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  1. AngeloBraxton
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    AngeloBraxton Member

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    Killing the Protagonist: Pros and Cons

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by AngeloBraxton, May 24, 2009.

    I'm wondering whether or not to kill the protagonist in my story. What are the pros and cons of killing somebody who plays such a vital role in a story? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
     
  2. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    Depends completely on the story. You gotta give a bit of context if you want meaningful answers. In my opinion however, if the main character was the type of character you come to get attached to, it's a great resource for making the readers feel something. Like on King's Running Man, you feel happy for the MC, as he has accomplished something. Not to say you can't make your MC's death completely meaningless to show off some things just can't change, that his objective was impossible, that the world is just cruel, etc; I'm just saying that you should have a good reason to do so, not just angsting the piece for the sake of angsting it.
     
  3. JGraham
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    JGraham Senior Member

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    Sometimes, having the hero triumph gets old, so i know i enjoy seeing a major character die once in a while. Just as long as it is done right, and at the right moment. I don't want the Protagonist to just walk in a room and get shot, but maybe in a battle get killed. I know in one of my stories the aliens actually win and destroy humankind, sending whatever is left underground. In either case, i say go for it, i mean at the very least you dont like it and you change it.
     
  4. daturaonfire
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    daturaonfire Senior Member

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    I second Acglaphotis. Totally depends on the story. Slightly off-topic, but I'd avoid the whole Now He's Dead Now He's Not! trick. I can only speak for myself, but when a character comes back to life from being dead, it usually makes me angry. Feels like a cheap ploy.

    Anyway! Killing characters sucks. In the end, you've gotta do what's right for the story. If you know the story's meant to end with your hero's death, write it that way. Anything else would be dishonest.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There aren't really any pros or cons. Kill the MC if it's necessary and don't if it's not. But one thing is for sure: don't try to kill the MC just for a shock factor.
     
  6. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    People like happy endings. If you kill off your main character, you risk alienating your reader. I'm not saying you can't do it and do it effectively, but I think you need a good reason, and I think it's generally better to make your reader happy he read your story than not.
     
  7. ObsessedImagination
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    ObsessedImagination Member

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    Personally, I don't like stories where nothing tragic happens. Wow that sounded very emo of me lol....

    Don't get me wrong, I've been known to sit through every Rom-Com ever made or written, and I also love a happy ending.

    But if it's an action-packed novel/story you're writing, it's boring if everything goes according to plan.

    I was talking to a friend about the Twilight series the other day, and we thought it ended up being pretty boring because it ended on a very anti-climactic note. No one close to the MC dies in the whole series!

    If you look at Harry Potter, quite a few people close to Harry die. I found myself bawling in parts of those books and being made to feel so angry that I didn't want to turn the page...but I had to, because I just HAD to know what was going to happen next.

    In Twilight, I kept turning the pages waiting for something to happen and someone important to keel over (morbid, I know) but I got to the last page and it was like "Happily ever after" NOO!!! BORRRIIINNGGG!!!!

    I think if you kill your protagonist off in a way that the reader will go "Well I'm sad that he/she's gone, but boy that was an awesome way to take him/her out!" then you've done a good job. It can't be simple and it can't be something your reader's see coming. You have to shock them, to make them want to turn the page against their own will.

    Yep. That's my input. I don't know if it made any sense, but in my defence...it may be the cold & flu tablets talking =D
     
  8. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    Well, I'm more partial to the story than to the reader. I say you should never mess with a story just to make it more palatable to the reader.
     
  9. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends on the reader, the story, the writer, the character, the circumstances of death, etc.

    Some readers are more understanding than others, some may obsess over characetrs (Stephen King's Misery ring a bell?:p)

    If it's integral to the story, kill the bugger. If not, you probably shouldn't.

    Some writers (like me) are suckers for happy endings and start a story with the idea of keeping their characters alive through all kinds of odds. Old pulp stories almost always had heroes that saved the day againat all odds, even galactic ones (Charlie Chan/John Carter of Mars/Conan).

    Unless you have a good reason for it I wouldn't do it. Readers are a forgiving lot, but it goes so far. If they really love the character, it might be a good idea to keep them around.
     
  10. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I think if killing a main character fits the story, or aids in ending the story with the intended effect, then by all means, slaughter him.

    I find it sad to kill off characters. The man I am writing now is slated to die at the end of the story. I'm actually feeling a little bad about this foreknowledge. I've been talking myself out of writing his decisions today, because I can see them leading to his death...

    When in doubt, kill someone off. lol
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    When in doubt, reexamine what effect the character's death will have on the story. If it serves the need of the story, and you can handle the effects of the death on other characters well, then do it. But death is not anything to handle carelessly. Everyone behaves differently when confronted with death, and it is one of our most profound mysteries.

    Treat life with respect, and death with senitivity - not like a video game loss, oh well, replay from save point.
     
  12. Piestein
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    Piestein Senior Member

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    Don't do it obvious, is all I'm going to say.

    On my very first big book series (not going to say which, just because I dont' want to spoil anything), from the very first book, I knew the mentor will die (it reeked of usual mentor-dies plot). Then, when he/she did, I was convinced he/she would be revived again, just because of the manner of the death. Now, 5-6 books (forgot in which book he/she died) later, they say he/she is kept prisoner.

    I was like "Hello, DUH".

    Don't make it obvious. Easy to say, but hard to do well.

    And about should you do it or not... Well, think a bit about the situation and I think it will tell you what to do.

    Sorry for not providing much useful advice, but I need a bit more specifics first.
     
  13. Atma
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    Atma Member

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    Cogito made a good point I want to repeat. I've always thought that was important too. Dont just kill people and hope it makes the dramatic effects of your story better. Value each and every life as if it were someone you really cared about. Do they need to die? Would it really make everything come together better, or would it just make for a sad dramatic effect?

    Also, there are other pro's and cons in the picture ;)

    Pros
    If you kill your protag you reduce the chance of other people continuing the work after you're dead.

    If you kill him/her/it it CAN benefit your story

    Some people like sad endings :) (i'm not one of them)

    Cons

    If you kill your protag you reduce the chance of other people continuing the work after you're dead. ( it depends how you look at this one :p)

    Some people don't like sad endings.

    He's the main character, and after having been through everything, fought for everything, he simply dies. It can seem a bit simplistic and dare I say it...amateurish, if there is a vague reason to it, if the only reason for it is that he happened to be mugged and beat to death 2 weeks after he saved the world, or something. There's got to be a darned good reason for killing anyone in your story, even the antagonish(imo, but loads of times, it's the goal of a book) especially the protag in your story, thats my own opinion though.

    I realise my points don't get through so well today. I type, but can't get my points out. I've been working for 9 hours, so forgive me ;)
     
  14. psyence53
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    psyence53 Senior Member

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    The very first short script i made was an emotional one about a serious issue - child abuse. The main character died at the end, leaving it a bit too depressing. Months later, when considering rewriting it for a novel, i was planning the outline, and came up with a better ending, in my opinion at least. Thhe main character lives, and we see him become a stronger character through his attitude towards his abuser. Maybe it's not as good as the first, but i prefer it, and i reckon i will keep this ending when i get around to writing it.

    In another, one of the main characters MUST die. As much as i love him, he has too lol. So it really does depend on the story and the reader/writer. I think you will probably know/feel when it's right/needed or wrong and unecessary.

    Good luck :)
     
  15. AngeloBraxton
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    AngeloBraxton Member

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    Well, in this story the main character lives a very morbid life where just about everybody close to him dies. I'm thinking that I should kill him at the end so you feel as though he's been set free from hell, similar to the ending of Pan's Labyrinth. Would that work?
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It works as well as the writing makes it work.
     
  17. psyence53
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    psyence53 Senior Member

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    I personally like the idea, but agree with Cogito, it would depend how it's written.
     
  18. Romendacil
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    Romendacil Member

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    I think it's sick to ask pro's and con's of this issue.
    Life goes as it goes. Life also has another unique quality - it dies.
    I mean... perhaps it's only how I perceive the world, but I think that things just... happen. Even if there is some dogmatic law behind them. You can't decide to kill off your character for any sort of generic or dramatic effect.
    If he dies... then he dies. Then it simply happens. You as a writer should be focusing on telling the story you have to tell and not on the effects that should spice it up.
     
  19. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I prefer to have them simply fail in their ambitions. My main character is eventually defeated and exiled, and the story ends roughly how it began with a bloody government purge of opposition, etc.

    There are a few happy bits in the ending, but very few, and the main ones are just possibilities ("No-one knew Seonaidh as I did, and by my hand and yours he is no longer a threat to us. But in my capacity as his former employer, MacCailean Mhor, I can say without a doubt that his voice will ring in the glens for generations to come, possibly with him as a speaker").
     
  20. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    Give the readers a good enough reason and I think it can work. You don't want the readers thinking "Why'd he have to die?" more like "He had to die because..." At least that's how I look at it, it has to connect to the story somehow.
     
  21. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I think it can work very well, but it needs to be handled with care. People get attached to characters, and if it is done carelessly, it might not go over as well. I turned to my husband and asked him, who doesnt write, what he thought, and he pointed out the movie Gladiator, which I thought was a good example, tho it was film. just do it thoughtfully, and it can make for some very good reading!!
     
  22. A.J.Crowley
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    A.J.Crowley Senior Member

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    You have to be careful with character deaths, if it’s just for shock value my recommendation is cut it out. The best example of this is the final Harry Potter book, characters died, hell lots of characters died, but no one seemed effected by any of it and basically it felt like J.K was doing it in place of any real tension or excitement.
     
  23. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    The OP asked about killing off the MC, though, not a supporting character. Harry Potter does not die, even though Dumbledore does. Sookie Stackhouse does not die, even though her grandmother does. Peter Parker does not die, even though Uncle Ben does. These deaths make things tough on the MC--that's the point. As the author, you should beat the crap out of your MC so your reader feels bad for him or her and roots for them to overcome adversity.

    Ask yourself this: Of the books you have read recently, in how many has the main character died? I'm going to guess it's very few, if not zero. Why? Because people like happy endings. We are supposed to like the MC, so it's natural to want the MC to win. We want to see the guy get the girl, for good to triumph over evil, and for love to conquer all. Tragedy is all around us, so we tend to avoid it when we're escaping into a book or movie. Sure, tragedy can be very powerful if done well, but even if it is done well, we don't want it to be the norm.
     
  24. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not everyone cares about happy endings. There are a million things writers could do to alienate readers, so might as well make sure you choose the right ending.
     
  25. Atma
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    Atma Member

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    I read book to feel better, there's enough death and bad things around the world, so I don't read just so I can get attached to another person (albeit a fictional one) just so that they can be ripped away too.
    Even if there were people who liked endings where everything ended in death and destruction and the main character died, there is the trouble of writing it convincingly. Frankly, I don't know many people who like those sort of endings though, and the few that do, they probably have never even read a book where the MAIN character dies, so they couldn't really say how it would affect them anyway. (this is a thread about the main character, after all. Not Hermione or Ron, but Harry, in other words.)

    I can't think of many books I've read where the main character dies. Does bridge to therabithia count? If I read a book that ends in such a manner, I tend to want to forget them, because it disappoints me, and thus it has NO reread value whatsoever, for me. That's just my opinion though. I'm generally a very happy person, and don't want that ruined by a book :D
     

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