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Main Character Dies in the End: OK?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, Mar 14, 2013.

  1. Chime85

    Chime85 Sage

    I have written three endings to my story (before I have written the full story!) One of those endings, involves killing off the MC. I admit, it is by no stretch of the imagination, an easy choice. However, It does serve its purpose. In the simplest form, it reminds the readers that the MC is not invincible, that he or she can fail in their task.
    While personally, they may not reach their goal, others in the story may succeed.
  2. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I've dealt with this in my writing. In Dragon I had to write three endings. I wrote the first one, the glorious death (well not really so glorious but the inevitable consequence of his struggles) because it was the right ending. He had achieved his goals, his life from that point on would have been meaningless.

    Then I couldn't do it because I loved the MC too much by then. It seemed heartbreaking. And a very long time ago I had read Shipwreck by Charles Logan, and I remember absolutely hating that ending. I didn't want my readers to feel the same wrath.

    So I wrote the second ending, the happy ending. Parades, happy people, families reunited, universe at peace, all that sort of stuff. And I couldn't do it. It was just so sickening. Besides, it was wrong. The guy had literally destroyed himself to get to the end, he had nothing left. So survival just didn't work.

    So in desperation I wrote the third ending, the cliffhanger (except that if he lives or dies it doesn't really matter.) What matters is that he had achieved his goals. So he ends up lying on the foot of the battleship having open heart surgery performed on him by a mech, his life in the balance, but accepting of whatever fate befalls him. And that's what went in the book.

    Cheers, Greg.
  3. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    Do people's opinions change if the death comes at the end of a series instead of a novel?

    Does it cross over into, "I'm really really really involved in this person and have been for 3/7/10+ novels and YOU KILLED HIM/HER/OTHER!"
  4. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    I don't think it matters the placement of the character so much as how emotionally invested readers are into that character. Good examples are:

    Eddard Stark (ASOIF) and Coltaine (Malazan Book of the Fallen). Eddard Stark died halfway through the first novel and Coltaine died at the end of the novel he's featured in.

    You can have characters that are present for 7 novels. If the reader isn't invested into them, it doesn't matter when they die.
    Zero Angel likes this.
  5. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    But does the investment grow if you've watched the character develop over the course of 7 novels and the author is effective?

    I've never shied away from killing off main characters, and I hope I avoid any comic book temptations of bringing them back to life unless that was the plan all along, although I do bring back two people in Book 2 that died in Book 1 – one as undead and one that never really died.

    Not really a spoiler since like a BUNCH of people died in Book 1...unless that's a spoiler?
  6. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    If the author is effective, then yes. You're giving them a great character to consume, and giving them more of it. But it's all about the effective writing. It'll trump any amount of time (past a base exposure) you dedicate to your character.
  7. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    I've been pondering this question for a while in my own fantasy story, I have two alternate endings in my mind, one where the main character 'lives happily ever after', and another ending where he dies whilst 'saving the world'. Pretty cliché I know, but none the less I believe that killing off your main character at the end of the book, if executed well I think could work. The fact that not many books do this is just one reason, seeing as it is fairly original and especially if it is unexpected. However a lot depends on how the character meets his/her end and how well it is executed.
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Don't assume MC death is original; people have heard of it before.

    The trick is how you build the mood, so the reader is ready to see that he has to die (worthy sacrifice, penance, believably blindsided, ?) when it's revealed. At the same time, until then you probably want the reader convincing himself there's a way out; most deaths (not all) do rely on some surprise.

    But if the reader doesn't feel in the end that the death had a good enough reason, it can come off as a cheap stunt.
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I've read plenty of MC death.

    Just finished one, in fact, where the MC, who is also a first person sometimes-intrusive narrator, dies at the end. I saw it coming, because even though the MC is still alive a couple of chapters before the end, the story switches to a secondary character as narrator. I figured the reason for that would be that the MC doesn't live to finish telling his story, and that turned out to be right. The author handled it well, however. It was a good read.
  10. DSCroxford

    DSCroxford Scribe

    If we are talking of a lone MC then an unexpected death can kill the story outright, if you have related to the character through his journey and then it falls short it can be a bit jarring. Though if you see it coming for example; He only has a certain amount of time to complete his journey or He is grievously wounded then it can be a thrilling insight into mortality and how the character reacts and how the MC faces his own mortality.

    If the MC is part of a group, maybe 2 or 3 companions travelling with a central figure, could the story evolve and promote the companions to have their own central roles and then the death of the MC could affect or completely redesign the path that they were on. This could work when you have the choice of ending a book, do you want to continue the world using the death of your MC as a focus point for the next stage in an adventure or has the death of the MC shaped your world.

    On another note, if you kill off your MC at the end of the book in a way that was unexpected could you push the reader away from future works?
  11. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I guess this is a case by case basis. I typically think killing off the MC at the end is an easy way to get an ending. If all signs seem to be pointing to that, then I'm OK with it if it's satisfying. If it's just "the MC is dead because I couldn't figure out another way to the end story" then that's sort of lazy writing.
  12. Ty Crawford

    Ty Crawford New Member

    I'm currently writing a Tragic Story of a samurai who travels to china, but only to be carried away in a supernatural storm, and land in the crusades. Where he dies saving the life of the king.
    I dont mind feedback, but this is my question to you: Would you accept the Protagonist of this story to die?
  13. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    If you're making it clear that this is a tragedy, yeah, sure. Heroes die. As long as it makes sense that he die, then there is no reason why not.

    We have a protagonist in a series that is prequel to our urban fantasy series that we're killing off at the end of the trilogy. Great deeds require great sacrifices.

    My only thing with killing off the protagonist is it makes sequels... difficult. ;)

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