1. Uberwatch
    Offline

    Uberwatch Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2013
    Messages:
    257
    Likes Received:
    38
    Location:
    Los Angeles, California

    Killing the main character in the beginning of the story

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Uberwatch, Dec 17, 2014.

    I'm a sucker for non-traditional storytelling so I got a story where the main character dies in opening scene (It's a screenplay, not a novel) and the rest of the story is about his events up until that point. The question is, can an audience handle following a story of a main character that they know, will die in the end?

    Because I need to make a good opening that will keep people engaged into the story. Otherwise, there isn't really a drive to continue.
     
  2. A.M.P.
    Offline

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,030
    Likes Received:
    1,126
    Location:
    A Place with no History
    Pretty sure other plays or books do this.
    Can't think of any but I know I saw/read them.
     
  3. theoriginalmonsterman
    Offline

    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2014
    Messages:
    525
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    [REDACTED]
    The movie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memento_(film) Memento is a good example of this except the main character isn't killed. I recommend you watch it. The movie itself is a bit confusing, but if you're looking for a start for your screenplay Memento can give you a lot of ideas on how to go about writing it.
     
  4. Scription
    Offline

    Scription New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2014
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    I read a book called "Cruddy" by Lynda Barry, where the main character told the reader on page one that she had already committed suicide. I kept reading just to know what led up to that point. So I think the audience will follow the story regardless, but maybe even more so if the character's death isn't the main "hook" of the story, but the interesting circumstances surrounding that death; in the beginning and throughout the story. Just my two cents. I also know of this movie called American Beauty where the main character is also dead by the beginning (never seen it though).
     
  5. b3av3r
    Offline

    b3av3r Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2013
    Messages:
    39
    Likes Received:
    10
    This happens in movies (of course I can't think of any off the top of my head) and things work out just fine. Everyone is going to die anyway it isn't exactly a surprise and the journey is really the story.
     
  6. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,634
    Likes Received:
    5,115
    It would discourage me from reading the book. I don't need a fully Happily Ever After ending, but I tend to get pretty invested in characters, and reading a book where I knew NOT to get invested in the MC would take away a lot of my reading enjoyment. So I probably wouldn't bother.
     
  7. Selbbin
    Offline

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia

    If the question is raised about how and why it works. Several films have done this. Sometimes you know it's the main character, and other times it's a mystery that is revealed at the end as being the main character. Examples include Carlito's Way, Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, and my personal favourite, The Million Dollar Hotel.
     
    karmazon likes this.
  8. Void
    Offline

    Void Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2014
    Messages:
    303
    Likes Received:
    229
    It can and has worked in the past, but the important thing to remember is that the audience will be viewing the work with the knowledge that the person is going to die, which means you need to write it with that in mind. If it's just a normal old story where the protagonist dies at the end then there really isn't any reason to do so.

    I'm not really sure how to put it into words, but i guess if you are going to do this then you need a reason for why the story would be improved with the inevitable demise on the table from the beginning, because you are effectively sacrificing audience investment and a surprise for some kind of other theme like mortality or a cautionary tale about the protagonist's actions that lead to their death. If you don't have some kind of other theme to work with then you are essentially just jettisoning both those other elements for nothing.
     
  9. KevinMcCormack
    Offline

    KevinMcCormack Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2014
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    29
    An alternative I really enjoy is the genre classic to have a protagonist fatally wounded and clearly dying in the first chapter/scene; the rest of the piece is structured with backstory that catches up to the present for the climax in the last chapter/scene. Lots of Noir are built like this.

    Devil's Backbone took it one step further and had the narrator already dead when the story opens.
     
  10. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,075
    Likes Received:
    5,272
    Location:
    California, US
    Readers are a smart, open-minded bunch. Not everyone is going to like it, but there are plenty who will go along with the idea. Don't underestimate your audience.
     
  11. karmazon
    Offline

    karmazon Member

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2007
    Messages:
    66
    Likes Received:
    23
    As Selbbin pointed out, this has been done in movies before. Break those movies down and see how they made it work. This is an example of dramatic irony.
     

Share This Page