1. Danielle Fatzinger
    Offline

    Danielle Fatzinger New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2014
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    1

    Killing Your Main Character in First Person

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Danielle Fatzinger, Dec 8, 2014.

    I've been recently playing with the idea of writing a story in which the protagonist dies partway through. However, I want to write in first person. This intrigues me simply because I would be annoyed and surprised if I was reading a book and that happened, so I want to try to write it.

    Has anyone tried this or have an advice about the best ways to go about trying this?
     
  2. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    1,347
    I can remember reading a story (cops and robbers in the US where the MC was a villain) where the final scene is the MC losing a gun-battle. Memorable! This meant that, while engaged with the MC, the reader also had a sneaky feeling that no good would come of this.
     
  3. plothog
    Offline

    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2013
    Messages:
    639
    Likes Received:
    514
    Location:
    England
    I've don't understand the motivation for wanting to annoy readers. I'd prefer to entertain than annoy.
    You say the character dies part way through. What do you plan to do afterwards? Switch perspective or write from the point of view of a ghost?
     
  4. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada
    If there is a good plotting reason, I would say go for it. But if all you want to do is annoy the reader, then I wouldn't recommend it. Readers have enough to be annoyed about.
     
    Mckk and Lemon flavoured like this.
  5. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    There's no set way of going about it. I've seen it done in some excellent novels. Just concentrate on writing a compelling story and make the narrator's death mean something.
     
    Fullmetal Xeno likes this.
  6. mad_hatter
    Offline

    mad_hatter Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2014
    Messages:
    196
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    England
    Is that even possible?

    When you say you want to write in first person, do you mean from the perspective of the protagonist? If so, surely when they die, that's the end of their story, therefore the end of your novel.

    If you're not writing from the perspective of this protagonist, I'd say you can go ahead and kill 'em off. But I expect you may find yourself wanting another protagonist to take their place and you may well find that this new protag was actually your primary protag all along...

    If you know what I mean?
     
    Mckk and Link the Writer like this.
  7. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada
    I could see introducing a 3rd person perspective every now and then, that the story could be finished from, once the MC bites it.
     
    Jordan J likes this.
  8. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    Of course it is possible. You can find published novels that do this. When the first person narrator eventually dies, the POV simply switches to another character.
     
    Fullmetal Xeno likes this.
  9. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    In one book I am thinking of, the first person narrator is the only POV until around 3/4 or more of the way through, and when he dies a new first person narrator takes over.
     
  10. Fitzroy Zeph
    Offline

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2013
    Messages:
    747
    Likes Received:
    269
    Location:
    Canada
    That's the great thing about structure, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Haha, just kidding Steerpike.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  11. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    Yep. And in the case of the book I'm thinking of, it worked quite well. I don't want to mention the title, since the death would be a huge spoiler, but I remember picking up the book after seeing very good reviews from NPR, the NY Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, and other media, and after reading it I thought they were all right about it. So not only can this kind of thing be done, it can be done well.
     
  12. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    Three ways I can think of doing this off the top of my head:
    1. The narrator is in the afterlife, narrating things that he experienced while alive and that he has witnessed from his afterlife perspective.
    2. Switch to third person after the narrator's death. (EDIT: or just switch to any POV other than that of the character who died.)
    3. Write in the present tense. The last line in the book is the last thought that runs through the character's mind before death. (However, this changes the problem from "how do I kill the character partway through" to "how do I kill the character at the end".)
    My character dies at the end, and there are several compelling reasons to write in first person, so I am toying with #3.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2014
  13. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    For #2, why does it have to be a switch to third person? If you're switching to a new narrator, that new narrator could also tell the story in first person.
     
  14. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    Good point. I had not thought of that option.
     
  15. Danielle Fatzinger
    Offline

    Danielle Fatzinger New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2014
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    1
    This discussion is very helpful. I'll probably toy with it. I want to include it as part of a novel about rebellion, so the character's death could definitely mean something.

    I'm also very curious what these books are, since I haven't come across any that do that.

    Thank you!
     
  16. Fullmetal Xeno
    Offline

    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,364
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Kingdom of Austniad
    A Song Of Ice and Fire kills more Protagonists than a man who goes through underwear, despite the presence of the other characters who were already set up. Same applies for this, but only it's more unexpected. I think it's a very rare and original idea.
     
  17. mad_hatter
    Offline

    mad_hatter Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2014
    Messages:
    196
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    England
    I’m not arguing that you can’t kill a protagonist. Of course you can. But the books you mention are written in third person - no problem whatsoever. We are talking about killing the protagonist in first person. You are the protagonist, you tell the story, you die, the story is over. The only way the story can possibly continue is to switch to another POV. But whose? What would make for a satisfying read? How can you do this without “annoying” your readers? I can’t think of any viable option except for switching to a secondary protagonist, one which you may find, as I mentioned earlier, was actually your main protagonist all along.
     
  18. rycbar123
    Offline

    rycbar123 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2014
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    6
    You could split it into parts like Dune, The Gunslinger, or Foundation. Part 1 would be from the point of view of the character who dies, part 2 would introduce a new character, etc.

    Wouldn't it have to be written in present tense? If the character dies, they can't be narrating what happened in the past unless there's an afterlife in your story.
     
  19. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    Just because something is in past tense doesn't mean they're narrating things that happened in the past, any more than present tense means they're somehow making a record of events as they transpire.
     
  20. rycbar123
    Offline

    rycbar123 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2014
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    6
    If it's in first person and past tense, it sounds like the character narrating their past to me. That's what I've always thought when reading anything in first person.
     
  21. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    I think people sometimes get that impression, but I think it is a mistake to assume it. There are plenty of books where that just isn't possible, either because the first person narrator dies before it would have been possible to record everything presented in the story, or because the author moves from a first person narrator to a third person narrator, detailing events the first person narrator can't know (and breaking any illusion that the book is somehow the narrator writing down past events).

    The choice of POV and tense is simply an artistic choice to serve the author in telling the story. There are times when the author intends the narrative to be the recollection of the narrator, but I don't make the assumption that what's happening unless the author is clear about it (such as in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun). The story I am currently writing is in first person, past tense, but I don't intend it to be the past recollection of the narrator. I chose the POV only because I think it serves the story best.
     
  22. mad_hatter
    Offline

    mad_hatter Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2014
    Messages:
    196
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    England
    I don't understand what you mean by this. Could you elaborate? To my mind, the exact opposite of what you've said is true. If it's in the past tense, the narrator is narrating things that have happened in the past. There's no other option; that's exactly what's happening. If it's present tense, they're narrating things as they transpire. In present tense, of course, the narrator can have knowledge about past events, but that's a different issue.


    Again, I don't understand how you can get away from this. If it's first person, you're writing as that character. If it's past tense, they're talking about events that have happened, specifically to them, in the past. It has to be the recollections of the narrator, doesn't it? How can it possibly be anything different?


    Please don't take this as antagonistic. I'm finding this discussion really interesting, and I'd really like to know how you're accomplishing these things.
     
  23. Chiv
    Offline

    Chiv Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2013
    Messages:
    153
    Likes Received:
    73
    Location:
    Everywhere
    Personally, I think that with first person narration, it should be explained how the story is told. For example, is the character writing a book about their life, or something similar? Otherwise you are shattering the reader's suspension of disbelief. If the first person narrator dies, then the reader will probably think something like, "well how the hell am I reading this if they died? Oh yeah, it's not real", which most often is a very bad thing and would just annoy most readers. It's like breaking the fourth wall for non-comedic purposes. Breaking the fourth wall is generally something you don't want to do with novels, I've found. Of course, there would be ways to get around this and do it, and if you can work out a way then by all means go for it! But I believe that you should explain it.
     
    rycbar123 likes this.
  24. Danielle Fatzinger
    Offline

    Danielle Fatzinger New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2014
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    1
    I sometimes look at it as if they're writing it immediately after events, even within a few seconds, so that it's not as if they're looking back on events or narrating something that happened a while beforehand. Sometimes I look at it as if it's looking back on events, but for the most part I imagine it's a constant update of what's happening.
     
  25. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,306
    Location:
    California, US
    We just disagree on this basic premise. I just see it as a stylistic tool. It doesn't have to be the written recollection of a character. Think about a third person book, in past tense. Do you see that as the author somehow purporting to have personal knowledge, and adopting the role of narrator of those events? In other words, is there implied to you some actual narrator who is relaying events out of their own knowledge? I don't see it that way. You can create an overt narrator if you want, but that narrator is a fiction. Lacking an overt narrator and letting the author tell the story directly is a fiction (the events didn't happen; the author has no personal knowledge to base them on). Likewise, a first person narrative is nothing other than an author's stylistic choice. The character never existed, so presupposing that it has to be some past recollection of the character doesn't make sense to me. Sure, you can set it up that way, but it is still a fiction that makes no more or less sense than doing it some other way.
     

Share This Page