Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Characters: To Kill or Not to Kill

I promise I haven't been slacking lately.  Okay, maybe a little, but truthfully, summer is nearly upon us and I swear when you have two kids its like herding wildlife.  Anyway, that has kept me busy, plus work.  That said, I wanted to do a quick post to get your thoughts on killing off characters.


As a writer, ever have an internal debate about when or if you should kill your characters?  When you've contemplated this, are they usually secondary or tertiary ones?  What about a main character?  Or have you done this already?  I ask because recently, I was sucked into Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampire series.  No, I haven't reviewed any of her books here, because I haven't had a chance.  I enjoy the series, but what I'm most perplexed about after reading Hard Bitten, book 4 in the series is why the author killed off the main character, Ethan Sullivan?  I understand when you're towards the end of a series that some times main characters are sacrificed, but usually there is a story/reasoning behind doing so.  Like most fans of the Chicagoland series, I was a bit taken back.  Was I pissed off like several were?  No and I'm still a fan.  But...I was disappointed and that got me thinking.   

Game of Thrones
Source


As a writer, when is it okay to kill a main character off?  And as a reader, when is it acceptable for a beloved character to die?  


Before you respond, consider this:  


JK Rowling killed off many beloved characters including main ones.  Remember how much flack she got for it too?  I think Time magazine did a spread of it.  Additionally, Joss Whedon does it...a lot.  In fact, he talked about it last month on Reddit.  Here's an interesting fan question on the topic:

Fan Q: "I'm sure that killing off a character you've invested a lot of time in can be tough. Have you ever found that doing this to a particular character has had a profound emotional affect on you? Who was the toughest kill?"

Whedon reply:  "I actually find it refreshing... delightful.... vaguely arousing.... Actually, I'm, no offense, very tired of being labelled as "the guy who kills people". Shakespeare (he's this hot new writer) does it way more than me, and everyone's all excited about how he, as it were, holds a mirror up to nature, while I'm like the Jason Voorhees of the writing community. Unfair."

And as far as who was the toughest to kill, Whedon's answer was Buffy's mom. I agree. In fact it was the toughest to watch.  What about you? Thoughts?

Mina B.

22 comments:

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I don't kill off characters. I may damage them a bit but they end up coming back because I can't stand to kill them off.

Kyra Lennon said...

I've yet to kill off a character, but I'm not against it. In fact, sometimes it can make the whole story more powerful. J.K. Rowling may have been criticised for killing off some important characters but if Harry had had an easy life with a bunch of wise, supportive people around him the whole time, the books would have been weaker. :D

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wash dying in Serenity was the worst for me.
I did kill a main character. Hated to do it, but it was the only way to move the other main character in the right direction. Guess I made a lot of readers cry as well.

Morgan said...

I have killed a character... and I think it can work if the author puts enough time into developing the character and there's a reason for it... it's so easy to see sometimes that an author is killing a character just for the sake of killing a character... you know? We readers are smart and we can see through those moments. JK Rowling is a genius. I thought her deaths were relevant and did greater good than bad. :D

Susan Roebuck said...

t made good publicity for JKR to kill off important characters because there was the previous announcements and then everyone rushing to buy the book to find out who it was. I'd only kill off a character if it added to the plot.

Lynn Proctor said...

well if you think of your writing is your art--you must not be swayed in the least about who you kill off--but on the other hand, who could resist keeping around a character that was such a money maker!

Anne said...

I don't want to spoil anything, but I read a clue in book 4 which indicated to me what was going to happen in book 5 of The Chcagoland Vamp. series. I was never a fan of Ethan's so his death didn't excite me.

I think Buffy's mom's death was so wrenching because of the way the show played it out, not that we as watchers were so connected with her.

Charlaine Harris has a way of killing off characters too. I've read all of her series and the biggest shock I can remember is her killing off a character in one of her early mystery series. Simply stunned me. Now I expect it, but it doesn't happen in every book. before her Southern Vampire series ends, in 2 books I believe, I fully expect more important deaths.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I go into every Whedon film or show prepared for someone to get axed. It's awful, but right too. You can't be afraid to kill of characters. It's hard, and people will hate you for it, but sometimes its what take a piece of fiction from pretty good to heart-breakingly beautiful.

Elise Fallson said...

I haven't killed off any characters, but I will. Not sure why yet, but I know it has to happen. Not sure if I could kill off any MCs though.

Mina Lobo said...

I haven't had a character bite the dust yet, but if that's where the story goes, that's where it goes...unless it really doesn't have to go there.
Some Dark Romantic

Marissa Farrar said...

I've killed off characters and it's always hard. I've actually cried over a couple of deaths (pathetic - I know). But if that's the way the story is supposed to go, who are we are writers to change it?

DonnaGalanti said...

Ooh, good post and question to think about Mina! I love killing off people, dont mind at all BUT never did a main character. Not sure how I feel about that. I feel its right to kill off a character when they have served their purpose, or they are redeemed, or too far gone (damaged goods) and it makes a reader feel more for them and for the characters that loved them.

However, I am thinking of killing off a main character in my 3rd book in my trilogy...have to think about it now...

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I killed off a major and (for me, at least) beloved character in my first book. But that's because this person died in real life, and my first novel was a fictional retelling of true historical events.

I shed tears over it, but it had to be done. It sealed the fate of my main character, and I console myself with the fact that history was far crueller to her than I was.

Madeline Jane said...

I've always wanted to kill my main character in the first week of NaNo and see how that novel turns out. For fun, of course.

I actually just read Romeo and Juliet, and I think the whole death thing was rather annoying. But I guess it was Juliet's choice, not Shakespeare's, right? ;)

Christine Rains said...

I enjoy killing off characters, but I don't do so without purpose.

As for Joss Whedon, he's all the greater for killing off characters. I can see how killing Buffy's mom was hard. That was rough just like watching Fred die and change into Illyria was hard. Yet the only death that made me cry was Wesley's.

Michael Pierce said...

I'm planning on killing off a major character...I just hope I don't chicken out when the time comes.

James Anderson said...

As a reader, if it is a main character, the death should be meaningful or I feel ripped off. As a writer, I haven't had the pleasure of killing off a character, but I wouldn't hesitate if it furthered the plot and helped shape the characters around the deceased.

Great post.

Cecilia M. said...

Good post, Mina. I've been debating on kiling on of my characters (actually my MC's bestfriend) but with a purpose. still thinking about it because it take the story to another level and direction. I think J K Rowling 'killing' some of those characters who were closer to Harry, made him stronger, determined, and cautious for anything. Sort of like in real life. No one knows who or what's gonna happen the next second. :)

Nick Wilford said...

I write thrillers, so deaths kind of come up as a matter of course. Only one MC so far, though (and even then it was the "second" MC). It's funny reading this because I just killed someone this morning (in the book, natch!) and it wasn't planned, in fact this character didn't exist until a couple of weeks ago. Funny how things pan out, but I do think it's relevant, and has big connotations for the other characters. If it seems gratuitous - I'm not such a fan of that.

J.L. Campbell said...

I've never killed a main character, but that is because of the nature of the stories I write.

Allison said...

Really? Buffy's mom? I would have thought it would be Wash. That was the hardest one for me to watch. I am not against killing major characters; I think it can make the story stronger.

Cherie Colyer said...

In one of my newer WIP I was faced with this dilemma. It wasn't the main character, but definitely one that was important in her life. In the end I did what made sense. It was tough though.