normal people. Just thinking about your craziness makes me crazy. The end result: Mass hysteria and insanity. My solution: Put you in a mental institute. ;)
     
  22. Sir Awesome
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    Sir Awesome Member

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    Ah... Okay. I'll get right on that.
     
  23. New Konoiche
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    New Konoiche Member

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    I'm perfectly cool with killing off characters, provided there is a reason aside from shock value. Two of my former favorite TV shows (Heroes and Grey's Anatomy) really overdid tragic deaths of main characters as a gimmick and it really hurt both of their plot lines. They never seemed to know what to do with the rest of the cast after someone had died. For instance, Grey's Anatomy (SPOILER - I'm betting no one here watches the show, but just to be safe) recently killed off the main character's little sister and...it turned out to be a rather inconsequential event in the long run. Meredith was sad about it for awhile, but I can't recall her mentioning her sister again past the first few episodes of this season. Buffy and Angel also started to have this problem near the end of their runs, but I didn't think it was as bad, since Joss Whedon killed off main characters at the end of the series, not some time in the middle.

    Anyway, I personally wouldn't kill off any of my main characters (the Konoiche, that is), not only because I like them, but because I see no way it would contribute to the story. Sure, the initial shock/reaction would be interesting, but after that, I think I would write myself into a hole by doing that.
     
  24. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Me too. It helps make the situation more suspenseful and unpredictable.
     
  25. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    This is a fantastic thread. I find myself proud to be part of this community yet again. :)

    Anything can work if you write it correctly. You could kill off all your characters at the end of a story. You could kill the MC at the beginning and then make the rest of the story how it led up to that. It just has to be done right (with a lot of reason and strong character building).

    I have only read A Game of Thrones as far as GRRM writing goes and I really appreciate knowing that no one is safe (except when I know a characters shows up in later books or situations I haven't yet read about). There's incredible suspense built by that foundation. I can't say anything about the major complaint of too many characters dying off but two of my friends who've read further than me have complained of this. There is such thing as too much of a good thing.

    Generally speaking, I think I'd have to say it's a bad plan to kill of everyone at the end of a book. Readers (or at least I do) tend to enjoy wondering about what's ahead for the characters. It lets them get more engrossed. They can wonder about how different events will pan out in their lives and all that jazz. If they all die, there's none of that. It's just a big fat THE END, end of question. Possibilities and potential are cut off. I remain firm that it can be done properly, though. It's just a very tedious task, I suspect.

    As far as killing someone off at the beginning, I'm not sure what to think about this. archerfenfris's example was fantastic. You lose some of the suspense in your story, though, by letting it be known they lose in the end. Unless you go on to explain somehow that it isn't as simple as that. Or maybe the situation is a strange one and, by the character's death, you leave so many questions the reader's itching to answer that they forge onward despite knowing the tragedy ahead of them. You also take off the edge of the death event. A lot of people get upset when a character dies and if they know ahead of time, they can be prepared and it can just be another point in the plot by the time they get there, no matter how attached they get to the character.

    Oh, almost forgot. I already can't stand the vapid stories and characters Stephenie Meyer creates. It was the nail in the coffin, though, when I found out she consciously failed to follow the natural progression of events to spare one of her characters just because she liked her so much. My blood is boiling just thinking about it.
     

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