1. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    When one MC dies and filling their spot with a strong Secondary Character.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Cave Troll, Jan 16, 2016.

    So one of my MCs dies in the sequel due to injuries and complications. Wondering if it would be an option to fill the MCs spot with a strong secondary character, or just leave the spot empty? One small problem I have is that I have been told the MC is likable. It would be consistent with the 'no one is immortal' theme in their fictional universe, but is it ok to fill the dead characters spot?

    FYI they would die within the first 30 pages, so it is not like I am pulling a death and switch at the end. Trying to keep it early on.

    What are your thoughts, and thanks for your opinions and ideas. :D
     
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  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    By MC, do you mean this was a character whose point of view (POV) you were also presenting? That's going to hit readers harder, if you were doing that, than if it was just a character people 'liked.' Think Lord of the Rings ...when Gandalf died. (The fact that he came back didn't happen for a while, so it's a good example of how other characters carry on when an MC dies.) Gandalf wasn't a POV character. Think of the difference if Frodo had died instead. Frodo was a POV character, and we saw parts of the story through his eyes. That would have been harder to do.

    It's impossible to make a judgement about your story because this is a very hypothetical question, isn't it? I'd say yes, you can fill a dead character's spot. In fact, that might be the point of the story. A much-loved character dies, and your 'real' Main Character takes over. Or the death can spur on the other remaining characters to do things they wouldn't otherwise have done. There isn't any right or wrong pat answer to your question, I'm afraid. It's all down to what your story is about. Why did you kill off the character? (I don't mean he had bad wounds and couldn't have lived, I mean WHY did you set things up so this happened?) What significance is this death going to have on the rest of your story?

    Think Eddard's death in Song of Ice and Fire. That was a master stroke, wasn't it? Pity about the endless silly carnage that follows, but Eddard's death had meaning and set the story off in a particular direction. And he WAS a POV character, wasn't he? We saw the story through his eyes, for a while. Nobody filled his shoes (or Gandalf's either), but the other characters carry on regardless.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    How many POV characters do you have?

    And what do you mean by filling the MC's spot?
     
  4. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @jannert Well I have no idea of what happens in Song of Fire and Ice. What I can say is that the MC did kind of get caught up in combat inside a base alone. The others were busy hammering on a giant mechanized war machine with their much smaller ones. Naturally it was bound to happen that the MC would get mortally wounded in their determination and stubbornness to go in guns blazing.

    @BayView There are 3 MCs, and having a character with strong ties to the MC take their spot. At least in theory, after the MC dies.
     
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  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think with only three MCs, I'd be pretty shocked to see one die. Which isn't necessarily bad, but is certainly something to watch out for.

    And I'm still not sure what you mean by "take their spot". Like, their spot in the story structure? -they were an antagonist and someone else becomes the antagonist? Or their spot in a romantic relationship? -they were married to someone, and someone else becomes married to that someone? Or their spot on the spaceship crew? - they were the navigator, and someone else becomes the navigator?

    What's "their spot"?

    ETA: And look at my experiment with singular "they"! It made my skin crawl, and feels unnecessary in this case (since surely the OP knows the character's gender and could have used a singular gendered pronoun) but, still - I tried! I tried...
     
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  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @BayView Sorry. :D

    The MC is a he, and what I was wondering is if it would be doable to have his adoptive daughter take over when he dies. She would not assume a new rank, just take on a major role in his absence.

    That is what I mean by 'filling' the spot. :p
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay, I'm still not entirely clear about the "major role" - but it sounds like this would be a role in whatever their mission is? Like, he was the wizard, and she's a wizard too?

    I think that could make sense - if the band needs a wizard, it needs a wizard, right? And it was someone readers really liked, it might make up for the loss of the dead character.

    At the same time, it might make the dead character seem less unique, if there's no gap left by his departure, and if the team still functions seamlessly without him. Like, in LOTR, when Gandalf died, some sub-wizard didn't just step into his place and take over. On Star Trek, if Spock had died, they wouldn't have just grabbed another half-Vulcan and carried on. But if Scotty had died, someone would still have needed to be the engineer - but they'd probably have shown that the new engineer wasn't quite as good as Scotty, because otherwise they'd have been sort of diminishing Scotty's memory by making him interchangeable with anybody.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, auxilliary question. Did you plan ahead of time for this death to happen, or did you simply realise that somebody had to die in that situation and chose this character? And wrote the death in there because it makes sense from a combat perspective?

    In other words, WHY did this PARTICULAR character die? I don't mean HOW he was killed, but why did you, the author, choose for this to happen to this character in particular? From your story's point of view, not a combat point of view?

    Think, again, about Gandalf in LOTR. Any one of the Fellowship could have been the last one on that bridge when the balrog broke it. And anybody else's death at that point would have had story repercussions as well. So why did Tolkien choose Gandalf? He was a wizard with a magic staff, who could easily have been the first over the bridge and held off the balrog with his magic while the others crossed over behind him. He'd been leading the party thus far, so it would have made 'combat' sense for somebody else to die. So why him? Perhaps Tolkien felt that the other characters were relying on his magic and his leadership too much, and Tolkien needed to make the others more self-reliant? Think how different the story would have been, if maybe Gimli had been killed instead, and Gandalf had continued to lead them and tell them all what to do—as he'd been doing up to that point.

    This is what I mean about creating story repercussions. Take away a leader, and you create a vacuum that others will fill, either for better or for worse.

    If your MC was a main character AND a leader (I'm still not sure if he was a POV character as well) and you killed him off, you must have some reason for needing HIM dead, and not anybody else. I'd focus on (or find) that reason and see where it leads you. I suspect it will force some other characters to do things they would otherwise not have done?
     
  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @jannert Yes he is a POV character. I sort of write off the cuff while keeping the story consistent, so anything is likely to happen to any character. It would be a waste to have his POV complaining about being stuck in a hospital, while the others get to see all of the action. Unless you feel there is potential in having them stuck in recovery and unhappy about it. IDK, it is just an idea, but for the sake of realism he won't just rebound from getting shot in the lung. I am open to suggestions on what would be sensible considering the circumstances. :p
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No, nobody thinks he should recover from his wounds. That's not really the issue. The question is why did you (the author) decide to kill him in the first place?

    You can't say he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because you, the author, put him there. Is it a story you're writing ABOUT combat? Maybe about how leaders die, and new people need to take over in a crisis? ...which makes them stronger, or shows up their weaknesses?

    What is the significance of his death to your other characters? And what do they do about it? OR does the whole enterprise fall apart because he is dead? Have you decided yet where this will be leading?
     
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  11. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @jannert I had decided that his adoptive daughter would take on the leadership role that he had. He doesn't have to die per say, but keeping him in a major role during recovery sounds kind of dull. It impacts a few of the other characters, seeing as he could die and they are close friends to him. I was thinking of having him show up at the end at some festive occasion, and maybe scatter him throughout in a much more minor role fighting for another faction once he is healed/ brought back from death. Who knows? The whole thing will not fall apart, it will just be a little different.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    So this is kind of the daughter's story from then on? That sounds very interesting. Yeah, you're right. Him being dead and not returning will clear the way for the story to develop without readers wondering if/when he's going to return and take over the story again. Especially if he was a POV character. I think it would be difficult for a reader to let go of a POV character if they are still alive somewhere in the story's world. I think the implication is that they would always return ...probably strengthened.
     
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  13. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @jannert I know it has been done before a lot, but that is why I plan on making the reader believe he is dead. Just adding slight characteristics to standout and make them wonder if he did die or not, until the ending with the reveal that he is alive. So yes a part of the story will be the adopted daughters. It would be interesting to have her as a POV considering all the crap she has been through, and will go through in the future. You say it will be difficult for the reader, well hell life is difficult. You could say art imitating life, with the uncertainty and hardship of the whole ordeal. Or we could just say he dies, and that is that. Leaving the other two POVs to pick up the slack where he won't be. IDK.
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, have fun working it all out! :) I didn't mean you can't do something difficult, I just meant it's difficult for a reader to let go of a POV character even if they do die ...and if this character is still alive (or might still be alive) the reader will expect them to return. That's one of the unwritten laws of reader/writer contracts. It's like showing the audience a gun on the mantelpiece in Act One of a play. The audience will expect that gun to be used at some point in the story. A POV character who only just MIGHT be dead will be expected to return. Just make sure you know this is what the reader will expect, and do what you can to manage their expectations the way you want them to go.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2016
  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Ok, thanks. :D
     
  16. Matt E
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    Matt E Stormblessed Supporter

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    I think it can be done! An example that comes immediately to my mind is from the Mistborn series by Sanderson. Don't read the spoiler unless you don't mind be spoiled for his three books up to Hero of Ages.

    One of his strongest characters, Kelsier, dies in book one and is branded "The Survivor of Hathsin." One of the very weakest characters of the series hides in the shadows, and never really plays a role until book three. But in book three, he, in a way, takes the role of the very important character, Kelsier. He becomes a hero who is called "The Survivor of the Flames," and is one of the central POV characters of that book. He was never a major character until book three, then he was brought to the forefront. I don't think what you're proposing is any bolder than that.

    As to whether likable characters should be killed or not -- not much point in killing off a character if they aren't likable. That's how you make an emotional impact on people. ;)
     
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  17. TheoremAlpha
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    I'd actually advise against killing off a main character mid way through a series.

    It's quite hard to effectively recover from as most people get really, really attached to a main character. There's a reason they almost never die, and when they do, we call it Shakespearean. Usually the Main Character is the reason most people come back to a series. Typically, it is far more effective of a message if you kill one of the strong secondary characters that the main character has a strong emotional bond to.

    I'm not saying it can't be done.

    But the only case I've ever seen of it really working, is where they die at the end of one of the books in the series, and then the next book after that has a completely different time frame that relishes in the ripple effect caused by the death of the previous books main character.
     
  18. J. Johnston
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    It depends how confident you are in your "secondary character". You don't want people remarking "he's just a poor-man's so and so"; conversely, if his personality is sound, then you can use your MC's death to set-up a great bit of character development (mini arc within an arc) for your succeeding secondary char. Readers will relate to that character's grief, and warm to him/her much quicker that way.
    Again, just boils down to your confidence in the new guy; people were fine when John Oliver subbed for Jon Stewart, but the newest replacement has gotten a lot of flack for being inferior.
     
  19. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    After giving it a little bit of thought, I have decided to have him recover. After all it is his war, so naturally he has to be there when it's ongoing/over. I think I owe him that much considering how fun a character he is to write. Thanks for all the options and ideas everybody, will reflect upon them for a future piece.

    Thanks again everybody. :D
     

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