1. Endovert
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    Endovert Member

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    Making the MC's death meaningful and memorable

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Endovert, Apr 2, 2012.

    I'm wondering if anyone has ideas on how to kill the MC at the end of the book without making it sappy, uninspiring, or, well, dumb. Because my book deals with death and the MC isn't in great shape, it's been pretty obvious to me that he'll die at the end, but I don't want it to feel deliberate or (heaven forbid) arbitrary, and I really don't want to over-sentimentalize it. It needs to have import and meaning.

    I guess there's also a correlation to another question I've had: What makes for a good ending in a tragedy? It's not just about making it super sad or loading on the irony. So what is it about? What makes it memorable, in a good way?
     
  2. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    Why are we sad when a person dies? Because he was a person, with real interests and motives and desires and memories, and like as not we knew him, and we'll miss him and we feel that society has lost an important or interesting member.

    When a character dies, we will not grieve if he has not seemed real. He must be human. (I'm sorry, I'm not articulate enough to explain more fully, but the more one reads, the better sense of real people one gets.) This is very difficult, and I'm not good at it myself; so to make up for the failings of one's writing, we must have followed the character through thick and thin, and understood, in part at least, his character and circumstances and troubles. This is not a Disney animated princess film. The character must have true, serious depth.
     
  3. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I understand the issue, my lead dies, too. In my story it is not the lead who's the important part, it's the goal, the idea. And like you, I wanted the "beautiful end" to have impact, and be thought provoking. Not just for the lead, but as the readers reflect on their own lives.

    I needed to tie the thing up at the end. I needed a big bright bow to wrap the package. I needed a qualified trusted character who had to carry the entire weight of the novel at the end. The choice seemed clear to me.

    I chose an hourly worker from the city's Public Works Department. No kidding.
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It all depends on what leads up to the death that will make the difference. Will the reader care? Is there any reader investment in the main character? What are the circumstances of the MC's death? How do other characters respond to the situation and events leading up to and including the death?

    Look to novels that have had deaths at or near the end, or deaths in general, Endovert. Examine why the death appeared to have meaning to you. Was memorable, tragic or whatever you're shooting for. How did the author's story, and the way the author told it to the reader prepare the reader for the ending and the death? Examine a few stories and see if you see patterns or techniques that you could incorporate into your story and writing style.

    I just don't think there is any one line or paragraph of advice that will suffice to answer the broad question, other than what I've suggested, with a broad answer in that it all depends on what came (was written) before.
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    In one of my short stories, which was well received, I made my MC die, and I was told that even in the happier childhood beginning the readers could sense that the story was one of loss. I attribute that comment to the fact that I was able to tie the end with the beginning. In the beginning my MC started off playing an innocent childhood game and I use some words they use in the game to describe her tragic death. Tying the tragic end somehow with the beginning (preferably happier times) makes it even more sad for the readers. So, this is one technique you can apply.
     
  6. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    One of my main characters dies in the end. I think his death has a lot of meaning behind it because he spends the majority of his life fighting for his beliefs, and in the end his beliefs become reality for the world - and then he dies, but I won't say how or why. I find his death to be more tragic than the death of some of my other characters because his struggle is over, everything is good - he's happy for the first time.

    If you put a character through any sort of progressive/difficult event (which you should) and then kill them, it can often leave the reader with either mixed, or sad emotions. Or they could be happy the character is dead, that may not be the response you're hoping for, but it had impact nonetheless!

    As for the death being memorable - try to make it unique! For example, if your character is fighting in a warzone and gets shot and killed, the death can still be horrific, but it won't be as memorable because that's expected in his environment. You can of course make a death in a warzone memorable, but I think it would be harder to pull off.

    Good luck!
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The death itself can be mundane. What makes it memorable is if the character is memorable and likable in "life".
     
  8. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Like everyone else has been saying, it's the life he led beforehand that will make his death impactful, not the death scene itself.

    Personally, I've always found the less elaborate death scenes to be more impactful that the drawn-out, eloquently-written scenes of characters dying in someone's arms and reflecting on their life while shedding a single tear. If their actual death is sudden and quick, but the reader has gotten attached to them, it'll pack more of a punch.
     
  9. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    A death is not measured in the deeds or life of the person who died but the hearts, minds, memories and life's of those they left behind.
     
  10. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    If you want impact, don't signpost the character's demise for pages on end, or linger poignantly on his death bed. Pull the rug out from under your reader. Make it seem like the character is going to be fine, everything is looking rosy for just a moment so your reader is thinking 'Hey, it's alright, he's going to get through this!' Uh- oh no. No he isn't. Sorry - my mistake!
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Unfortunately I've not read LOTR, but at least in the movie, when Gandalf dies, it was quite a scene for me. For a few reasons:

    1. Gandalf was a very likeable character
    2. He was the mentor, meaning there's a sense that the rest of them are now screwed
    3. He was brave and courageous and died in the act of protecting his fellowship
    4. It was unexpected - everything was fine, the Bal-rok (can't spell it sorry) was defeated and Gandalf was about to turn back when he got caught.

    Or, funnily enough, there's a children/teenage girls' anime called Sailor Moon and in the first season, penultimate episode, the death scenes there were really quite tragic and done very well. One wouldn't have guessed considering the whole series was relatively mindless. Basically there's a final battle and all the companions die one by one. This one's a long, drawn-out kinda death, where you watch them suffer, fight while knowing they're gonna lose, and finally a tear-jerking "last words" kinda dialogue. The thing that got me in these death scenes was actually the reminder that the dying girls were just girls who went to school, wanted a boyfriend, loved ice-cream, and hated homework - it made them real for a second and made you think of all the beautiful things every girl should have, but that they will never have now. The Japanese are great with cliches and they do pull it off well when they want to :)

    Or another movie example - ever seen Grave of the Fireflies? They made you hang on to the hope that the little girl won't die, while knowing she's probably gonna die, but then again, she might not, and you so don't want her to die that you believe that she might not die (even though considering it's a tragic WWII movie about how the children of Japan suffered, I should've guessed). They built it up well - the 2 things that really got me in that death scene were the following:

    1. You knew how much she meant to her brother, how he lived because of her and without her, he's all alone since both his parents are dead and they're in the middle of WWII.
    2. the little girl was dying and still looking out for her brother. There's a really haunting scene when she starts to hallucinate from starvation, and she lies there, sucking at rocks, thinking they were boiled candy, and when her brother comes home, she lies there and tells her brother to eat, that she made them rice balls (more rocks).

    In conclusion - make your reader know how important this character is to the characters around him, remind your reader that he's a real person, and make him look beyond himself even in death. Those are the 3 common points on all of the above death scenes - one British fantasy classic for adults, one Japanese children's anime, and one Japanese classic war movie - 3 quite different genres.
     
  12. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I was gonna have the 'last tender moments' scene before the character dies, but I changed my mind. Mostly because it IS kinda cheesy, and I think it would soften the impact rather than enhance it, in my case. Basically the MC's wife dies in childbed, not at all an uncommon occurence in ancient Egypt, so I didn't want to make it all melodramatic. It's tragic for him, but it's commonplace and even to a certain extent expected - even in modern Africa 1 in 15 women die in childbirth, so back then mortality could have been as high as 25%. Added to that, men were not allowed in the birthing chamber because female blood was considered to be full of evil spirits (hence the prayers, spells and charms needed to ensure a successful delivery), and childbirth was women's business. Physicians very rarely attended births if at all. So, instead of having my MC present at his wife's deathbed, I'm gonig to have him locked outside the room as she screams, only to hear her suddenly go quiet. When he finally forces his way in it's too late, and he feels huge remorse that he never got to say goodbye or hear her dying words. I think that will eat him up even more, and send him a bit mad for a while. His devastation at the death of his wife is an important plot point so it had to be really visceral. NOT gettnig that last moment with her is key to that I think :)
     
  13. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Nakhti, you're running into the same "circle of life" that I am writing about. After all, if you're going to chew the scenery for an entire book about finding God, is the story really over if you end the tale and the lead character lives on another fifty years? Think about all of the irritated people who watched the last episode of "The Sopranos."

    Part of the 'happy ending' is closure. A necessary aspect of redemption is never a slap on the wrist.

    All of my other characters are left alive and rested, and I see no need to artfully wrap up their lives. That's true in our lives, it should be true in theirs. Bessides, there is a "sequel" there is someone else wants to write it.
     
  14. shangrila
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    shangrila Member

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    Everything comes from the character, like everyone has already said. If they are likeable the audience will feel it when they know they're gone.

    As for how they go, personally I prefer the senseless and truly unexpected. The first example that popped into my head came from one of the last books in the Black Company series where (spoiler) Murgan dies setting off a trap while he rushes into a room. Obviously this kind of death fits better into the military feeling Cook was going for, and might not apply to your story, but I think the point remains. The utter shock at seeing a major character just die left me a little rattled. If you want to create feeling without making it overly sentimental, I'd at least look into this.
     
  15. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I don't quite understand what you mean..? I'm not going for a happy ever after, or closure, or redemption - the death of the MC's wife is not the end of the story, but a plot point along the way. She has been deliberately targeted by the two people in his life who badly want both him and his wife out of the way - one is a political rival, and the other one.... his other wife! (polygamy was allowed back then). So I don't know what point you're making (never watched the Soprano's so no idea how many people were frustrated or why).

    The closure will come when the two aforementioned antagonists get their deliciously twisted comeuppance... hehehe
     
  16. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    My point is that sometimes we look at a death in a story as a 'period,' and then sometimes as a 'comma.' Yikes, the last half of 'Gone With The Wind' has people dropping over every five minutes.

    Other times the death of your lead or another important character is a metaphor for the entire book. And many times, as in my case, the death is the whole point of telling the tale.

    To more mirror your position, I do show senseless deaths that galvanize my character's change in his opinions, his job, and his need to participate in society. However, I also believe that the deaths of ancillary characters, while driving the plot to a necessary end of the story, doesn't really puncuate the story.

    If the story is about finally making a statement, and your lead had undergone a dramatic change, then sometimes there's no need to have him live on after the final credits.
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In your case, maybe you can set a stark contrast between the reaction of the midwife and the emotions the husband is going through? How the midwife doesn't care too much, it's sad but never mind, kinda attitude. I get what you mean though that in your setting, it sounds pretty important that the death scene is not melodramatic. Sounds like an interesting story from what you've said! What's it about? (maybe PM me instead of us hijacking the thread :D )
     
  18. michaelj
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    michaelj Senior Member

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    An example I have is of Ned Stark from game of thrones.. When he died, people were writing to the author saying they hated him and would stop reading his books etc. Why? Because they became emotionally invested in the character and came to love him.. Through his thoughts, conversation and beliefs. If it started with the death, nobody would care but people GREW on the character.
     
  19. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Well.... yeah I guess there's no need for ANY of your characters to live on after the story is over - or for the world you've created to exist, for that matter. But does that mean we have to destroy them just because they're no longer going to be featured?

    There is no point in killing my MC - in fact, him living on is also a very key aspect of the sacrifices he makes to achieve the noble end he is striving for. If he died, there would be no more dealing with the consequences of his actions, and he needs to fully feel them.
     
  20. Endovert
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    Well said. I think that's exactly the thought I was trying to articulate to myself. So if it's sort of foreshadowed, does that help make it less sappy?
     
  21. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    It depends on how well you write it. Have you read The Time Machine? There's an absurd amount of foreshadowing - it's terrible! It almost cheapens Weena's death because you've been half-expecting it for the last hundred pages or so (which is most of the book). And yet, if you spring the MC's death on the reader, they'll be taken aback. Star Trek had some good deaths. Dax's was never foreshadowed. You didn't expect it in the least, and it was certainly meaningful and memorable, because of what she left behind. But in TOS, someone died in almost every episode. It was their cliched way of saying "This is a serious threat." You expected it; you hardly noticed it. It was neither meaningful nor memorable.

    So, as is the case in many questions that come up, it all rests on you. The author.
     
  22. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Each story obviously is different, but the point of my story is that he has fulfilled a duty, and in fact, others must live.

    As an analogy, consider Kyle's death in "The Terminator."
     

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