I’ve got blood on my hands. That’s right; I’m a cold-blooded killer. I even plan my crimes well in advance, often down to the last detail. My victims never see it coming…
I know I’m not alone. Killing off characters is a big part of writing, especially in fantasy, where there are usually bad guys to be slain. It’s rare to see a hero and villain talk things out and walk away. Yes, that would be a more rational way to resolve their issues, but nowhere near as exciting as a fast-paced battle scene.
Killing off the bad guys doesn’t bother me too much, since most people expect it. It’s killing off the good guys that bothers me. (Which is probably a good sign for anyone who read the first paragraph of this post and thought I was a complete sociopath.) Here’s why:
I get attached to them.
I know; my characters aren’t real people. They’re figments of my overactive imagination. But when you spend countless hours with them, they seem to take on a life of their own. You find yourself knowing exactly what they would say, or how they would react to a particular situation without even having to think about it, just like any real person you know well. The idea of killing them off is uncomfortable.
I also worry I might regret getting rid of them. What if I end up needing them for something somewhere down the road? (Fortunately, I can sometimes use reincarnation as a loophole in my World of Lasniniar Series to bail me out of this predicament. ;))
I don’t want to alienate my readers.
I’ve been on the other side of this situation. I’ve read books where I’ve gotten attached to the main character, and then the author pulled the rug out from under me by killing them off. It sucks! (Especially when the book is part of a series, and the series keeps going without the main character that made you read all those other books in the first place. R.A. Salvatore, I’m looking at you.)
Since I’m not writing horror, dystopian fantasy, or any other genre where killing off the main character is a distinct possibility from the get-go, I don’t want to freak out my readers or turn them off of my books by getting rid of someone they’re attached to. But sometimes in epic fantasy, even good guys have to die. Otherwise, there’s no element of risk or sacrifice—not to mention surprise.
This is a fine line to walk. Sometimes it’s tough to be true to your story and characters while being considerate and fair to your readers. Ultimately, the writer has the final say, but if killing off a character alienates all your readers… Let’s just say it’s tough to win back that trust. With great power comes great responsibility. (…Even when you’re killing imaginary people in an imaginary world.)
How do YOU handle killing off characters? Is there any book or series that shocked or upset you when the main character died?
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