Re: Killing off the main character

#1
What are peoples' opinions about killing off the MC at the end of a story?



For context if you care:

I just finished posting the first draft of my first story (micro celebration: woot!), and between working on the rewrite, my brain is story-boarding potential prequels and sequels and the whole nine yards. I came to this problem with my original story: does the MC survive the final conflict? (I honestly didn't know the answer myself right up until I wrote the final few chapters. So stressful! I have no desire to repeat the experience.) Now with one of these sequel stories with different characters, I can't make up my mind again if the MC lives or dies in the end. Ugh. 

This story that I am outlining currently, the MC is a soldier who has been trained as a soldier her whole life and is therefore incredibly proficient though not exactly a prodigy in the traditional sense of the word. She cheats death a lot throughout the story with plenty of close calls, loses lots of people that are close to her, and blah, blah, blah. I'm wondering if it would almost be merciful to let her die in the end-- let her serve her purpose in the grand scheme of the story and then let her rest. Ya know what I mean? However, there are two perfectly believable endings rolling around my brain, one that goes each way. (Maybe I write both and let the readers choose? Or is that lame? Haha! I should probably commit one way or the other.) Ah, the power we wield as authors....

I feel like this is one of those things that people have strong opinions about, so let's hear them!

Re: Killing off the main character

#2
Enraged incoherent screaming of our characters intensifies.

With killing the main character, I've always found it very easy to do so. Granted, I'm using my background as a dribble writer, but whenever I do kill a character, it's usually very sudden. Shot, looks at the person holding the gun, shot. As long as the story continues to hold relevance, to not immediately squander the death of the character, anything truely goes. 

However. You shouldn't kill your characters at a whim. Have an end goal you want to reach, and if it involves killing every character you've created and love, do it.

Re: Killing off the main character

#3
I've read some really good novels where the MC dies in the end, and where it was definitely the right choice. BUT in all those novels it was forshadowed since the start and was a perfect thematical fit. 

One of my favorites on this site was (obvious major spoilers are obvious) 

Spoiler :
Burning stars, falling skies. Good story to check out if you're looking for inspo. The story ain't perfect but that ending... 
https%3A%2F%2Fmedia.giphy.com%2Fmedia%2FQBKagmzOgZ...%2Fgiphy.gif

My favorite endings are always those that come 'full circle' and as long as it does, what actually happens in the end is less important. If you're looking for inspo for how to kill off your character, read a few good stories with that kind of ending twice. On the second read, look for all the forshadowing cues. Not that I've read a lot of good stories where the character dies in the end so I'm not exactly authority on the subject, but all the ones I've read, enjoyed and analyzed did forshadow it.

Re: Killing off the main character

#5
Hi! Interesting topic and timing as my recent upload was the last chapter AND was a death of a MC..! *no spoilers coz multiple MCs*

I knew I was going to do it from the get go in my planning and whilst I was desperate for it to be unexpected, I did try to write certain events in a way that when looked back on, made the death make sense. To be sure though, I did upload an authors note just to share my rationale because deaths at the end are divisive. I already know where and when my other character deaths are going to happen but I won't share my rationale every time I do it for the others. This one just felt like something I should do. 

I will admit I am a fan of out of the blue deaths but I will only do them when it makes sense, not only to what is happening but to what will happen, but I don't want to do them JUST to shock. As long as there is consequence and can drive the story forward for someone in some way, whether it be a micro or macro approach to the story (a Governmental policy overhaul to an individual spiralling out of control through grief). I will have a 5 volume series by the end so I knew I could explore the consequence of this particular death in volume 2. 


I don't think there's any harm in writing two endings, but for yourself. I think that will be the only way to get it out of your system and will help you decide which one you want to go with. I think though, because you're in two minds, maybe err on the side of caution and don't do it- I feel that a decision like this you need to be 100% certain on and that this certainty will reflect on how you write it and how the readers will respond to it/buy into it.

But you could ignore what I just said and you COULD write both and get the readers to decide. DC Comics did this with Robin. Do/would you have the active readership to help make that choice? 


Quote:An ad at the conclusion of the issue breathlessly told readers that Robin’s ultimate fate was in their hands. “Robin will die because the Joker wants revenge, but you can prevent it with a telephone call,” it read. Dialling one 900 number cast a vote for his survival; dialling another would help seal his doom. Each call cost 50 cents.
The lines were only open for a 36-hour period on September 16 and 17, 1988. Approximately 10,614 calls were received. Of those, 5271 backed a second chance, while 5343 threw dirt on Todd’s face. Robin would die, executed by a margin of just 72 votes—though that may not have represented 72 people. At least one anti-Robin activist admitted to calling in four times to cement the sidekick's death.


In Batman #428, which hit stands that October, the Dark Knight finds a bloodied Todd in the rubble. (Two endings had been prepared by Starlin and artist Jim Aparo; the winning conclusion was the one rushed to press.) 


https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/559268/batman-readers-voted-to-kill-robin


Good luck in the decisions you make! Do what feels right to you. It's your story at the end of the day, so tell the one you want to :) 

Re: Killing off the main character

#6
If it makes sense from a story perspective, seems like a fitting end to the character or advances the plot, then by all means, do it!

In one of my books I had to kill a protagonist I really loved writing, for all three of those reasons. It was still hard.

Just don't do it too much, or do it just to subvert expectations, or you'll quickly run out of characters and lose the dramatic effect of it all. I remember reading a Warhammer comic collection decades ago, where every single story ended with the main character dying at the end. After a few of these I found myself pretty damn numb to it!

Re: Killing off the main character

#8

Thedude3445 Wrote: I'm waiting for the web novel where the first-person protagonist gets offed 2/3 of the way through the story and suddenly we have a new POV. The sheer balls it would take to pull that off would earn a full story read from me on that alone.


Honestly I thought that was what I was seeing the first time I watched Attack on Titan. 

Since then I've always wanted to build up a passionate protagonist who fits the hero role to a tee, then have them suddenly murdered in their first battle and shift to a second perspective for the rest of the story.

Re: Killing off the main character

#9
Having the MC die -- or at least having an MC die -- is a central part of the plot to several of my stories. It has nothing to do with winning and losing battles though, as my stories are not about fighting.

They're about the fragility of mortality. About how, despite all odds and circumstances, sometimes for the betterment of others, the Supreme Sacrifice must be made. 

😿

Re: Killing off the main character

#10

TwelveGreatApes Wrote:
Thedude3445 Wrote: I'm waiting for the web novel where the first-person protagonist gets offed 2/3 of the way through the story and suddenly we have a new POV. The sheer balls it would take to pull that off would earn a full story read from me on that alone.


Honestly I thought that was what I was seeing the first time I watched Attack on Titan. 

Since then I've always wanted to build up a passionate protagonist who fits the hero role to a tee, then have them suddenly murdered in their first battle and shift to a second perspective for the rest of the story.
This sounds fun. 


Or a story that jumps protags every time they die. The final protagonist has appeared in every pov, as a child in the first one and an adult in the last, and in the finale they aim for vengeance for their friends, every death shaping who they grew up to be.

Re: Killing off the main character

#11


Haust Wrote:
TwelveGreatApes Wrote:
Thedude3445 Wrote: I'm waiting for the web novel where the first-person protagonist gets offed 2/3 of the way through the story and suddenly we have a new POV. The sheer balls it would take to pull that off would earn a full story read from me on that alone.


Honestly I thought that was what I was seeing the first time I watched Attack on Titan. 

Since then I've always wanted to build up a passionate protagonist who fits the hero role to a tee, then have them suddenly murdered in their first battle and shift to a second perspective for the rest of the story.
This sounds fun. 


Or a story that jumps protags every time they die. The final protagonist has appeared in every pov, as a child in the first one and an adult in the last, and in the finale they aim for vengeance for their friends, every death shaping who they grew up to be.




Yeah, exactly! You'd need established characters to hand over to otherwise it would just wind up a mess of short stories. But as part of a single related plot line you could get a lot of bang for your buck out of your various character arcs, and still retain that sense of peril that death is a very real possibility.

Re: Killing off the main character

#13
I confess, I am a sucker for happy endings. No, not the sugary ones whit the "they lived happily ever after". Some characters should die, the MC can be beaten, broken, and at the brink of death, but please let them live. I mean, the MC struggled throughout the story, lost so many precious things, why should death be their only reward? It is a bad habit of mine when I buy books to glance over the last page. If the MC dies, I usually tend to not read the story. I know, it's childish but... how should I put this... I read stories to escape reality. I know that the real world is nasty, unfair, gut-punching people left and right. I have nothing against realism in a story, but hell, give me a bit of hope at the end, some poetical justice, some well-deserved reward for the MC I've been following from the start, cheering for, trembling whether they will succeed in their mission. He suffered, he made the world a better place for everyone but can't enjoy the fruits of his struggle? Jump in the casket, your role is over? Please... show the MC some mercy! peocrying

Re: Killing off the main character

#16
The issue of sequels,prequels, and killing off main characters is a touchy one. I'm going to use the recent Marvel movies as an example, specifically Black Widow.

Now, prior to the new movie coming out we never got a standalone Black Widow movie. However she was a major role in the Captain America's and the Avengers. Over the course of the movies we learned her origins, her motivations, her character growth, and then finally her sacrifice. She had a complete character arc. 
Now we have the new Black Widow movie and we're forced to ask why does it matter? She's dead. We all know how it ends. And we all already got the summary version of her back story. So, will people really care about this movie? There were no major questions left in her story. 

If you write a prequel, do you intend to have your character as a leading role? If so, will it have the same issues? (Contrast with say the star wars prequels. While unliked to some at the time, they did fill in a lot of the blanks of how Darth Vader and Obi wan happened and so were interesting despite knowing how everything would end.)

This applies to a lot of MC and MC deaths. Black Widows death in the movie was the epitome of her entire character. She actively fought her friend to sacrifice herself because her ledger was dripping with red (referencing her words in the first Avengers.) It was built up to and worked out well and had a lasting impact. 

Does killing your MC have the same kind of depth?  You mention wanting to let her rest. Is that something she wants?  Has she been carrying a burden this while time that dying would be a rest? Or would she see it as her chance to finely live life being snatched away right when it's in her grasp?  Which way would the readers take it? 

Or is her death something needed for the plot? Something outside her control? Is that the theme of the entire story, with mortals jerked around by fate and higher powers? Or is it meant to be a grimdark world where everyone can die at any time?

Or are you doing a classic heros journey story? They are classic for a reason and that includes the hero getting some kind of reward or conclusion at the end. Sam got to merry his sweetheart and Frodo got to rest in the Gray Havens. Is her death the placing down of a burden or a cruel snatch of defeat from victory jaws? What are you driving for with the reader?

You mention sequels. Does her death drive characters in the sequel, like Boromirs death drove Sam and Frodo to separate from the Fellowship and Aragorn to interact with Gondor? Or will it leave readers wondering why we aren't reading her story in the sequel and are instead stuck with this replacement? (Cant think of a good example right now. Possibly Marvels removal of Chris Evans as Captain America which made sense for budget reasons but really was poorly done in side the universe.)

Anyway, this was a shotgun spray of an answer. My point is main character deaths, like anything that happens in a story, should have a purpose and help set the tone. You need to think about what you're trying to accomplish not just in this story but apparently in the prequel and sequels and use that to drive your decision.




Re: Killing off the main character

#17
I think when you kill off a main character, it's usually for some final impact that leaves the audience grieving for the mc (or some other emotion) instead of just "that's it?". Like what others said above, it's completely fine killing off your main character, and sometimes it could be really sudden as well, but make it serve a purpose. Is he/she trying to save someone by sacrificing themselves? Is it a suicide after enduring too much mental trauma and pain? Like any final climax/arc, killing off your main character could, and maybe should, serve as a final wrap up to everything that's happened. If the main character died because they, say, got sick and died without any reference to the plot beforehand, then it feels like a waste of their character, and all previous plot points now feel like filler because at the end of the day, the character just died for no reason at all, so what's the point of all those adventures and conflicts before?

Basically, just make the death feel "worth it", so to speak.

Re: Killing off the main character

#18
DrakanGlasses  I've done it at least 5 times already in one story... DrakanFascinating He keeps getting up though and each time he seems a bit more upset...

I will say, in serious answer, that you have to be careful with it. There is a reason stories usually end after the MC dies off, or people believe it isn't going to stay that way. Rarely, I see a bait and switch protagonist at the state. I can see it being done, most certainly. The problem is the gravity of the act and the follow up. It would, by the act, end up being a massive change to the narrative.

There's like only one example of a "MC" being kill off in the story and it kept going had another character who was there to have it slide easily onto the shoulders of. So, yeah...shouldn't be done to just do it to "subvert expectations" either. One would need to plan and consider it hard to pull it off.

Re: Killing off the main character

#20

Ariana Wrote: I confess, I am a sucker for happy endings. No, not the sugary ones whit the "they lived happily ever after". Some characters should die, the MC can be beaten, broken, and at the brink of death, but please let them live. I mean, the MC struggled throughout the story, lost so many precious things, why should death be their only reward? It is a bad habit of mine when I buy books to glance over the last page. If the MC dies, I usually tend to not read the story. I know, it's childish but... how should I put this... I read stories to escape reality. I know that the real world is nasty, unfair, gut-punching people left and right. I have nothing against realism in a story, but hell, give me a bit of hope at the end, some poetical justice, some well-deserved reward for the MC I've been following from the start, cheering for, trembling whether they will succeed in their mission. He suffered, he made the world a better place for everyone but can't enjoy the fruits of his struggle? Jump in the casket, your role is over? Please... show the MC some mercy! peocrying
This is my usual preference, which is why I started this thread in the first place. And that's why the first story I wrote ended "happily". But, this next story has a slightly different flavor. Still debating....