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Killing Everyone Off

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Geldor, May 8, 2013.

  1. Geldor

    Geldor Scribe

    During my work in progress I have decided to kill off all my main characters at the end of the book save two who survive an live to tell the tale, while doing so (killing off the characters) I kill nearly all the people on the continent. I think that it works well but may leave the reader on a sad note with not very fond memories of the book.

    Should I kill them off or not? What do you think?
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    If that's your story, do it. I certainly wouldn't toss it out to the forum to decide for you - that's a pretty fundamental aspect of the story.

    I will note, however, that I've read several books where most or all of the characters die and the books were fine :)
  3. teacup

    teacup Auror

    I love main characters dying, it's just so unexpected usually.
    And if it's at the end of the book it will likely be memorable won't it? So I'd have thought that that would be a good thing, but of course it's completely up to you whether you kill people off or not.
  4. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    I think that if I was reading a Fantasy book, and liking it a lot, and then suddenly all or almost all of the characters get killed in the end I would totally hate it!!

    That's not my style of story. It would be too dramatic, too harsh. I can accept that some characters will die at some point, but killing off a great number of them just for the sake of it would be terrible for me... unless, of course, it was really and absolutely necessary for the development of the plot and the ending of the book.

    So, you should be careful if you want to do something like that, and have very good reasons to do it.
    Jamber likes this.
  5. Sinitar

    Sinitar Minstrel

    Tell you what. Why don't you kill them progressively? This way, the reader will not be left with a bitter taste in his mouth, as that character played his part in his story and died a dignified death. However, if more than two main or secondary characters die at the end, the story may look a bit cheesy and unrealistic. Those characters made it that far, and they all die at the same time...
  6. I heard somewhere that to decide what is best you should write it the way you have it planned then write it so that everyone lives and send it out to alpha readers. That way you can see what works best and what doesn't, assuming you put in the effort for both to be excellent.
  7. Dio

    Dio Dreamer

    I agree with doing it progressively. I love character deaths, and killing off main characters (I find happy ending hard to write, honestly) but when everyone dies at the end it often feels cheapened. I think a good death happens while there is still a lot of story left, it gives you time to miss the fallen character and see the other characters react. More importantly you'll see them get over it, and become stronger.

    You could have them all die progressively, then in one last glorious battle kill off the final character. But it's all up to you, it's your story. There's no rule to storytelling that can't be broken if you're clever enough.
  8. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I think it could be MORE stirring if multiple characters die at the end in some grand fashion; i.e. the last battle, self-sacrificing or whatnot. I would think in order to get as far into the adventure as possible, the main character would need some help and if all the characters are dead by then, no one is around to help him. I think whatever you decide, you should finish the book in such a way that even with most of the population decimated and the heroes killed, their sacrifice or death means something; could turn readers off without that aspect.
  9. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    That sounds like a pretty major story element. Not something you want to serve up to a popular vote. I think you need to consider carefully just why you want all these characters to die, what purpose it serves in the story, and what changing that plot point would mean for the story. Then go with whatever makes the story strongest. One thing to be aware of though is that if your execution (no pun intended) is off, then killing all your characters might seem like you were only doing it for cheap shock value.
  10. AnnaBlixt

    AnnaBlixt Minstrel

    I would consider it a silly ending if there was a major catastrophe that killed most people in the land... except for the main characters. An event like that requires an emotional sacrifice.

    If will be fine, as long as you provide the reader with the right sense of closure. CLosure is a more important feeling than happyness at the end of a book. If you want to know how *not* to do it - read Mockingjay (the final Hunger Games novel).
    Noma Galway likes this.
  11. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    Since you mentioned that it would kill off a large number of people in general - main characters included - I am inclined to consider the disaster genre as a possible place to look to on how to handle killing off a ton of your MCs. A movie like Deep Impact manages to get away with it primarily by making sure the obvious fan favourite (Morgan Freeman) survived to the end. And, of course, one of the most popular fantasy series of the past decade - both in book and television - manages to get away with killing off four or five major characters a book/season without any consequence to reader/viewership. From a sales standpoint, I don't see anything wrong with it as long as it has an appropriate impact on the story.

    From a personal standpoint, I don't think I'd be bothered by it. It might seem... jarring, perhaps? There would need to be a lot of foreshadowing that this would be the result of whatever disaster occurred - not the specifics of who dies, of course, but something that catastrophic would really require a head's up. I'm not going to dislike a book just because all of the characters die, though.
  12. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    It's kind of bleak, not to say nihilistic, to kill off virtually all your characters. Your readers like to get emotionally attached to at least some of them, and killing them off can be distressing. It has a disconnecting effect. You don't have to have a happy ending, but there are limits.

    You may have a reason for it (the bad guys win, the land is covered in darkness, etc) and it may be a low point from which your world will recover in a later book, but even so, I would hesitate before wiping out practically everyone. I don't mind an occasional death with an in-story reason (motivation, cutting ties, revenge, etc), but too many gets depressing.
  13. Jamber

    Jamber Sage

    I sometimes teach creative writing in primary schools, and whenever I give the little ones the task of thinking up a problem their hero has to solve, they want to solve it by killing. Some of them actually seem to set out to think up a story in which it's okay to kill absolutely everyone. It's interesting how quickly most children jump to that narrative solution.
    To make it harder I ask them to solve their problem without killing. If it's a dragon, how can they make their story work without lethal force? Could they challenge the creature to a verbal duel? Could they change a vicious tyrant's thinking? (In one class, a boy burst into tears and refused to do any more writing at all because he wasn't allowed to kill the baddies. I usually change my mind at some point; the 'no killing' rule is to force them to come up with a genuine reason.)
    Anyway, that's not really the point -- I think it can work, and Ophiucha is right to steer you to disaster narratives, where people drop like flies. I think Stephen King's work has become more humanist over the years, and these days he seems to let those we've invested heavily in survive (often with friends), whereas GRR Martin is going the other way (people you love die). Whatever narrative decision the writer makes, there's well done and there's badly done. As a reader, I'm with Pauline, but as a writer I can see there's a case for all worlds.

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