Friday 25 October 2013

Killing Your Main Character: Could you do it?


I think most of us will agree, there are lots of good reasons for killing off secondary characters. It can be used as a plot twist or turning point in the story. It can also bring about strong emotions like grief and revenge that can move the plot forward. But what about killing off your main character (MC)?




I don’t know if I could do it. For me, reading a book is an escape from the real world into a fantasy world. I want to go on adventures, fall in love all over again, travel to different worlds and experience the impossible. What I don’t want is to find myself a weeping mess by the end of the book. Personally, if I found out a MC in a book or a series ended up on the chopping block, I probably wouldn’t bother reading it. Why should I invest myself emotionally in a book if only to have my heart broken by the end? There are far too many good books out there that I could be reading instead. But maybe I just don’t ‘get it.’ Now of course you could argue it all depends on the story...but still, there something that feels terribly wrong about killing off a MC. Take the Harry Potter series for example. Do you think the books/movies would have been as successful if Harry ended up dying at the end? What about your book? Could you kill off your main character? Have you ever killed off your main character?

And on that charming note, stay safe Main Characters, stay safe.

Happy Friday all. (:  

38 comments:

  1. Hi Elise,

    I think killing of your main character is a fantastic idea. Sometimes, a sad ending brings out the reality. Harry Potter? Yes please, have Harry Potter killed off at the end.

    Having no rules when it comes to writing, I would gladly kill of a main character, any character. Keep them guessing. Yes and no plot works for me. I've been very successful by not sticking to any silly rules.

    And have a happy Saturday. It's Saturday and I'd better not mention time zones. Today, yesterday, was a bit of confusion in regards to time zones. See, I'm rambling. This proves, just like my writing, I aint got no rules.

    Goodnight and good morning.

    Gary :)

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  2. I'm with you. I read as an escape. Too many of my real life favorite characters have left me, so I don't intentionally seek out anything sad. I will always choose laughter over tears and will avoid a tear jerker like the plague.

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  3. Why would one want to except to take the book in a different direction? Seems a bit gimmicky. I do not like writing or reading a book like that, since it would require me to re-invest in the story from a different angle.

    I don't dislike my main characters. I have big plans for them.

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  4. If it calls for it, yeah. But just to do it, ummm no. Science fiction makes it easy to kill them 50 times and bring them back though lol

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  5. Gee, I wonder what brought on this train of thought.

    I'd read a series even if the MC died at the end. Sometimes an appropriate finish requires it. I remember being surprised Harry didn't die at the end of the series because it had been built up so much. At least it worked for the story and didn't seem like it was forced in there to please the fans. And sometimes a memorable end is better than a forgettable survival.

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  6. Oh crap. I kill a main character....

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  7. Hi, Elise,
    Just finished reading a book in which one of the main characters dies. He'd had a full life by that time, but all the same it was heart-rending. Haven't killed a main character yet, but I've maimed and mangled them on their adventures.

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  8. Elise, I kind of agree with you. I am unhappy when the main character is killed off, because I like reading as entertainment and I want a happy ending. CODE NAME VERITY made me sob and haunted me for weeks.

    That said, the book HAUNTED ME FOR WEEKS. I will never forget it.

    It is very powerful when a character you've invested in dies.

    I hate sad endings, and yet my first published book has a sad ending -- because I was writing historical fiction based on real events, and that's how the real events ended. I had no choice. I didn't enjoy it, and since then I have not repeated what I did in the first book. But seeing the success of CODE NAME VERITY, I have to admit that breaking the reader's heart is very effective and memorable.

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  9. I tried three times to kill a MC and the characters of the story wouldn't allow it. I wrote and rewrote it thinking I was going it get it right, but no, the other characters wouldn't have it. I finally decided it was best to end it on the up side and move on. Sometimes no matter how hard you try it just isn't right, especially if they've already suffered every horror there is. Good question!

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  10. Well, technically Harry Potter was a huge success before the last book ever came out. However, she would have had a LOT of rabidly angry fans if he died. Or if any of the trio had died really.

    I'm not a fan of killing of the MC, it's makes the read feel pointless to me. I want to read about survivors, unless the person was dead at the beginning or will somehow be a relevant ghost. I'm not going to write a book I would hate reading myself. The exceptions would be books based on real events and that's just what happened like GO ASK ALICE.

    So yeah, no, I get attached to people. I can't kill them unless they're coming back to life.

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  11. I wouldn't ever ever ever kill one of my mc's unless it was kind of a trick and I was going to resurrect them somehow in the next book. It's just plain mean to make people care about someone and then kill them off. The only movie I liked where someone died in the end was "Armageddon." (Hubby and I both cry at that one, but don't tell him I told you...) Have a good weekend! :-)

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  12. I enjoy reading books, but it should make me feel happy not other way around :)

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  13. Well, technically Harry did end up dying....Just not permanently. I think it's one of those things that could be done well, but it would take a very talented author to pull it off without feelings of betrayal by the readers so I'll just avoid them.

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  14. The main character of one of my books dies at the end. Does that count as killing them off? Also, as you know, life consists of a wide range of emotions. Some people want to experience them all.

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  15. I can't ever see me killing off a main character. But then again, never say never! =)

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  16. It depends on the death but mostly no. It's bad enough what most main characters have to go through (think Katniss) but to kill them, too? And yes, I read to escape and there are already so many real-life sad endings that I want my book escape to have a happier ending.

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  17. No, I couldn't kill my main character. I can do all kinds of other evil things to her, but she must survive it all. :))

    And I even have a hard time killing off her friends. I had plans to kill a certain character when I started writing this current novel, and he grew on me so much I couldn't do it. My beta readers threatened legal action if I killed him. :P

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  18. I don't know... if/when that moment arrives, then I'll know whether I have what it takes...

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  19. There are people that LOVE those tragic endings----I am NOT one of them. I read to escape and find enjoyment, not to be depressed, LOL! ;-)

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  20. Well, Flaubert did in Madame Bovary and Thomas Hardy did in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but since I'm not Flaubert or Hardy, I will probably not give that a try.

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  21. I have killed off a main character in my book, but had her revived in the end. I agree, I read books to escape reality as well and would not read a book if everyone does not end up living happily ever after. I just figure real life is depressing enough.

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  22. I've killed off a few protagonists in horror flash fiction.

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  23. Well, for variety's sake, it's a great idea to kill off your main character, sometimes. Not every story is going to be best served with a surviving main character, although most are. It all depends--it really does. :D

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  24. Joss Whedon killed Buffy twice, and that series did all right... I would definitely consider killing a main character if that's what the story called for. But only then.

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  25. I think in a world where too many readers want to control the movement of the story killing an MC will help wake them up. I see nothing wrong with killing an MC as long as the story can still hold up without them. And I have to say dead or alive the Harry Potter series would survive and thrive with or without Harry. There'd just be a lot of pissed off fans. Fans who are now anxiously awaiting the next HP movie involving a no HP Movie original cast.

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  26. I agree, killing off the main character wouldn't be good, but I have read a few successful books where the character did die. It's always sad, but if there is a good reason, it works.

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  27. Shakespeare does it a lot, I guess. Tragic love stories, which I've never been a fan of. I don't mind if it has a point like in Tale of Two Cities (It is a far, far better thing I do...), but when it's just to go, 'Oh how sad...' then I'm not that bothered.

    Of course the most famous book where the MC dies at the end is the Bible. (spoiler!)

    mood

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  28. I think the only way I could would be if it was the end of the series and the MC's death really amounted to something - it would have to mean that them dying saved what was most important to them. No idea if I could actually write it, though. @_@

    That sort of thing wouldn't stop me from reading a series, though; I've read too many books where important characters die for that. George R. R Martin, anyone....

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  29. Nope. I write romance.
    If I killed off an MC, readers would burn me in effigy. LOL

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  30. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. If writing a scene makes you cry then you know you are doing something right.

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  31. I've heard it's a big no-no, to kill off an MC. I think the trend is against it now, for the very reason you describe, most people want to root for the MC and have him/her prevail at the end. Hard to do if the MC dies. Where I've seen it work really well are stories where something horrible has already happened to the MC and part of them already wants to die. (E.g. I am Legend and Braveheart.) The MC gets some payback on the terrible things foisted on him but then is released to join his family in the afterlife.

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  32. This is a tough question. As a reader, I've thrown books at a wall for that offense. Then again...if you're George R R Martin you do this all the time, right? "Brace yourself..." http://ow.ly/qg1Zd

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  33. I don't believe in killing off characters, not unless it makes really great sense.

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  34. I couldn't kill off a main character and I don't like books that do it. In the last Harry Potter book, when Rowling made us believe she was going to kill Harry Potter, I had to stop reading for awhile. I am so glad Harry Potter didn't stay dead.

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  35. I don't think I could do that. I've found as I've got older I like both books and films to have relatively happy endings!
    Suzanne @ Suzannes Tribe
    xx

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  36. I feel exactly the same way as a reader, Elise, and actually, as a writer too. As invested as I get in the stuff I read, I'm so much more vested in the characters I've brought to "life." Kill them off, say whaaaaaaaaat??? Naw, dude; they gotta LIVE!!!!! :-)
    Check Out Mina's Resurrection Blogfest II!

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  37. If I were to kill my MC off, I'd have decided that in the beginning, so yes, no problem. If a book took off and the editor wanted sequels/series and I hadn't planned on killing the MC, then I'd see how the story unfolded. But no...killing people is in my blood. I come from a long line of secret assassins. Well, I guess we're not so secret anymore.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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