1. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    Having the Main Character Die - Thoughts?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Tomb1302, Jul 15, 2019.

    I'm going to keep this pretty vague, as, I'd like to generate lots of discussion in regards to this question, but to you, personally, what do you think of Main Characters dying at some point within a given story?

    Does it depend on genre? Does it cause you to lose interest? Does it have you transition the POV to another character in an exciting and dynamic way?

    Share any and all opinions, thanks!
     
  2. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    I think done incorrectly it will make a reader lose interest. Plenty of authors have had their MC characters die though, and it can be very powerful.
     
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  3. Dan McLeod

    Dan McLeod Member

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    It depends if the main character is the only POV up until that point, and whether the story was being told in 1st person.

    If the death feels like a gimmick it would put me off.
     
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  4. The Bishop

    The Bishop Senior Member

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    I have all my MC's die in my WIP, but it's not just because I feel like killing them. If you're going to kill a character there has to be a reason for it, like an actual good reason. If it seems like it's for a bad reason/no reason then yes, it will make the reader lose interest.
     
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  5. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    In response to my own question, I do indeed plan on killing off many of the MC's in my war-oriented stories. To me it adds a key element; The insignificance of the average soldier.

    I think one of the most important 'transitions' I'll try and accomplish is the perceptual transition of 'Reader is very connected to soldier', and then end with 'In the end, the soldier meant nothing, and, was just another body sprawled on the battlefield'.

    If executed well, it could be really heart-breaking.
     
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  6. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    I think for this to work we have to be emotionally invested in many of your mc's at the same time, not just one at a time. I think for me at least, there must be hope with the heartbreak.
     
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  7. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    Of course my friend! I have that one figured out!

    I plan on investing lots of time into the conversations between the characters, and their backgrounds. The Battle of Amiens happened in 1918, so the hope that the ghastly four year war would end is also a thread of positivity that will drive the attitude of the MC's.

    Thoughts?
     
  8. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    If an important character dies too early on, then my question would be wether they should really be the main character. It makes sense to chronicle a story from the standpoint of those who live, both to maintain the same points of view across the story, and to help suspension of disbelief a bit (who is telling this story?) Killing off the main character though becomes less risky the closer it happens to the end of the story.

    Out of four main characters in my current WIP, one will probably be killed off this book and the others will come out okay. It's useful for concluding their story arc, particularly in a story with lots of characters. I generally prefer not to though when I don't have a reason. To paraphrase Patrick Rothfus, there are worse things that we can do to our characters than death.
     
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  9. Cirno

    Cirno New Member

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    Stories being very liberal about killing off characters tends to naturally increase my investment in the story because it makes the danger of the conflict seem all that much more real, and that sense of dread and uncertainty is something I very much enjoy;these days we're kinda built to expect at least ninenty percent, if not all, of a story's characters to remain intact.

    That said, I think it tends to work a lot better in stories that either partially or fully make use of ensemble casts, because if I go with a protagonist on a journey only for their efforts to mean nothing my reaction is naturally going to be "what the hell was the point?" It's hard to write a slaughter-fest without it ending up as a "shoot the shaggy dog" story, but the books that pull it off tend to be some of my favorites.
     
  10. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    Love this response - I feel the same way.
     
  11. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I was thinking about this exact question last night while I was meant to be asleep.

    Does it depend on genre? To me Genre makes very little difference, but obviously some genres are going to require more deaths. It's unlikely that a few characters will die in your ordinary romance novel, but in a War story, if hardly anyone dies, the threat doesn't seem very dominant.

    Does it cause you to lose interest? That depends on how closely we have been encouraged to bond with that main character, but since I'm a reader who reads for the character's story I do tend to bond with them quickly and would lose interest if the character was killed off half way through.

    Does it have you transition the POV to another character in an exciting and dynamic way? No. Not really. I dislike meeting a character you think is the lead then discovering half way through someone else is.

    You also have to remember to for fill your promises to the reader and they need to be satisfied. The death of a main character can be disappointing. Because Hollywood has conditioned us to the "happy ever after" ending, whenever we read anything will automatically assume our main will live. So we feel it's safe to care for them. In a Horror movie you can usually guess who's going to live and who's going to die. Sometimes I think having the character fail at their goal can be a more dramatic, shocking ending than them just dying. It gives the readers mixed feelings. If you've never seen the movie "The Mist" go and watch it on youtube, the ending is not only hard-wrenching but shocking. It leaves you with mixed feelings, because as a society we are victorious but for the MC....
     
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  12. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    For me, that's true up to a point. But in stories that have plainly taken a "kill em all" approach to the point where it becomes predictable, it usually diminishes my interest. I think there needs to feel like there was a reason behind a character death (even if it's only "this monster is really dangerous", or "bad things happen in war"), and their death should enrich the story. If it feels like the author killed them just for some cheap drama or just to raise the stakes, that's when it feels gratuitous for me.
     
  13. Muller

    Muller New Member

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    No, I don't stand for it in the stories I read or watch. As for writing, I'm just focusing on writing for the pure enjoyment of it, and kill the main off every episode. The main normally continues as the narrator, sometimes even being reincarnated a time or two.

    In my opinion, if you kill the main character off, it's best to have a stand-in continue in place of that character, or else use flashbacks and whatnot.
     
  14. Richach

    Richach Contributor Contributor

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    Not sure about having the main character die. If it is possibe to achieve the same emotional reaction from the reader by other means, then I would say do that.

    Life is precious and things ought to have got pretty bad for a character to reach the stage of death. Unless it was an accident.

    If you know and understand your character and they are well developed, then maybe they get to a point where they die. Readers will only accept the death of a charcter if they believe it to be genuine, so I would be very careful to do it right.

    In certain circumstances, it does work. Look at Obe Wan for example, or Qui Gon Jo in Star Wars. Those charcters are destined to die, or at least they are likely to die. The fact that they are loved and that the reader is routing for them and does not want them to die is a good natural human reaction. In addition to this, these main characters are actually one of many. So the writer is not killing the golden goose.

    Most importantly the readers do not become desnsitised to death, even though characters die through out the stories. That is a sign of a good death well written.

    Good question that is hard to answer!
     
  15. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Senior Member

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    For me, it's not a question of 'should the MC die', but rather, how I approach reanimation and a second death.
    Ever since I started this book, Malchoir was always going to die once. As the story went on, it became clear that the only in-character, reasonable thing for him to do would be to irritate (to the point of physical and mortal backlash) one of the, what, four people in the book motivated enough to do something about it? There was no question about it on either side--Malchoir would absolutely anger Miranda, and she would absolutely kill him for it. It would devalue Malchoir's reaction to his world if he didn't do that, and it would devalue Miranda as a character, as a person, if she let him live.

    Problem is, there's still 25-30% of a book left after that incident. So Mal needs to come back, somehow, and it needs to not feel totally cheap and ruin the 'sacrifice' of having chosen personal death over the lives of his crew and ship. Just as importantly, I need to nail his and others' reactions to him getting his life back. It feels bad to just say 'he died and came back and now he regrets everything, but it's too late and everything is screwed all to the Hellplanes anyway', but...it's too late and everything is screwed. So he resolves to do the best he can to fight a war that he personally caused his faction to lose, on top of his original but slightly misguided resolve to fight that war in any way possible.

    If I do it right, I'll be on every Women of Science Fiction panel at every con in every state (not that I think that being a woman in sci-fi is particularly noteworthy, but i'm not so prideful I won't take the easy street cred). If I do it wrong, no one will ever think I'm anything more than a shitty Passion of the Christ meets Star Wars fanfiction.
    Which is completely wrong. This is clearly an Andromeda fanfiction.
     
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  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Death is so boring.
     
  17. Everlast

    Everlast New Member

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    IMO The death of MC is the end of the story .
     
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  18. shiba0000

    shiba0000 Member

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    Depends on if the story is about the main character or if you're just using the MC as a way to explore a setting or chain of events.
     
  19. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

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    I think it can be done so long as the author commits to their main character being dead. Riverdale decided that the plot for season four was going to center on Jughead's death/murder, if you haven't seen Riverdale Jughead is the narrator. Now, if they'd committed to having Jughead die the show would have ended because the other characters just cannot carry a story on their own.

    Instead what they did was have Jughead brained with a rock. Magically survive because his fucking beanie cushioned the blows enough to help him survive and use his apparent death to frame the idiots who tried to kill him.

    The whole, they died and they confirmed it on screen but wait it's actually not true and the person survived due to some contrived bullshit is the literal worst way to go about a character death. If it's not confirmed in scene then it's a different story but if you confirm it, stick to it unless there was already a plan in place to fake the death and the plan didn't come about because the person survived by luck.
     
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  20. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    It really depends on why you have them die, how you handle it and how it affects the narrative.

    Characters are important resources and shouldn't be wasted, and this goes double for the main ones. If you can just get rid of a major character, one has to question what purpose they served in the first place. Don't kill characters just for shock value or to make your readers sad, and don't wait until the very end of the story when it no longer really matters. A main character dying should change the course of the narrative in some significant way - you have to treat it as something very important.

    Personally, I like to occasionally kill off main characters and then bring them back to life somehow. But maybe that's just me.
     
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  21. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    I just killed off my main character in a series last year. You never do it for effect, it has to serve the story. In that case, it was necessary.
     
  22. Vaughan Quincey

    Vaughan Quincey Active Member

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    May I add... And it sucks.

    You've spent a considerable amount of time thinking about a character, getting to know her or him, checking out what this character loves (be it music, books, films, strange hobbies), learning, growing. and then you made this guy go through a whole book, so you've spent at least a whole year with your MC, and then this day arrives when you just have to ...

    Somebody has to do it.

    You sometimes feel like a serial killer.
     
  23. Cope Acetic

    Cope Acetic Member

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    Based on your later posts in this thread, it sounds like you don't have a main character so much as you have a POV character in an ensemble cast. I think killing the POV character in an ensemble cast is much easier than killing a simple main character, but it's likely to be jarring. This is probably part of the reason George R. R. Martin chose to change POV on a regular basis.

    "Killing a character" is a funny way of putting it. Not saying this is what you meant, but the phrasing implies it's an act of murder by the author. If one character kills another, or a character ends up in a situation that results in death, it's probably less risky if you ensure it feels like the events in the story led up to that moment, as others here have said.
     
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  24. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    It's not hard at all. That character served their purpose, now they're gone. In writing terms, dozens of characters have come and gone since that time. There's really no difference between moving on to other books and killing characters. Everything always changes. In my case, that guy was the MC through three books and I knew going into it that he'd die in the end. Such is life. You can always make more characters.
     
  25. Vaughan Quincey

    Vaughan Quincey Active Member

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    That's true, but a really memorable character never comes cheap. When your bread and butter depends on the public buying your books because they are mad about your idiotic character (for instance, like with Sherlock Holmes) to kill him sucks even more. You can write the adventures of Prof. Challenger, but they won't engage your audience much, which will affect the sales. A respectable amount of Doyle's readers were reading Sherlock Holmes, not Sherlock Holmes' adventures. Clear case of character taking a more important role than plot. There are of course more examples.

    To me characters in short stories or novellas are easier to kill, since the plot is what matters, but I think of novels as a different sort of game, even genre novels.

    But you are right, we keep killing them and writing new ones, that's what we do.
     

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