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Redshirts?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Apr 8, 2013.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    There's a certain character in my latest WIP who really has only one purpose: to show up, antagonize and physically attack the hero, and get killed by accident when the hero defends himself. Would it change anything with regards to readers' perceptions of the scene and character if the "redshirt" in question was named before he died, even if it's just one use in dialogue? (Note that the scene takes place fairly late in the story, not at the opening.) Should I introduce him earlier in a scene or two that shows his character, even though it won't change at all from then to the point of his death?
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I've read a number of works where the author names and even characterizes a character who is only showing up to get killed. It makes the death more meaningful to the reader. If you want to make it meaningful, then you have to do something to make the reader care about that character. If you don't care if the death is impactful, then I wouldn't worry about it. Depends on your goal.
     
    Nihal likes this.
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Well, I don't particularly care whether the reader cares about the slain guy or not. He's a jerka** and an idiot, which is what gets him into the situation where he's killed. I'm more concerned about the consequences it holds for the hero. Spoilers: He is exiled for murder when his Queen misconstrues the event and won't let the hero defend himself, because he had just recently fallen from her good graces by going behind her back and doing things she told him not to, all in the name of the greater good.
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If you're this close to giving the character a name, then I would give him one. Like Steerpike said, it makes a closer connection to the reader. But wanting a connection doesn't have to mean wanting readers to grieve for him. Even if he's a jerk, he's a more meaningful jerk because he has a name. A name gives the reader a more grounded character to react to.

    "You deserved that, Jerko. What a douche."
     
  5. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    *nodnod* Fair enough. But my question from before still stands: if I'm giving him a name, should I perhaps write him into the story a bit earlier, even if for just a scene or two before his death? Or will that be a bad thing in that it emphasizes his static nature as a character, since he's a jerk and an idiot from the very beginning, and that really doesn't change at all?
     
  6. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    If he's gonna attack the hero, you should probably introduce him earlier to foreshadow the attack. He shouldn't feel like a "random encounter."
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I wouldn't bother unless something came to me as to how I would include him in a way that makes it interesting. I think it's fine if a character dies right after being named, especially if the name is given in passing. I'd be more worried about forcing his presence where it doesn't belong.

    Ninja'ed.


    That's true, but it depends a lot on how the scene itself is written. Instead of trying to foreshadow him earlier, maybe you could give the scene a lead-in that introduces this character?

    As they walked through town they began to notice someone following them. At first he seemed grumpy, yelling at them as he walked, but he began to say things like "I'm going to punch you!" to the people around him. Eventually he began to...
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2013
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    At this point it's mostly a pacing question. It's hard to argue with "give weight to everything" when you're considering a quick touch like a name, but adding a scene depends on how important it all is (less so if there are existing scenes he can touch base in, but it still might make him a distraction).

    Although, about him being static: if it weakens the hero's reaction too much to make the victim more visibly cardboard, maybe the guy should stay a one-scene thing, or else get a token bit of complexity too so the death works more fully. But if it doesn't change the consequences (maybe just making him such a trouble magnet counts as foreshadowing), an extra scene would still give him that weight without making him look worse than he already is. Some people are like that.
     
  9. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Well, it's not like the guy just leaps out of nowhere and attacks the hero. The redshirt shows up and starts mocking the hero for getting in hot water with their queen, which the hero tries to blow off. They start having a more serious talk, and then the redshirt gets riled up, draws his sword and attacks the unarmed hero, who defends himself and winds up accidentally killing the redshirt with a punch to the ribs that punctures his vital organs.
     
  10. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    Name or no name. It does help the reader if he's given a name, even if he's referred to by the main character as 'that dunk loudmouth'.

    Don't put anymore time and effort into introducing the character to the reader than is necessary. If there's a need for his motivation to be suspected or revealed to the reader, it can even come at a later time--reflection of the MC, or a comment from someone else that might've known the dead/killed fellow or his situation.

    If the MC doesn't know the fellow, and it's from his (the MC's POV) and it's a short scene, then he might not know the name or background--at least not until later.

    Sometimes these characters are known as 'spear carriers'. They have a part to play, usually unnamed, but their death, in this case, is used to move the plot forward, or to provide a point of characterization or, a revelation, or a combination.
     
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  11. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I'd give him a name. If nothing else it gives the reader something to hang their hat on later when the killing is referred to even if in passing. I mean you can't go on for the rest of the book saying "After I killed that man in the street". At some point it simply becomes more practical to say "After I killed Fred".

    As to the foreshadowing that really depends on what value the character is to the story compared to his death. If at some point you want to talk about feelings of guilt or shame then you might want to introduce him a little earlier in a personal way to add angst etc. If its purely about the killing then why? It doesn't matter who he was - only that he died.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
    Ireth likes this.
  12. Velka

    Velka Sage

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    It sounds like you're Redshirt is only there to die, so I don't think a name is necessary. I have a character like that in my story; his death is only there to cause tension between two groups and create an opportunity for some character development of the MCs. He is simply known as a guard.

    On the other hand I have another Redshirt who has a name and has been included in a few previous scenes. I don't expect the reader to really grieve his death; my goal is to shock the reader with who kills him and why and then revel in all the emotional and moral fallout that occurs between the two MCs.
     
  13. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    Like it's been said, giving a name makes the death meaningful. But if the dead guy doesn't matter to the story, don't name him. But is the character's death, at the hero's hand in that way, necessary? What does the hero get from the death? A hint or clue to the climax? Some information? Emotional release or drive? What does your hero gain from the 'red shirt's death?
     
  14. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    It's not a matter of what the hero gains, but what he loses. Spoilers: Killing the redshirt gets the hero in trouble with the Winter Queen, who exiles him from her lands on pain of death, immediately after he'd just tried to appeal to her for peace between Fae and humans. It doesn't help that he'd also gone behind her back in order to try to help said peace along, by having his friend talk to the Winter Queen's long-time rival, the Summer King, about upholding peace on his end. This is the climax of his personal character arc, and what's left after that is one more choice to make for the resolution: whether to live in exile forever or offer his fealty to the Summer King.
     
  15. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    So it's either live in exile knowing what's about to happen without peace (war), or go to the Summer King which I can only assume will piss off the Winter Queen and might make matters worse.

    ....So this doesn't sound like "what to do about the red shirt", but "which consequence is better". Personally only you can answer that. Is there maybe a neutral medium? Maybe, if he goes in exile, he finds something he's been looking for that helps bring the peace.
     
  16. I wouldn't call this a Redshirt. A Redshirt is an unimportant, usually generic protagonist that you kill off specifically so you can have good guys die, without actually killing off a main character.

    When it's a villain, the proper term is "mook."

    As for your actual question, it doesn't sound like it really matters what your readers think of this character - the point of interest is how the MC reacts to killing him and the consequences he suffers. If who this guy is has nothing to do with the trouble this event gets the MC into, I personally wouldn't bother with any deeper characterization. Giving him a name probably doesn't matter; Everyone has a name, but it's your personality that makes you a person.
     
    Ireth likes this.
  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Have you thought about making the guy less of a jerk? That way, when the hero kills him, the reader can feel something of the dismay the hero does. Maybe the guy was insulting and confrontational, but he was after all just trying to stand up for his queen. Or that he was a known looney and people have learned to tolerate him, but the hero just loses his temper.

    Have you actually written the scene? Another reason in favor of a name is that it can keep you from too many circumlocutions or overuse of pronouns.
     
  18. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I have written up the scene. I think it would lose something if the guy wasn't so much of a jerk, since that's the reason he's so insulting and confrontational. Without that, there's no conflict and no need for him to die, which completely defeats the purpose of the scene and its plot payoff for the MC. The MC doesn't lose his temper at all, he's unarmed and scared for his life when the guy attacks him. Having the MC lose his temper would also go against my purpose. The mook who dies isn't really standing up for anyone but himself and his "right" to toy with humans as he pleases, which the truce between Fae and mortals would negate.
     

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