killing off main characters (spoilers!)

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

  1. Darth Tater

    Darth Tater Journeyed there and back again

    Too Ten Favorite HP characters (only saw the movies).

    1. Snape
    2. Luna
    3. Hagrid
    4. Hermione
    5. Voldemort
    6. Harry
    7. Longbotton
    9. Malfoy
    10. Moaning Myrtle
  2. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    Personally, I don't find killing off a character unexpectedly for shock value or to impart an atmosphere of gritty "realism" to be very impressive. Perhaps it's because I'm a writer myself to some degree and know that it's the easiest thing in the world to do. It just feels cheap, imo. If an author is going to kill off a character, I want it to feel absolutely inevitable, and I want proper weight given to it at every step. The way
    Fred dies in a random explosion and Lupin and Tonks die off-screen
    and aren't even mourned in Deathly Hallows is the perfect example. Literally made me throw up in my mouth a little. Lazy, lazy author. You're not writing some modern war novel, you're writing fantasy about wizards. Phoned in "realism" shouldn't be at the top of your priorities list, it just doesn't fit the tone at all. All three of those characters deserved far better. At least let them go down protecting someone else or being awesome, and don't kill them off at all if you're not going to spend the necessary amount of words exploring the emotional consequences of it for the characters who are still alive. One of a long list of reasons I think Deathly Hallows is the worst Harry Potter book by far. Absolutely terrible book. Haven't read any Game of Thrones, but I do watch the show, and I feel similarly about almost all the character deaths in that.

    You know what series handles deaths of main characters in a satisfying, proper, skillful way? Mistborn. Nothing about
    Kelsier, Vin, or Elend's deaths
    felt cheap or arbitrary. It was done to make you feel a sense of finality to their story, to reflect on their lives rather than to shock you with their unexpected deaths, and it spent due time showing the consequences for the characters still alive. Whether or not that's to your personal taste, I think it takes far more skill to pull off and I will always, always prefer this approach.

    TomTB spoiler edit
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 10, 2017
  3. TomTB

    TomTB The Master Tweeter Staff Member

    I started to work my way back through this thread putting in spoiler tags, but there's too many! Think I'll just edit the thread name instead..
  4. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    There is a difference between( Harry Potter book 7 spoilers)
    killing off three side characters who never got POV
    and( Mistborn Trilogy spoilers)
    Killing off your three main series POV characters.

    Even the format of the books would made Mistborn handling of deaths in Harry Potter to be melodramatic - Harry cannot be everywhere to observe heroic deaths - it wouldn't be realistic at all.

    An off-screen death could be as, if not, more impactful than an on-screen one. I was heathbroken about( Wheel of Time book 14 spoiler)
    Hurin dying and being mentioned just as a part of a list of this one dies, this one is dead, this one is about to die
    that if he had gotten a special POV for it. Because - my brain is more than capable of imagining sorrowful and tragic deaths as a part of a big, big battle, if I am given the nudge by the author and I'd rather prefer it compared to a chapter a death approach, especially when the death counts approach XXX XXX numbers. :)[/SPOILER]
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  5. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    Hah! You found them then?
  6. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    That's exactly my point, though. There's no actual reason for the death counts to approach such high numbers. Books aren't real life, especially fantasy. Readers, or at least this reader, generally expect things to make better sense than they do in real life, not be just as cheap and arbitrary and unexpected. If you don't want to devote the time to explore those deaths and their impact fully, why kill that character off at all? Nobody's holding a gun to your head and forcing you to. It feels like the author is trying very overtly and sloppily to manipulate my emotions with a cheap trick and it almost always has the exact opposite effect it's supposed to have. Lupin and Fred were two of my favorite characters and rather than being devastated I felt absolutely nothing except frustration at Rowling's writing. -shrug-

    I'll also point out, as Brandon Sanderson and Jim Butcher say, there are much, much worse things than death. If you really want to mess with a reader by messing with their favorite character, death is the least creative way to go about it. What about the way Harry Dresden is beholden to evil influences at various parts in his journey and wonders if he's even still the good guy? He's the right hand bouncer and errand boy to a seriously questionable and powerful character right now in the series. The struggle to stay good, to stick to your principles, and, perhaps, hurting or failing to protect those you care about because your morality is slowly slipping away without you knowing. Now that's good writing. That's some good melodrama. Mmmmm. Give me all of it.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  7. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    The point you are trying to make is that every character, major or minor, should have a complex character arc with satisfying beginning, middle and ending, which would be rather unrealistic and boring approach for any author to take toward his work.

    You cannot explain everything, you cannot make everything epic. If all you get from a book is 10/10 chapter after 10/10 chapter, epicly epic chapter, after epicly epic chapter, 10/10 would start to feel like 7/10 pretty fast, epicly epic would start to feel like mundanely mundane pretty fast too.

    It's balance that makes a book great. Balance between slow and fast, between epic and quetly reflective moments, between purposefully showing some parts and purposefully avoiding or mentioning in passing other parts.

    Also - every time you segway from your main story, it has to have some purpose beyond "let's make the reader feel". You have to think about the sense of progress. You cannot make every character's life epic. 99% of real people don't lead exciting lives. As it is - by having multiple main characters doing interesting stuff, you are already asking the readers to give you some suspension of disbelief, because we are all aware that when you put the book down, you don't pay rent by killing orcs, you pay it by working something, quite often a 9 to 5 job. While there is a chance for some characters to be awesome and unique in their faiths, if everybody around them is the same level of unrealisticly cool, then it stops reading as a book about one in a million chance interesting events, and starts reading as a pop corn read. If that's what the author is after, okay, but most of us try to stay away from that possibility.

    Also - if your side characters are so interesting that people would rather read about their heroic deaths than what happens in the main story - you've screwed as an author, because you've clearly have chosen the wrong leading characters and story-line for your book.

    My point is - you cannot have everything. If you did - you'd soon realise how boring it is. Authors understand that, therefore they strive for balance.

    Killing characters off-screen, heck, killing characters in the first place, is a good step toward that balance. You might get it wrong sometimes, but that's only natural. However, if you get wrong the "just keep on point with your main story" part, no one is going to want to read your book in the first place, hence why( Harry Potter book 7 spoiler)
    the twin brother and Lupin
    are only side characters and are dealt with in the manner you speak about.
  8. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    Not much of your post makes sense to me, I'm afraid. The entire point of a book is to make the reader feel things. That's what fiction is. Whether it's sadness at a loss, happiness, relief, tension, frustration, hatred, confusion, curiosity, etc. Human emotions are the entire point of all fiction. All progress in books is an illusion. I could end the lord of the rings in two sentences if I wanted to. That it takes three books is an illusion of progress, and artificial lengthening by the author, and that illusion is made up of a series of emotions the writer wanted you to feel along the way.

    I fail to see how giving a character a satisfying arc is at all boring. I've never thought to myself, "oh, ya know, too many characters in this book have satisfying, fleshed out, interesting arcs. I don't like that because it's unrealistic." Just no. If anything, more authors need to give their side characters better, more interesting arcs, because more often than not I'm left wondering why they're in the book at all. Side characters are not set dressing. Develop them properly or don't waste the reader's time with them in the first place.

    You also seem to think there are only two options--unnecessary arbitrary death that's glossed over, or EPIC LIFE AND EPIC MULTI PAGE DEATH SCENE. How about, just...idk...not having them die if you don't have the skill or interest in actually doing anything interesting or satisfying with their deaths? Like I said, nobody's holding a gun to your head. You don't have to kill off your characters. That's a big, risky decision. You should have a very good reason to do it and be prepared to follow through in a satisfying way appropriate to the level of that character's importance in the reader's mind. Fred and Lupin already ARE cool. So if you have a problem with too many characters being cool, well, there's already a problem. At least let their deaths match their life. The coolness levels don't match up there, I'm afraid.

    How is killing characters a good step towards "balance," whatever that means? You act as if death is necessary in writing. It's not. That's what I've been saying this whole time. I've read and loved hundreds of books where not a single person dies. Death, on it's own, means absolutely nothing. It's on the author to give it meaning, and a huge part of that is showing how it affects the people who are still alive. We got that with Dumbledore. We even got that with Dobby of all people...err..elves. Lupin and Fred were shorted in Rowling's mad sprint to be done with the series, and it's lazy and cheap, period.
  9. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    What I am trying to give you a prespective on is the fact that you are just one reader, who have problems with how Fred and Lupin are handled. The thing is - if you ask me, I'd tell you my own complaints about Harry Potter. And so will every other reader. You ask a thousand people - you'd end up needing to change 2 000 things to make it acceptable for everybody. But then instead of a thousand people being upset about two things each, they'll have 2002 things to complain about.

    It's a never-ending circle. That's why you craft the best story you are capable of. Then you put it out there for the people to like or dislike.

    Even if you complaint is legit, it's still extremely redundant. Because when you are the author - you get to make many choices and you have only so many pages. What you put in there isn't meant to satisfy 100% of the people, it easn't meant to explain 100% of the things.

    A story needs a good conflict, a good setting, interesting characters and a nice pacing. An author uses thousands smaller things to accomplish those goals, sometimes leghtly describing a character's last moments is what you need, sometimes you just say "and he died, let's move on". Chances are - there will be always someone who'd disagree with how you've handled things. It doesn't matter. The author's goal is to make a good, interesting book, not a perfect book, because the latter doesn't exist.

    If the author likes it, if the editor likes it, if the publisher likes it, if most of the readers like it - you've done your job right. If not - it's probably not due to the fact that Lupin got hammered back-stage. It's simple, really.
  10. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    That's....a really odd thing to say. You're basically shutting down all discussion, critical or otherwise, for no reason. Writing is hard and people have fickle tastes, so let's just...not have discussions about books and what we see as good or bad writing? How limiting that is. But, sure, if what you want is to actively not have a discussion, on a forum, that's fine with me, I guess. -shrug-
  11. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    I am not saying - don't talk about it. You are free to express your opinion.

    However, you have to aknowedge two things:
    1. What you criticize as the book's weakness is a common author's appoach, for a reson - it has its purposes.
    2. While you don't like how its executed, many other people do like it. Including me.
    3. What you are trying to present as a more reasonable author's approach is actually not, that's why 99% of the books don't go in depth about 99% of the things. There is a story to be told, it is being told, some people would not like some small details about it, it's fine.

    The book industry doesn't run thanks to 100% perfect books, it runs on nearly perfect books which are good at making the readers like them despite the few details that any reader wouldn't like about them.
  12. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    It's funny really how this can go both ways. I personally agree with Vasher on the deaths of the two Harry Potter characters mentioned. The demise of these two beloved side-characters was just mentioned in passing. Everyone just seemed to take it in stride, which struck me as decidedly odd.

    Then you've also got authors who spend entire pages on the death of side-characters I couldn't care less about. This is annoying too. Why should I care about a side character that was only mentioned in passing once before, but receives a two page eulogy during a battle?

    I guess it is all about the emotional load. If I feel an emotional connection with a side character (or any character really), be it positive or negative, I will care about that person's death and in this case 'the death shouldn't be glossed over by the author.
  13. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    That's not actually true though. It's pretty rare, honestly, that I read a book where a character is arbitrarily killed off in the way they are in Deathly Hallows and in Game of Thrones. If what you're saying is true, that would be happening all the time, but it's not, as far as I can tell. It seems to be, on the whole, a very bad solution. Also, again,you are creating a false dichotomy. There's a HUGE grey area between going in depth about "99% of things" and giving very important, beloved side characters their due. We're not talking about spending 100 pages on the nameless bartender's life story here.

    I recently read Harry Potter, so I'm now talking about it with all the people who read it and loved it years and years ago, and when I bring up these problems with Deathly Hallows, they ALL agree. My girlfriend went as far as to say, upon hearing my take on DH, that, "well now you've experienced Harry Potter, and disappointment is part of the collective experience. That's why I read so much fan fiction." She also informed me that there is a term known by all harry potter fans that basically means we all agree to forget the epilogue at the end ever happened. EWE (Epilogue? What epilogue?).
  14. ExTended

    ExTended Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    You don't get it, do you?

    The job of the author isn't to make you happy. It's to make you engaged.

    If I had written a book where someone gets as worked up about a minor comic relief character's death as you do in this forum, I'd smile, open a beer and congratulate myself for making a reader care.

    You might make a reader laugh, you might make a reader angry, you might make a reader annoyed, or happy, but as long as you don't make that reader dissapointed and bored by your story, so that this reader would drop it off, you are doing everything right.
  15. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    That's exactly what she did though. She made me disappointed in her story. The Deathly Hallows is the most disappointing end to a series I think I've ever read, for a multitude of reasons, but what we've discussed is certainly one. I'm not upset because she killed characters I loved and I'm sad. Is that seriously what you think? You're the one that doesn't get it, apparently. If that was the case, I would be upset with Dumbledore's death more than any. I'm not. Care to guess why? As it was, I felt nothing, because she didn't put in the effort to make me feel anything (a writer's job), and I felt frustrated by her laziness and sloppy, rushed, careless, and arbitrary writing. She wanted to lazily write "he died," and have me do all of her work for her. That entire book is lazy and phoned in and kinda makes me wish I hadn't bothered with the series in the first place. But sure, she kept me engaged or w/e, so clearly I'm in the wrong somehow? A book doesn't magically become good just because you finished it.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  16. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    I mostly agree with you, Vasher. It's hard to argue that all of the HP deaths were necessary or beneficial to the story. Especially after the little children manage to do so much through the first 6 books with hardly a scratch. This is hardly the only heavy-handed thing she did with those books tho. How about the deathly hallows popping up out of nowhere as the most important things on earth?

    On the other hand, if an author refuses to kill off characters then there's only so much they can do without breaking the realism. Think about all those Hollywood gunfights where the 20 bad guys manage to miss the protagonist with every shot. In fantasy, character deaths can serve to shock the reader with the reminder that if the characters get themselves into a tight spot, the author isn't going to rescue them through unrealistic intervention. That was my primary criticism of the latest GoT season: Arya should NOT have survived based on the rules of life and death that GRRM has laid out.
  17. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    The whole deathly hallows thing was dumb. The wand ownership thing was dumb. Like 200 pages were spent on the most boring camping trip ever put to page but we can't stop and have a moment for fallen characters after voldermort is defeated. That book is a mess. And your thing about unrealistic intervention is kinda undermined by the fact that that's exactly what happens to Harry lol. But yeah, idk. The intervention doesn't have to be unrealistic if you're a good writer, is the thing. Dresden has survived for 15 books now and it always feels like he earns his right to live through cleverness and skill and personal sacrifice rather than the author giving him a handicap.

    As for Game of Thrones, I just don't care about the characters in that show at all. How can you get attached to anyone knowing that they could die at any time, for the most petty and arbitrary of reasons, with zero warning, at the hands of other characters you've barely even seen. And it's not like the show really has a plot to speak of. I honestly don't know why I watch it. I clearly am not invested, because I can't even remember what Arya thing you're referring to. It's all a blur at this point.
  18. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    I didn't mean to argue that HP's deaths were necessary to avoid unrealistic intervention by the author, I just meant in general. Idk why she decided to kill off so many people near the end. It didn't really raise the stakes for me, other than Hedwig :(

    On GoT: that's a consequence of watching the show instead of reading the books. I actually like the show better, but there is something lost. Reading the books takes a lot more time than watching the show, decades actually lol, and that gives you more time to get emotionally tied to the characters, I think.
    Arya was near-fatally wounded and was being hunted by a trained assassin with much more experience than her, that girl who kept kicking her ass day in and day out. Arya should have died.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 12, 2017
  19. Vasher

    Vasher Helped Logen count his fingers

    Oh right! I remember now. Didn't she ultimately win by arranging to fight her in the dark, because she's been training blind that entire time? Idk, that's believable to me. I'm fine with it.

    Hedwig is maybe the only death that actually got to me at all, but it was also kinda the moment where I realized like, okay, you're really trying a bit too hard and I see where this is going. I think it just made the later deaths more expected and more groan-worthy for me.
  20. Darth Tater

    Darth Tater Journeyed there and back again

    Did the storm troopers ever hit anything but door moldings when engaged in a battle with a main character?

    I agree with Vasher. If you're going to mention a character and make me remember it then I want to know what happens to them if applicable. Jordan drove me nuts.

    oh well, Egwenes dead. Rand, Siuan and Gareth too. Hey, Cadsuane will you be the new Amyrlyn seat? Next man (woman) up. After more than 10 books knowing how every character felt about another this was HUGE disappointment to me. I would like to see some reactions. Grief, reminiscence, etc. Just sloppy, and lazy to me. Lord forbid a character has pocket lint. We get 3 pages of gossip about it. Rather spoiled the ending for me.

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