Killing off a character

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  1. John Crandall (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago


    I just went to your blog and that post on killing characters was very insightful.

    On an unrelated note, maybe someone can think of a way for us to kill off characters we don't like--in other people's work.


    And no, that's not a criticism on anyone's work here. I have a specific character from a book that i'm thinking of right now. The story was great, but ... man, this one character dragged down the whole story. - the free science fiction, action-adventure humor-hyphen-thingy
  2. Kess (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Glad you found it helpful, John! :)

    On your unrelated note: I think that's what fanfiction is for. ;) Alternatively, write to the author!

  3. Katherine (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    On an unrelated note, maybe someone can think of a way for us to kill off characters we don't like--in other people's work.

    To be honest, I seldom feel like killing other people's/author's characters, even ones I really really hate. Usually, I find myself wanting to fix them instead--take a character who seems shallow or uninteresting/Mary-Sueish in their original incarnation and make them more interesting in a fanfiction. That's kind of what I'm brainstorming right now for Sailor Neptune in my Sailor Moon fanfic, which is based on the comic where Neptune is a lot more... ~*~perfect~*~ than she is in the anime, hair-pullingly so.

    Angry Remembrance: I used to hate my father. Then I learned he was a legend.
  4. allantmichaels (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    It's a tough question. I think it largely depends on the type of story you're writing. I am currently writing a story (when I actually post chapters :P) called "An Empire at War." There's a war. People will die. Sometimes, they will be people you (the reader) and I (the author) like. But war is hell. And it's never fair. So far, I've killed off two "major" characters in the previous book and what I've posted so far in this one. Other deaths are coming. Some will be harder than others.

    But I've known they were coming since I started writing. Part of my novel was inspired by Martin, who did things in fantasy I'd never seen before. I agree with everything that's been said. If it fits the story, kill 'em off.

  5. John Crandall (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    I am amazed that this topic is still going strong. Makes me happy.

    How about this? What are some of your favorite deaths in fiction? (can be tv, movies, books etc)

    Joss Whedon's comedy musical Doctor Horrible has a good one (won't say who dies if you haven't seen it)
    Hamlet's death (of course)
    Wow for some reason i'm drawing a blank on this. I know there are some other memorable deaths ... - the free science fiction, action-adventure humor-hyphen-thingy
  6. Tahjir (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Memorable deaths, or at least horrible and unexpected deaths, seem to be one of Whedon's skills. From what I've seen he doesn't let his characters linger, either. The one you mentioned is pretty much over before you can really register what's going on, and it doesn't help that it's completely unexpected. =(

    The most recent memorable death I can think of would be one of the main characters from Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Almost the entire plot hinges on it, and it's even hinted at, but I doubt anyone reading it for the first time expects it to happen. It manages to swing from 'oh god that's so horrible why did he do that?' to 'oh god that's AMAZING... but still horrible'. You'd have to read it to really understand, but it's like the crowning moment of a heist film.

    Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy
  7. Ageless Author (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I'd say kill a character when it can achieve the greatest emotional effect. A sacrifice when all other options aren't working, when a character you thought you couldn't trust turns out to be self sacrificing, you know. If you want more from the character you could always use flashbacks, or if you write fantasy and science fiction, depending on the realism factor, the character could come back. It would have to be blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice to do that, but it could be done. I think the use of killing characters might be a bit more flexible than some would think.

  8. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    when it comes to how to do so, i like the sentiments about violence in an essay/speech Harlan Ellison did

  9. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I like that Ellison essay -- and he's right, real violence in life is often completely sudden and unexpected.

    In writing, I think there are two kinds of violence. The sudden, unexpected kind for the sake of realism, and the exacting, planned kind for a plotted story arc. Art can do many things, but they boil down to these basics for me: show a mirror of reality, evoke emotion, inspire meaning. These are all and/or options -- Realism has its place, because it reflects the world we live in. Whether there are gritty details, biographies, photographs or carefully depicted portraits in paint, these works of art try to show life the way it is. Some art and writing is entirely unrealistic but full of feeling, an emotion distilled from its essence -- and it can get very abstract but still be evocative.

    Aristotle believed the purpose of high art was to arrange events in such a way as to lead the audience to catharsis, so that the emotions the art channelled were released and left them feeling more satisfied about the way they live. So a story, whether acted out or written, was essentially like a symphony of emotions, building towards a satisfying climax and ending. Random violence can be used to punctuate that symphony at times for the sake of shock and realism -- but major character death, particularly the protagonist or antagonist, needs to be part of the structure to be satisifying, otherwise you disrupt catharsis. For instance, Hamlet would have been totally weird if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern murdered him and he never went back to the castle to wreak vengeance on the king. Hey, you've just watched a play entirely about one man's plan to avenge his father, only he got interrupted with no resolution -- the end. It doesn't work.

    I've put a lot of thought into this because my ongoing serial promised to kill my protagonist IN THE TITLE so I had to make that eventual death purposeful. There are random deaths over the course of the series -- I don't think anyone saw the death of Diggory's parents coming, and it left him with unresolved parental issues that drove the intensity of his connection with his wife. There are men in a bank robbery who are killed with no warning, because violence can be sudden. But they left Diggory thinking about mortality and moral responsibility -- so random events can impact the purpose of a narrative.

    So in summary -- random and planned deaths both have their uses in a story. It depends on how you want to affect the audience, and how you want to orchestrate the character development of the survivors -- because whoever you killed is dead.

  10. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    As a tangent to this, do you think a series can continue after killing a major character? I'm a little invested in the answer because I killed my protagonist while the plot continues, but I think it's relevant to discuss in general.

    People reacted to Optimus Prime dying in Transformers the Movie, to the point he got resurrected -- and the makers of GI Joe halted plans to kill Duke as a result. I couldn't watch X-files without Mulder (though he wasn't dead, he was just off camera) -- but we get new James Bonds and Batmen all the time. "Psycho" changed protagonists in the middle of the movie.

  11. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Well new James Bonds and Batmen are different because it's not the character who is dying, it's just a new actor. Similar to Doctor Who, though Doctor Who is a bit more clever about it by writing new actors into the canonical storyline.

    I have no idea how it's going to work out for you. Diggory is a pretty radical idea for serial fiction. I don't know if you're breaking new ground but you're definitely breaking ground I've never seen broken before.

    For my part, if it ever comes to killing off a main character I plan to go the Aristotelian route and make it as glorious and as cathartic as possible. But I'm more interested in having my main characters do things at the moment, and post-death it's difficult to do anything (at least, in the specific boundaries of the stories I'm writing now).

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  12. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Thanks ubersoft -- I like trying to stretch my boundaries, and hopefully those of readers, so I'm hoping this new ground breaks well. :) Thanks for noticing that. It's funny, my original conception for the story was much simpler and I never considered it might end up at all radical -- No Man an Island was meant to be experimental because I was learning things about me as a writer and the web as a medium. But Diggory was meant to be way more straight forward and instead it grows with complexity all the time.

    I took a risk with his death because I like Aristotle's arc theory for stories -- that they should cause catharsis and resolution. I tried to show an arc his his character development -- as he started out rich, isolated and self-absorbed, and ended up loving his wife and trying to use his life to help history, her legacy and the future instead of thinking about himself. But it doesn't arc as cleanly because there's a lot of plot still unresolved -- but I think that's the nature of serials, whether it's a story or a long-running television show. Individual episodes have to both be somewhat satisfying and give you reasons to come back for more. And long running story arcs have to be similar but stretched over time.


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