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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Killing the MC

   
Author Topic: Killing the MC
EVOC
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What are your thoughts on killing off your MC? I wrote a piece of flash fiction and no matter how I look at it the best ending is for the MC to die. One of the readers gave good advice to make the killing of the MC more meaningful.

My question is what are your thoughts on killing a MC in short works?


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Reziac
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If it's what it needs, it's what it needs. Do what the story needs and don't worry about it.

If nothing else, it's liable to make the story more memorable.


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KayTi
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Flash fiction is one of the only places that works, because it's not long enough that the readers are so invested in the character that they feel cheated by his/her death. If you have looked at it from a couple angles and think this is the way to go, then go this way. Good luck.
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Grayson Morris
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Well, it worked in GRRM's Game of Thrones -- though he hardly had a single MC. But at some point, he killed off a character I considered a main character, and I was shocked. It definitely ups the tension in a story when you realize there is no guarantee any of the characters you've come to love will see the end.

If your story needs the MC to die to work, do it. It kills my interest in a story like nothing else if I know the MC isn't ever really in danger -- and I won't read the author again if they put the MC in danger they shouldn't survive, then miraculously pull them out at the end.

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited March 27, 2011).]


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MartinV
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Any long-term sci-fi series (Stargate, for instance) gives you an impression that no matter how much danger the characters are in, they will come out OK. Since these series rely on building tension by putting those characters at peril, the whole thing waters down.

By killing off your important characters you can create the shock and tension you need to get a compelling story. Of course you should kill them only when this achieves something for the story, not because you wish to spice things up.

I had difficulties finding an ending for a story until I realized that by killing the main character it would create great drama and also convince me to stop thinking of more things for that character to do and I could finally close the story and move on.


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Tiergan
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I dont see a problem with it at all. I was thinking of this the other day, why some books/movies fail regarding the MC dying. The movie Gladiator came to mind. The ending is as it should be, no other ending would work.

So if its right for the piece its right. It truly comes down to the story you are trying to tell.


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History
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The New Testament did the best job of this in human history.
Then again....

Respectfully,
History


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skadder
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I have just written a story where the MC dies. Of course it is written in first person, so you don't actually get the death, just the decision to die.
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EVOC
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quote:
The New Testament did the best job of this in human history.

Good point.


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MAP
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Shakespeare had no problems doing this, and audiences didn't seem to mind. I think it is how you set the book up at the beginning.
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Natej11
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A longtime WiP of mine features two characters, one a dark hero and the other a paladin. The paladin has been hunting the dark hero for a long while, and they finally have their final confrontation.

A lot of reviews for that story expressed regret that the character who died had to die, which I consider a success in his characterization. But most of those reviews agreed that it was time for it, and only a few people have suggested bringing him back.

I've actually felt bad for the few characters I've killed off, so I understand wanting to find some way to keep them alive. But when it's time for them to die it's time, and that's all there is to it.

George R. R. Martin is a great example of this, as previously mentioned. He did such a good job of making all his characters powerful and real that when one died it always came as a shock, but some of his best scenes feature the deaths of those characters.


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BenM
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Killing off main characters reminds me of the second episode of Spooks, in which one of the main and very likeable characters is killed off rather violently. Maybe not the same thing as killing off the main character, but it certainly got a big reaction from the audience at the time - I certainly never forgot it.
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Brendan
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Of course, the key character in Cold Equations had to die. Each time Goodwin came up with an ending that didn't kill the girl, John Campbell sent it back for revision.

I think that there is one caveat to the carte blanche being suggested above - first person tales. Once again, this depends on how you write it, as snapper alluded to above. But a fundamental question that the audience will ask is - How do I know this POV? If you kill the character, then it means that the story teller is a ghost, which doesn't work in some worlds.


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EP Kaplan
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I've done it twice. One of them, in my opinion, was the best story I ever wrote.
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skadder
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Regarding first person deaths, unless it is a ghost that is narrating, then you can't show the actual death.

In my story the mc doesn't die but makes the decision to die and the story ends there. The story could be written/recorded or (sci-fi) an extracted memory of the moments leading up to it.

I once read a story about a guy in a log cabin by himself. The log cabin was empty and the author had the guy attacked and killed by wolves--it was first person. It did ln't work.

The author changed it to him writing a letter to his wife on some toilet paper while hearing the wolves pawing and splintering the cabin's old door. It worked.


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Robert Nowall
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But the girl in "The Cold Equations" wasn't the main character, the narrator was...
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micmcd
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HIGHLY RELEVANT SPOILER ALERT

Do not read this post if you want to be surprised by a good twist in a very good book.


SPOILER -- If you want an example of a book that pulled off killing the MC who was also the viewpoint character, try Feed by Mira Grant. She even had the character writing as she died and made it not stupid.

(SPOILER ABOVE - BE CAREFUL)


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DeepDreamer
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What do you mean, killing a main character in first person POV can't be done? You just haven't read widely enough -- it's been done lots of times, and very well. I think K A Applegate wrote several parts of the Animorphs series specifically to prove that characters could be killed off in first person past tense point of view. If I remember correctly, it was done at least half a dozen times throughout the 60 book series, differently each time - once as a character is stabbed through the heart, he doesn't feel it, but he sees it - sees everything in slow motion... "slowing. Slower. Stop." And that's the end of his timeline - the narrative is, of course, picked up by another character in the next chapter. Probably the best, most memorable way this was done, was in the final book, when a character dies - but just before this character does, an interdimensional meddler - think Q from Star Trek, but more benevolent - stops time long enough to talk with this character for a moment.The character's final bit of narration is a broken-off thought: I wondered if--

And there's a really good example of this in an excellent novelette from the July/August 2010 copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I own. Michael Alexander, Advances in Modern Chemotherapy - the main character is dying of cancer from the first page; his death at the end isn't exactly a surprise. But the tone of that ending, and the portrayal of the character's thought and experience, is incredible - but it's a broken-off thought kind of ending, just like that last example of KAA's.

The thing is, these above examples are written in what I'd call, "immediate past tense" - there's no later-on-reminiscing, no "I would later realize such-and-such". It's as in-the-moment as present tense, yet written in past tense allowing the narrating character to slow down and explain things he wasn't thinking of at that story-told moment, like descriptions of other characters and events of the past before the time of the story. I don't think I'm explaining it very well -- but the best way to envision it is as a character telling his story, as it happened, moment by moment.

So my point is, yes, this most certainly can and has been done. Provided you're willing to see possibilities beyond "And then I died", you CAN indeed quite convincingly pull off a character death in their POV, even in past tense.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
The New Testament did the best job of this in human history.

Remember, though, that the main character died well before the end of the book.


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Remember, though, that the main character died well before the end of the book.

That's not how I remember the plot, and the fate of the character, working out...

[edited 'cause I misspelled "quote" for the quote]

[This message has been edited by Robert Nowall (edited March 29, 2011).]


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