1. Vicious
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    Vicious New Member

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    Killing Off Protagonists/Main Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Vicious, Jul 6, 2013.

    There's this idea I've been wrestling with for a long time for one particular fantasy story I'm working on about killing off my main protagonist, or even several of my main characters, as a plot device of sorts, and later resurrect several of them through whatever means. However, my questions are: Is it okay to kill the protagonist midway into a story and not have them resurrected? Is there a certain edginess or substance to a story that would make it more intriguing to leave certain beloved characters deceased? Are there certain rules to killing main characters, or the protagonist in particular?

    My reasons for wanting to kill off my own characters I really don't understand myself in some ways, but I do find it interesting when beloved characters die, but I loathe martyr characters resurrected somehow if they don't need to or are not required to return to life. It is as though death doesn't matter in a sense. One example is comic books. Superheroes, ever since the Death of Superman, have died and been revived for whatever reason, making the boundary of death non-existent or meaningless.

    But I do understand there are ways to make a character's resurrection not seem so elaborately staged, as though the unexpected can happen and not sound so redundant or cliched. There are ways to cheat death, but I know there are, I guess, rules to resurrection as well.

    I'm not 100% certain if I'm simplifying my general point, but I'd like to hear anyone's thoughts on the subject of death and rebirth. I guess a more elaborate way of asking these questions are "when is it ok to kill/revive someone" and "is it ok to kill/revive someone"?

    Thoughts and ideas are much appreciated.

    -V
     
  2. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    Buffy dies twice and came back. Sam and Dean Winchester seem to take turns dying and coming back every season. Even Harry Dresden spent an entire book as a ghost and came back. They are good stories, and I still love every one of them, but I think the 'oops I died, but now I'm back' thing kind of cheapens the story. There are some things that should be final, no take-backs, no do-overs. Without death all of the hardship your character overcomes is made less by the removal of the ultimate, to-be-avoided-at-all-costs, no deposit, no return, bad ending.
    Tasha Yar's loss on ST:TNG would not have been so tragic if we knew she was going to be resurrected by some cheesy alien device, but she wasn't, and it made for a better story that way.
    So, yeah, it can be done, but I'd do it carefully if I were you.
     
  3. CyberFD
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    CyberFD Member

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    I'd say if you brought any characters back, bring them back the hard way. Like the second time Buffy died, she was gone for a while. When they did the spell on her to bring her back, she woke up in the fucking ground. She didn't remember much of anyone, and she was freaked the fuck out.

    She was fucking dead and suddenly came back.

    You can leave them psychologically wasted for a while, or permanently. If I were writing this, I'd make it one of their biggest weaknesses.

    This is all if any of the characters must come back. If they died and they are no longer needed, then let them remain dead.
     
  4. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    My MC dies at the end of part one of a three part series, so technically 1/3rd of the way through the story. She doesn't come back. Rather I use that as an opportunity to focus in now on her best friend (they were so close they were like sisters) and how she is coping with the grief and moving on with the goals of the story.
     
  5. Logik
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    Logik Member

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    "Is there a certain edginess or substance to a story that would make it more intriguing to leave certain beloved characters deceased? "

    Yes, I don’t want to spoil any stories, but the idea that ‘anyone could go,’ while itself is a gimmick, seems to be liked by a lot of readers. However, be aware that if you kill someone only to resurrect them later, some readers will probably be annoyed, as it does take away from anything having any consequences.

    I think the interesting thing is ‘halfway’ through the story. Even for the movies and stories I’m thinking of it is usually toward the end where the protagonist is killed, as the idea of the protagonist often implies a journey with a climax near the end. If you’re going to kill a main character halfway through the story, then it follows from ‘halfway’ that you have enough of a story left over and someone else to carry it. I suppose this other character would also have to be established earlier in the story. The movie Psycho is the only example I can think of right now.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, no kidding. I watched Star Trek TNG with a completely different outlook, from then on. If Tasha could die so suddenly, unexpectedly and completely, then anybody could die. A hugely effective ploy.

    However, the effect will dwindle if, say, half of the main characters die. This is the trap that George RR Martin has fallen into, unfortunately. When you realise that just about everybody MIGHT die, you stop investing in the characters. I know I did. And then I stopped reading altogether.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you bring them back, you'll have had to developed your characters SO well that they're so loved that the readers would basically swallow anything just to see them come back to life. I remember the ending of series 1 of Sailor Moon - everyone dies at the end, each with a tragic end - they died beautifully, and somehow that made it more tragic. It was a huge shock because, as a series for children, the characters were basically invincible for much of the series. Then in just one episode, 4 out of 5 characters died in succession. In the final episode, the MC Sailor Moon has to fight her one and only love, he dies, and then she fights the final villain and they both die. Bear in mind this is meant for children, probably aged between 8-13. I'm now 25 and whenever I watch those episodes again, I'm amazed at how well-done it was - it still moves me. It was probably two of the most artistically and expertly done episodes of the entire franchise in my opinion.

    And then they came back to life, and to this day I'm still glad to see it. They all lose their memories, so it's bittersweet.

    And then the Japanese made the mistake of making seasons 2, 3, 4 and 5 :D People dying and resurrecting became the norm, and it stopped having value.

    I must say though, when there was another character who was meant to die, and instead someone saves her in time and she is turned into a baby with no memories - that was one heck of a fantastic story.

    But anyway - if people are gonna die, give them some value. Resurrection can indeed cheapen things. I'm still torn over Death Note - when this character died, I would've given anything for him to be raised again, loved him so much. However, if he had been raised, the tragedy and weight of his death would have been lost. It's one of those occasions though when I loved the character so much that I simply wouldn't have cared - I just wanted him to live again.

    So, if you can make your character as awesome as that, you should be fine with resurrecting them :D The key is in the reader's investment, and that's pretty hard to do. It needs to be so strong that it's beyond a simple tragedy where the reader grieves for your character, but will subsequently move on soon enough. It needs to be a "WTF WHAT THE HELL HOW COULD YOU DO THIS YOU F-ING AUTHOR BRING HIM BACK!! BRING HIM BACK NOOOOW!!!!" devastation.
     
  8. Vicious
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    Vicious New Member

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    Oh man, I know what you mean by GoT, Sailor Moon, and Death Note. Even Supernatural lost its flavor because the brothers would swap roles every other season.

    Death Note was one I really invested in to the characters and when several of them died I was torn, but I still loved the story.

    Great ideas guys. I wish I could remember that bit about TNG, having loved the show as a kid, but I don't remember anything. I'd be geeking out more potentially if I did XD
     
  9. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    IMO deaths should be significant. I don't like GRRM's way of handling things. Realistically, anyone could die in his story, but he tries to compensate for it with new characters which the readers won't necessarily like, and might even hate, for various reasons.

    For example, Roose and Ramsay Bolton are introduced late into the story. Roose deals the finishing blow to Robb Stark, while Ramsay terrorizes and tortures Theon Greyjoy. These characters are IMO pure hate fodder, they serve no other purpose than that.

    Deaths must HURT the reader IMO. Especially a death from a significant character, and even more especially if the character in question is not coming back in any way, shape or form.
     
  10. Kita
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    Kita Senior Member

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    Killing off protagonists can be a good way to develop a story. Personally I am writing a trilogy and at the end of the second book, most of the main characters shall be killed. This can develop the survivors emotionally by dealing with the loss of friends or in this case, the people they have been living and fighting alongside. Though it depends how the characters die. For example one will meet his end by splitting from the group and into the communications centre to alert troops landing that there are survivors inside where he will be cut off and killed. Others will die from defending the base. Finally one of them shall survive it all but because of a mutation from an encounter with their enemy he will be incinerated.

    As for bringing characters back to life, I'm not much of a fan of it. As close to that as I personally would go would be dreams, hallucinations and memories. Maybe the characters final moments playing on a friends mind or a phrase they once said. I find resurrection to be too difficult to do without it detracting from the story. As mentioned by others, Supernatural is a shining example of resurrection gone wrong.
     
  11. Rimuel
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    Rimuel Member

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    It's all about expectations, my friend. This is why plot twists are so intriguing to readers; they are unexpected (or at least, should be.)

    So, make your readers so attached to the character that if he were to die, they would grief his departure as if he was a real friend. Make it seem like the MCs would be able to face the final battle and come back safe and sound, only to have one of the MC die at the end of the climax scene.

    When you resurrect him, your readers may shed some tears of relief. If you are going to resurrect someone more than once, create some kind of consequence for the resurrection. Maybe he lost all his memory, or he lost an ability of his. Perhaps he became such a different person that you barely recognise him. So on and so forth.

    You can even resurrect only his soul; for example, a side character who was in a coma awakens shortly after the death of the MC, and claims to be the MC. All kinds of complications can arise here. :D
     
  12. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    I hope the people criticizing loss in A Song of Ice and Fire have read through the current chapters.

    SPOILERS. CANNOT FIND THE FORUM OPTION ON THE MOBILE VERSION OF THE SITE.
    Robb wasn't even a point of view character. I never attached to him when I read the books before the show, it was all his mother's POV. And all who have read know she doesn't stay dead, technically speaking. And as far as Jon Snow goes at the final chapter, I'm pretty convinced Mellisandre is there because she unknowingly sees him as Azor Azai reborn. Most of the likeable characters people invested in are mostly alive. Personally I think he does a great job in showing anyone can die.

    END OF SPOILERS

    Animes are where I've seen the most main character death. Gurren Lagaan and ESPECIALLY the new Attack on Titan.
     
  13. Richard Tijerina
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    Richard Tijerina Member

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    Don't ever kill your main protaganist. Maim them if you must, but don't risk losing those readers who identified with that person.
     
  14. The Monster of Surrealton!
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    The Monster of Surrealton! New Member

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    In books, if it's to advance the plot, it serves some purpose, or you don't plan to include them in a sequel, go for it.

    In comic books, my department, I don't believe in killing main characters since there are plenty of stories you can involve them in.
     
  15. Malo Beto
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    Malo Beto Member

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    I usually like stories where main characters are killed off, it makes it feel like there is something at stake. If a writer magically brings a character back to life it breaks all tension for me because I figure if that character can come back from the dead then it really doesn't matter what happens to him/her they can just come back to life if they die. I know there are plenty of other ways to cause tension besides the threat of death, but often times that is the most immediate. That said I would advise against killing off your character's without good reason. If you are trying to get them into a situation to die then you are probably doing it wrong.

    If you haven't you should check out the manga Berserk. There is a pretty good example in there of killing off most of the main characters fairly early on.
     
  16. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    I'm actually wondering the same thing, sort of.

    So, to hijack the thread, I'm thinking of killing off one of my MC's two best friends (like if J.K. Rowling had killed off Ron). Partly because I think it will be an effective and unexpected plot twist and partly because there's a recurring theme that said character feels inadequate and, compared to his two other friends (think Harry and Hermione) he's useless and is just holding everybody back. So, he sacrifices himself to allow some of the others to get away. If they'd been caught, it would have effectively been game over for the good guys. Seemingly, anyway.

    What do you guys think?
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Granted I brought her back in a unique way the next chapter, I killed off my Main Character. In fact, it's the opening scene of the novel. Killing off characters isn't always a bad thing...look at the death of Spock in Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan. It provided a added punch to a story that was, for lack of a better term, about death and how we react to it. So, with that said, there's thing wrong with what you're writing. If you're bringing him/her back, though, try not to be contrived.
     
  18. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's the point of killing someone if you're just gonna bring them back? Sounds like a cheap way to thrill your readers.
     
  19. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    I guess it's kind of like a double-thrill. First there's the shock of one of the characters dying, then there's the shock of seeing them "revived". Although it does (as with most things I guess) depend on the way you do it. If it's done badly it's likely to be, as you say, "cheap".
     
  20. hippocampus
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    hippocampus Active Member

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    Maybe it's just me, but if characters keep resurrecting here and there, I stop being vested in their death and just keep waiting and looking for them to come back. The parts of the story where their death is mentioned or dealt with by other characters are meaningless to me and every time a new character dies, I think - yeah, whatever. They'll be back!

    Think about all the characters that were lost in GRRM's books - if we thought they might be back, it wouldn't be nearly as sad when we lost them. Even if it were done well.
     
  21. Lisztomania
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    Lisztomania Member

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    The Road is prime example of killing a main character. Was sad and super effective to making the story better.
     
  22. TrailerParkInferno
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    TrailerParkInferno New Member

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    Killing off a main character or even main characters can be incredibly useful if done correctly. Like, take The Scream franchise for example. The latest entry seemed quite stale because not a single one of the protagonists died or were even badly hurt. It would have made the movie so much better if one had have died. Having said that, it can also seem like it was done simply to shock the audience or as a type of cop-out if done wrong. It's quite a risky thing to do in some cases.
     
  23. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    If you're going to eliminate a primary character from your story, you MUST have a reason - a story-specific reason. Don't do it to be cool. Don't do it to be shocking. Do it because that is the best way for your story to proceed.
     
  24. findingghost
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    I think that resurrecting a character is fine, that alone will not ruin your story but I would aim to provide the reader a solid explanation for how they came back so it doesn't seem meaningless.
    As for killing off main characters, well you mentioned Death Note? L dies but then has Near and Mello enter the story in order to fill his place which I think is really important, what partly makes DN such a good story is that there's this battle going on between two great minds and its all about who can outsmart who. If that element was lost the story would suffer.
    If the MC was the leader who then died, it would be interesting to see how their 'team' roles are affected... who will take on the MC's leader role? who will shrink away from it? how does the MC's death change the characters left alive? When your MC returns they can't just fulfill their old role anymore, it's probably no longer available. Killing your MC will change all the other characters connected to them in some way, if the MC was to return and everything went back to normal then it could seem 'cheap'.

    I hope what I said wasn't too confusing haha! Also that it was relevant in some way or another. I encourage you not to be put off killing/resurrecting main characters, almost anything can be pulled off as long as it's done with style and is weaved into the story! :)
     
  25. Misty'sMess
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    Misty'sMess Member

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    I've killed off my MC before but unfortunately my story died at that point too. I didn't leave myself enough room to move without her. Under the circumstances, I couldn't let her live because it would have been unbelievable, but when she was dead I had no where else to go.

    I think, if you do kill off your MC, make sure you have someone equally interesting to take their place, otherwise you'll be left with a hole.
     

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