I know that protags need to lose bad before they can win (if they win), but does the thing that shows the antagonist's strength have to be the death of someone? In this crime drama I'm writing, there's MC Gangster that the beginning of the story follows. He's keeping his distance from his family/partners in crime because of his own personal issues. But then there's trouble with the business and he can't afford to ignore them, so he finally interacts with them. My first time meeting these characters is in the middle of things popping off. I'm hesitant to have them die for a few reasons: 1. It feels like the impact of their deaths would be weak because they only just arrived to the story. While anecdotes and dialogue will help set up their personalities, killing them off would feel like reducing them to a plot device or just hitting an action beat in the story. 2. The MC already lost both his parents and older brother during the last gang war ten years ago. Killing off his pseudo-siblings--the 2nd and only family he has left--this time around feels repetitive. And I know that death comes with this lifestyle and so yeah, it does get repetitive because it keeps happening even in real life, but...I don't know. The circumstances around this gang war are different than the last, so I feel like the aftermath should be different, too, especially different from what we expect out of a gang war, which is for people to drop left and right. 3. On shaking the MC's resolve, I'm also lukewarm on having other characters in peril to serve this purpose. I think it might be better to have him directly affected. Like if someone's going to get kidnapped and tortured, it should be him--not his best friends/partners--since he is the head of the snake, right? I would much rather see him having to Die Hard his way out of a bad situation than rushing to or debating saving someone else and that other person loses their life to teach him a lesson. And this way, with him in the hot seat, the other characters would get ample development time as they work to save him. I just worry that if I put the MC too deep into some mess, if he gets out of it, it will seem like he has plot armor. Any tips on how to avoid that? I don't want to end up writing a Daredevil-esque thing where the ninja is stabbing everybody left and right, but the second he reaches DD, he puts the blade away and they have martial arts slap fight. No shade to DD, but it's like that hospital scene in S2, c'mon now. lol Right now, I'm in the mindset of not wanting to kill anyone off and I feel good about that choice, but I'm so used to high stakes = death of a loved one, that I'm drawing blanks on what else I could do to put my MC through it. Any suggestions of other ways to raise the stakes without having to kill someone off just to let everyone know the antag means business? Can an MC still lose if no one he cares about is dead or do you feel like that's an automatic cop-out?