killing off main characters (spoilers!)

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by David Plantinga, Apr 3, 2017.

  1. David Plantinga

    David Plantinga Possibly a Darkfriend

    George R.R. Martin received so much kudos for killing Ned Stark that other authors may do the same. It's been said that killing the main character made the story so much more real and compelling and so it becomes very tempting to do the same thing. That execution was something of a novelty, but Ned's downfall came from his own faults, as admirable as those faults may be. Subsequent writers may miss this point and simply set up a protagonist and then kill him or her for the shock value.
  2. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    That was published 21 years ago. Though it has become a household name in the last few years with the HBO show, the book series was already extremely well received in the fantasy literature genre. I think its impact on the fantasy 'meta' has already happened.
  3. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    A protagonist's implied survival is always an odd thing. We're all savvy enough readers to pretty much know that they're going to make it until the very end, at which point their survival is finally on the line for reals. Everything that happened beforehand is just sort of window dressing because we inherently know you can't have a finale without a protag. So while they're always in danger, they're never really, really risking their lives until the end of the book/ movie.

    This becomes even more true for protagonist eponymous series like Dresden, Harry Potter and the like in that if you're reading book four and you know there's currently eight in the series, your protag's definitely not going to die this time around. So how do you create life and death stakes for the protag if you expect your series to be open ended/ ongoing?

    This is a complaint you get from comics a lot, which sort of provides a solution in that it's the supporting cast that pays the price with their lives. Batman can never die, but Robin is certainly fair game.

    Martin certainly changed the game in pop culture (mind you, Psycho killed off its protagonist in the first act way, way back) by killing Ned. Mind you, Ned was one of the numerous POVs, but we all sort of clung to him since he had all the traditional trademarks of the protagonist. Which is where Martin really shined in upending the trope/ cliche by demonstrating that in this case honor and nobility did not always win the day in his world.

    And yes, in doing so, he invited emulation by lesser authors; the same way that Tarantino did back in his 90s heyday when everyone was trying to write the next Pulp Fiction.
  4. Darth Tater

    Darth Tater Journeyed there and back again

    This one shocked me.

    I hate to give the spoiler a label but otherwise nobody would know what they didn't want to see. Errr...

    ***BIG*** Spoiler. Proceed at your own risk if you haven't read the book.

    Kelsier. Then later just about everyone else in the end.

    And so early. I was bummed. That was the best character in the entire series. I thought the series was "good" but almost everyone else thought it was "great" so I guess everything I said in the spoiler was effective for Sanderson.
  5. jo zebedee

    jo zebedee Journeyed there and back again

    But I don't think it enhanced Mistborn at all - no other character filled his shoes.

    I always know when readers reach chapter six of Abendau's Heir cos I get messages saying... you didn't ...

    I did. I killed a little girl and her dad. In fact, her dad killed her. And I did it because every element of the main characters development was linked to her death.

    Killing is sometimes important - not least to remind a reader that we just might....
  6. Darth Tater

    Darth Tater Journeyed there and back again

    Yeah. You'll get no argument from me on that. The character was not only unique to Mistborn but I thought to other novels as well. I kept expecting the character to pull a Gandalf or ObiWan and return in some form or another. But once they're dead I prefer them to stay that way.
  7. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    Martin's don't always stay dead...kind of ruins the whole thing (going forward, at any rate).
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2017
  8. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    I wonder if the books and the tv-series will differ on
    Jon's resurrection

    I do think you are right though. Characters being resurrected all the time after kicking the bucket diminishes their original death. For some series this works like a charm (Malazan is full of these things happening, but that's totally okay as it is in line with the world Erikson set up), but it doesn't work so well in ASOIAF.
  9. Jakyro

    Jakyro Journeyed there and back again

    I didn't think this was actually a huge surprise :p

    I expected Kelsier to die; the "teacher" who's giving up his life for his "apprentice". What did surprise me was the moment it happened. I only expected it at the very end of the book while Sanderson pulled it off with still +100/200 (?) pages to go
  10. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    Agreed with both of you on Mistborn. It was a very true to genre death and not a particular surprise, but it did also rob the story of its best character.

    *pause* Now there's a good genre bender waiting to make it really big; a mentor that outlives their apprentice.

    How many books/series are there out there that kill off the main protagonist early?
  11. Maark Abbott

    Maark Abbott Journeyed there and back again

    Eh, my main character dies about 150-200 pages into mine. Of course, she comes back, and she's pissed about it - but then it's all in the blurb. And it's sort of necessary for the story to kick off - bring someone back is breaking the rules, after all, and if one god-analogue is going to break the rules, the rest may as well join in.
  12. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I tend to always like the mentor character more than the apprentice, so I'd want to read that. Or maybe just write it myself, hm...
  13. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    This isn't even remotely true, Batman has died hundreds of times. 4 of them he stayed dead for several years (real time ) dick Grayson took over as Batman this last time (early 2000s)

    Every major superhero has spent time in a grave, most recently wolverine died and stayed dead for at least a year ( I'm not sure if he's been brought back yet, or it could eventually be they bring in another universe's version.)

    Superman has had quite a few deaths, captain America and iron man have died a lot allowing sidekicks to take over for years since the 60s.

    Maybe GRRM (who is now starting to bring back characters left and right. ) Is imitating comics?
  14. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Even knowing the character would probably survive to the end doesn't really bother me that much while reading the exciting parts when the character in question is in danger of dying. I could never know if the author haven't decided to end his career early by killing off his main character and continuing the series with a secondary one - it nevers happens, but it could happen, and that's the important bit. So there's always at least a bit of suspense, even if it's a minisculi thing to begin with.

    As for aSoIaF - Ned was hardly an indispensible character, as is evident by the series' continual success. He was one of many, many POVs, and that's the thing about the multiple POVs - it allows you to cheat or be a bastard toward your readers from time to time, by killing or pretending to be killing your main guys.

    The only time where the suspense is almost truly gone for me is with works like The Red Rising trilogy, The Assassin's Apprentice, Vlad Taltos where we are experiencing the story only through first person limited, where the chances of the main guy dying is pretty slim, because he is basically the narrator and you know the narrator is usually not going anywhere until the end of the story.

    And then there are series like The Kingkiller Chronicles, The Blood Song book one, most of the Fitz' books, which are being told in past tense through only one character's POV re-telling his life's story, where you are 100% sure the character lives through to end of the narrative, but if the author is knowing what he/she is doing, you can still be afraid for this character's well being in the heated moments of the story.

    As for bringing death characters back to life... I usually don't mind it, especially if it's a character I enjoyed reading about. Copying/representing real life into your fictioin is well and proper, but sometimes it could be counter-productive for the enjoyment one get's from a story. I read fantasy, because I like exploring different magical world, I like spending time with favorite characters and I like living through different kind of situations with them. If an author wants me to suspend my disbelief and allow him to bring back an awesome character, I'd usually gladly do it for him. If it's done in a non-stupid way.

    Foreshadowing beforehand helps a lot with that. Even if it's very obscure, as long as it takes out the feeling of the author cheating, it's fine.

    There is also the other end of things, where in some series, with aSoIaF being one of them lately, many of the dying characters feel more like real estates placed in the story with the intention to be burned down at the right moment.

    Spoiler from A Dance With Dragons

    Was that dude called Quentin Martell( I have read the book soon after it came out, so I cannot be sure about this dude's name) who was introduced in A Dance With Dragons with the sole purpose of dying at the end of it? The Dornish guy who wanted to marry Daenerys?

    I would always remember how G. R. R. Martin have made me waste hours of my time reading about this super boring character, who's only purpose was to die at some point. A super boring character, let's call him The Dying Pawn, who turned out to be the cherry on the top of that super boring 5th book of his, that is. I've read many bad books during my life, but this plot thread was the most insulting thing that any author have ever done to me as a reader I am telling you. :)
  15. Sneaky Burrito

    Sneaky Burrito Crazy Cat Lady Staff Member

    This one made me angry, too. Could've cut the book by like 15% by eliminating that pointless storyline.
  16. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    Agreed. The way that character died kind of made up for the hours reading about him though. It had me cheering out loud.
  17. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    On the other hand as an author, in the main series I am currently working on, I introduce four protagonists to the story using flashbacks as a way of doing some set-up.

    Two of them have POVs present days chapters in the first book and the most important of those protagonists dies at the end of the book, i.e. the mentor goes down. The second one survives.

    I then introduce the third of those protagonists as one of the POV characters in the beggining of the 2nd book and kill him off near the end of it.

    And then I do something similar with the forth protagonist in the third and final book - although he would probably be dead before the third act. I am not yet sure if I'd let the protagonist who survives book one and continues to be POV character thorough the rest of the trilogy alive at the end of it, but the odds aren't in her favor. :) She deserves some oblivion at the end, after all.

    There is a point behind all this carnage, of course. Those four protagonists need to die, in order for some of my other characters to survive. I am just aiming for some old fashioned realism, where war ends up being an unsurmountable challenge for many of my POV characters. Some will survive and they will be rewarded will good consequences, but I am aiming for a bittersweet read with a strong undertone of tragedy and I hope that I can pull it off.

    This is going to be that one odd project in my career I guess, because in the other series I am working on, the death toll among my lead guys is bordering on conservative.

    Honestly said - I don't enjoy torturing, leading off or killing off my characters. However, as Brandon Mull says, being an author and a nice person on top of that is already two strikes against you, so when I am writing, there are times, especially in plotting, where I turn off each and every sympathetic and empathetic fibre in me, and then I let my characters to have it, like a lot. I want everybody to survive, get along, have a good time, but that's not the place where good stories are being born, so I need to sometimes amaze myself with the things I am willing to put my characters through. :)
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2017
  18. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    Unneeded, undeserved, self-serving, or unfulfilling pathos is pretty bad like clutching a dead character in your arms while yelling "why!" Then shouting "pathos!" Because you forgot the characters name already.

    Ever watch 'starchaser: story of Orin' it's a blatant ripoff of star wars
    1985 cartoon of a farmboy with a laser sword that hides in a hilt, who teams up with a smuggler to defeat the bad guy with an idiot annoying pomp robot. The literally traced many establishing shots and iconic scenes from the star wars trilogy. The only original ideas in the movie are a lot of bad jokes in this kids movie like prostitution, anal sex jokes and one about pedophilia ohh and the bad guy who was ripped off in samurai Jack, he looks exactly like Aku the shapeshiftinh master
    The protagonist meets a girl and within 5 minutes they fall in love and make plans for the future together and she then dies with so much sobbing and emotional screaming. But we never even knew her name, she is never mentioned again. And it takes no time at all for him to fall in love again.

    As annoying as all this is, I think the worse sin, is resurrection. Used once it's a cheap gimmick, used even twice or more it makes death meaningless in the story and turns deaths door a revolving one. This is my big complaint for GOT tv series, he's used res spells at least five times now (ok ones hinted at being necrotic) it (IMHO) makes death in the story completely meaningless, where before it seemed to be that death served as often a shock factor, or a way to clean up a messy storyline when it got away from him or he wrote himself into a corner. Now he seems to have figured that he's killed off characters necessary to the plot and brought them back to fix more mistakes.
  19. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Ha, you won't like it then when I tell you there were some pretty strong rumors about another important death + ressurection happening at the end of GoT Season 7. :)

    EDIT: Make that two, actually.
  20. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    IMO if killing off secondary characters isn't an emotional and impactful thing, then the author should work on characterization and interpersonal relationships. I don't need Harry, Ron, or Hermione to die, Hedwig was bad enough! :p

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