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Killing off characters: What does it accomplish?

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by MariahJade2, Aug 14, 2007.

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  1. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    With the professional novels continuing the practice of killing off major characters, I have been wondering just how much of this practice is being done in the fan fic community. Do you ever kill off any of your characters to provoke emotion in the readers, and do you think it was worth it? Were the reader reactions what you expected? Have you ever regretted doing it? Is it possible to have a dramatic or dark story without resorting to killing? Have you ever run out of ideas for a character and resorted to killing them off? What, in your mind, are the right and wrong reasons for eliminating a character?
     
  2. AnakinsFavorite

    AnakinsFavorite Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 10, 2006
    I actually don't find much purpose in killing of characters here... it seems to be way over done.

    In original fic, though, I do it as plot twists, to get rid of bad guys/characters I don't know what to do with, and other such things. Sometimes, I feel immense relief, yet I feel bad and sometimes come close to crying when I kill off a favored character.

    I paused and thought about it a while ago when I asked a fellow writer who I should kill of next and all I got was a confused comment about why someone had to die.
     
  3. RK_Striker_JK_5

    RK_Striker_JK_5 Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2003
    IMHO, killing off a character can be just a rather lazy way to create angst/tension. Kill them off and write everyone's reactions. It can be done well, and sometimes it's the only logical end to someone's story arc... but often it's a cheap stunt.
     
  4. The Musical Jedi

    The Musical Jedi Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 13, 1999
    When the USJS was still up and running, Derisa and I came up with a character who, in the end, solely existed to be killed off by another character later. It was more to kind of tie things in - bad things kept happening to various characters, and the evil character was the one behind it. Ciaran, the character that was killed off, found out about who was behind it and went to try to find her himself. Except that, being a Padawan, he was in no capacity to do so. Since it was decided before the character was named that he would die, it was sort of his purpose in life, if you will. I have to say, I grew so fond of him, I truly regretted having to bump him off in the end. He was a great character. I think it can serve purposes if it's part of the plot - but if you're just doing it to increase drama or to get rid of someone because they've become a writing nuisance, I'm not so sure.
     
  5. AnakinsFavorite

    AnakinsFavorite Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 10, 2006
    I usually plan them out from the beginning of a story, so they're well thought out. I've long since realized that "Oh, today I'm going to have Anakin fall to the Dark Side and die a tragic death" doesn't work.

    It's often really hard to kill off a character- I become attached to them. I mean, I've spent hours writing original fics (where I do more planning and am more attached to the characters), developing them towhere they have live personalities, and even to kill off a bad guy can be hard.
     
  6. NYCitygurl

    NYCitygurl Manager Emeritus star 9 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2002
    Do you ever kill off any of your characters to provoke emotion in the readers, and do you think it was worth it?

    Yes, in vignettes (many of which are still in my head :p ). Not in longer stories; those deaths serve a point. So yes, worth it.

    Were the reader reactions what you expected?

    Yes, the [face_crying] and such. I do it too (in others' stories).

    Have you ever regretted doing it?

    Since I haven't done the first question in a long story, no. However, I've got it planned that in a story I'm writing a character has to die, and I'm regretting in advance so trying to get around it :p

    Is it possible to have a dramatic or dark story without resorting to killing?

    Heck yes. Family drama, love triangles, people getting hurt, etc.

    Have you ever run out of ideas for a character and resorted to killing them off?

    Nope.

    What, in your mind, are the right and wrong reasons for eliminating a character?

    IMO in an unconnected vignette, the following doesn't apply.

    In a longer story, the right reason is if it has a point: if that character's death has an instrumental impact on another, or if a character dies so that the main hero has to figure things out on his/her own (think Sirius and Dumbledore in Harry Potter -- or heck, even Gui-Gon).

    The wrong reason (again, outside a vignette) is to just provoke a reaction or bow to the whims of readers. If a character dying doesn't serve a point, there's no reason for that character to die.
     
  7. LLL

    LLL Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 16, 2000
    Do you ever kill off any of your characters to provoke emotion in the readers, and do you think it was worth it?

    I killed off a character to provoke emotion in the character. (It provoked emotion in the readers, too, but that was a secondary effect.)

    Were the reader reactions what you expected?

    All but a couple were what I was trying for. I thought that was a pretty good response rate, considering.

    Have you ever regretted doing it?

    Since I'm dealing with what happens after death and treating before and after like one large universe, no.

    Is it possible to have a dramatic or dark story without resorting to killing?

    Definitely. Although, if your story is set during war time, it would be unrealistic to have no one die.

    Have you ever run out of ideas for a character and resorted to killing them off?

    Not yet. But I don't write much.

    What, in your mind, are the right and wrong reasons for eliminating a character?

    If you're just trying to shock people or prove a point about yourself (as in, "We want to show readers that we're not afraid to kill off SW canon characters"), I don't consider that a good enough reason.

    If you're trying to broaden reader's understanding in some way, crack open their hearts so that they look at something in a whole new way, that's a legitimate excuse.

    Of course, if you mean to write angst and the catharsis is the whole point, knock yourself out.

     
  8. Luton_Plunder

    Luton_Plunder Jedi Knight star 3

    Registered:
    Jun 15, 2006
    Ah, we had a good discussion about this some time ago in either the OC or Seedy Side thread...I can't remember which and can't seem to locate it now. There was some great points of view in there, it would be great if everyone weighed in on this thread :D

    Killing off characters can be a lazy thing to do, especially if they were created for the sole purpose of dying. In my opinion, the only time a character death really has resonance is when it happens to a character that the audience has spent time getting to know and like. And they, unfortunately, are usually the ones that the author has come to know and like. Therefore you don't often see those characters getting killed. Seriously injured maybe, or some other such thing to substitute for their death, but the biggest and most effective impact you can have on an audience is to say that "this character is never showing up again in this story".

    There has to be a reason for this. This character's death must have a big impact on the others and change the direction of the story, otherwise it's just 'bang bang ur dead lol'. But similarly, the character dying shouldn't really be the plot either. They should die because of events occurring within the plot and affect the outcome of it.

    I don't know whether I'm making much sense :p but that's my philosophy anyway. Kill as many of 'em as you like [face_devil] but do it for the right reasons.
     
  9. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    Ah, but did Qui-Gon have to actually die? Could he have been removed in another way and still have had the same result, leaving Anakin to Obi-Wan? Or is it too difficult to move on with the story without losing that important person?
     
  10. AnakinsFavorite

    AnakinsFavorite Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 10, 2006
    [hl=black]He could have fell behind an archway, forever tormenting Anakin about whether his friend could or could not come back to life :p[/hl]
    Blackened for HP refrences ;)
     
  11. Onoto

    Onoto Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Oct 7, 2004
    I think every writer of anything even remotely violent has to kill off major characters eventually. If the readers know the major players will always make it through, danger loses its edge. To paraphrase Joss Whedon, if the audience knows you're crazy enough to kill off one character, they have to take the danger seriously.

    (I know we had a discussion involving death in the OC thread a while back, Futon. I don't know about the Seedy Side though.)

     
  12. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 1999
    My last completed story was constructed entirely around the death of an OC character. The first post dealt with his death and the rest of the story backed up and and told the story of the preceding months.


    Admittedly a death can be a shorcut to achieving an emotional response or to grabbing the reader's attention (like using it in the first post of a story), but since I was dealing with my own character I had no qualms about doing that.


    With an established character, I probably would have been much more circumspect about the whole plotline.
     
  13. Darth_Manion

    Darth_Manion Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Feb 5, 2007
    Back when I first started writing, I didn't know how to end things with a big, dramatic climax, so I always ended with a huge explosion that killed everyone. (I was like twelve.) But anyway, everyone died at the end of the story. Then I got frustrated because I though of a great idea for a sequel, but all my characters were charred corpses. So then I'd think of some lame excuse to bring them back from the dead.

    As I grew older and (I hope) wiser, I did away with that archaic and predictive ritual and began writing stories where in the end, only one character that I really liked exploded. It was surprising, it was dramatic, and (most importantly,) it was violent. But it rarely worked in the context of the story. Huge explosive devices occasionally fell out of the sky (literally) just for the purpose of the climax.

    So then I went through a phase where I only wrote stories where all the heroes completed their quest (more or less) unscathed. Occasionally, they would fail their quest, but still leave the experience with at least three of their original limbs. Still, these stories lacked something. So I started smiting characters again, but only when it was surprising, dramatic, and (mostly) violent, and only when it was all three. I'm not sure if that solved any problems, but it satisfied my need for surprise, drama, and (mostly) violence.

    I remember I posted a thread here a while back titled "When bad things happen to good heroes - when characters buy the moisture farm", or something to that effect. If I recall, it was more about how acceptable it is to bring characters 'back from the dead' without it turning into the X-Men. It's an interesting and controversial topic.
     
  14. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    Do you ever kill off any of your characters to provoke emotion in the readers, and do you think it was worth it? Absolutely not. If the character dies in any of my stories, it's because the plot or the characterization demands it. If you are killing off a character to get a rise out of readers, it's a cheap trick and I think the readers will know that.

    Were the reader reactions what you expected?
    Since it's pretty obvious why the character has been killed, the reader reactions were usually very much as I had expected.

    Have you ever regretted doing it?
    Yes, I really hate killing off any character but especially OCs. They are near and dear to my heart and I hate doing it.

    Is it possible to have a dramatic or dark story without resorting to killing?
    There's lots of dramatic and/or dark stories that don't have to resort to killing. Stories where the protagonists have to accept their failings, loss of love or family differences or things of that nature can also cause the story to be dark.

    Have you ever run out of ideas for a character and resorted to killing them off?
    No but then I always know where my stories are going anyway. I usually have an ending before I even begin writing.

    What, in your mind, are the right and wrong reasons for eliminating a character?
    As long as it fulfills the plotline's needs or affects the characters in a way that makes their journey more intense, I will kill off a character. The wrong things would be to kill them off because you haven't any idea of what to do with them or boredom or because you feel that the readers will react/start replying more.
     
  15. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Killing characters has been, by and large, about the impact on the people immediately involved as well as the further development. It's about who has to shoulder certain burdens, who is relieved of burdens, what might have been prevented, etc.

    Right now, I'm writing a story where the issue of a character death is the most vehemently debated point of the entire story, in the fic and in the reader replies. In respect to that, I'm exploring the advantages of both options--life or death.
     
  16. CHEVALIER_RYU

    CHEVALIER_RYU Jedi Youngling star 1

    Registered:
    Jun 16, 2005
    :_|
    concerning creating drama without killing a character, I think that breaking a character is worth than killing him.

    seeing a strong, lifeloving, couragous, independant character hudle in a corner of a institution:_| is just plain hard. I would rather imagin him or her in whatever afterlife you believe in. ( personnaly I believe in eternal, dreamless sleep.)
     
  17. Luton_Plunder

    Luton_Plunder Jedi Knight star 3

    Registered:
    Jun 15, 2006
    Manion, I remember that thread - it was certainly a great exchange of ideas. I can't seem to find it in my post history - any chance of a link back to it, in case people find it interesting reading?

    I guess I look at this from a reverse perspective which is something that I forgot to mention in my previous post. If anything, I find that authors both Pro and Fan are far too hesitant to kill off their characters. There is nothing, nothing, nothing more frustrating than ruining a tragic character's entire history by saving them from death at the last minute. I'm thinking of a specific example here, but because it contains spoilers I'll black it out.

    It is from the new Battlestar Galactica. If you haven't seen season 2 and would like to, you might not want to read this.

    [hl=black]The character of President Laura Roslind had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer since episode 1 of season 1. The fact that she took up the mantle of president and worked toward the betterment of society despite the fact she would only live a few more months made her very heroic and brave. And when it came to the crunch, when she was on her death bed, the writers had a scientist discover a miracle cure and save her. To me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, it ruined everything that her character had been building toward. Don't get me wrong, I was happy she was still alive, but it sure made me sour on everything that had preceeded it.[/hl]


    This is not atypical of television and book serials, and it annoys me no end. There comes a time when the author needs to bite the bullet and kill a character once and for all. Not to do so is quite lazy IMO, and comes about because the writers can't be bothered to have to fill the void that would be left with a character just as interesting as the first. It might also be to avoid an adverse fan reaction. Whatever the reason, it doesn't sit well with me at all.

    I find that the refusal to kill a character is actually much more lazy than killing it once and for all. Finding ever-creative ways to keep them alive is a bit contrived and ultimately stifles the creativity and impact of the story as a whole.
     
  18. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    LOL, absolutely. Sometimes, the reprieve just isn't worth it.
     
  19. lazykbys_left

    lazykbys_left Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 17, 2005
    I haven't the time right now to type out a detailed response, but -

    Darth_Manion: I remember I posted a thread here a while back titled "When bad things happen to good heroes - when characters buy the moisture farm", or something to that effect.

    Luton_Plunder: any chance of a link back to it, in case people find it interesting reading?

    *activates the [link=http://f59.aaa.livedoor.jp/~lazykbys/jcfanficthreads.php?s=10304////bad+stuff]Link Machine[/link]*

    [link=http://boards.theforce.net/a/b10304/26466908/]When Bad Stuff Happens To Good OCs - What to do when they buy the moisture farm[/link]

    - lazy
     
  20. leia_naberrie

    leia_naberrie Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Sep 10, 2002
    Good topic.

    Let me see what answers I can come up with.

    Do you ever kill off any of your characters to provoke emotion in the readers, and do you think it was worth it?

    I found it hard to understand this question. Everything you write/create in a story is done to provoke certain emotions in readers. Heroic actions are written to provoke awe and fondness. Romance is written for its own purpose, etc. However... if you mean 'have I ever killed off a character that I didn't intend to kill simply to provoke readers?' then No. The death, like the love story, or the battle scenes, was already a part of the story in my mind, or in an outline long before the story got an audience. So I won't kill a character, or write a romance just to provoke my audience.


    Were the reader reactions what you expected?

    More or less. I remember killing Palpatine or some other Sith Lord and getting lots of cheers.


    Have you ever regretted doing it?

    I guess you mean in a long story? No, I've never regretted killing a character because the death was already part of the plot that was in my mind. That would be like regretting the birth of a character.


    Is it possible to have a dramatic or dark story without resorting to killing?

    Yes, it is. There are far worse things than death. Torture, madness, abuse...

    However in a war, it's quite unrealistic not to expect deaths. Thus, I have a bone to pick with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, where the only 'heroes' that died are Gandalf (who came back to life), Boromir (who was almost not a hero) and Theoden (who was old).


    Have you ever run out of ideas for a character and resorted to killing them off?

    No.


    What, in your mind, are the right and wrong reasons for eliminating a character?

    If someone dies in a story, then someone dies. There are no right or wrong reasons any more than there are right or wrong reasons for telling the story in the first place. (As long as you're writing for yourself, of course, and not to please an audience.)

    QFT.


     
  21. MariahJade2

    MariahJade2 Former Fan Fiction Archive Editor star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2001
    I'm just wondering if we've become desensitized in society as a whole and we actively root for characters deaths. It can also be argued that it's taking the easy way out by killing a canon character rather then deveoping them. We know we can get mileage out of those left behind. This applies more to pro-fic rather than fan fic of course, because they don't have the freedom we have, but I still think it's worth exploring other options with our writing as well. Is it possible we've written and read it all and now we can't get that same feeling without resorting to kiilling? Obviously there are wonderful stories that need certain characters to die, but I do think it's worth considering alternatives sometimes. Just some thoughts. :)
     
  22. Herman Snerd

    Herman Snerd Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 31, 1999
    The references to television deaths inevitably reminds me of the old joke about Star Trek. You don't want to be the anonymous guy in a red shirt who beams down with Kirk and Spock, because there's no way in hell you're going to make it back.


    Then when ST:TNG came along, they killed off a main character very early on in the run of the series. This shocked a lot of viewers at the time because it just wasn't done. For a time it lent an air of suspense to the show because while people can usually be pretty sure that the main characters on their favorite show will survive, the writers had thrown everybody a huge curve ball and there was always that reminder that perhaps nobody was really safe.
     
  23. G__Anakin

    G__Anakin Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Apr 2, 2006
    I've only ever kill Ventress. And the reason was that I need her death as a test, and also so her position could be taken.:)

    I personally believe a character should be killed for a reason, even Anakin (Solo):(
     
  24. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 15, 2002
    In my opinion killing characters has to serve a purpose - and I'm not talking about a lame half-hearted attempt to get "Oh my gosh!" reactions. This is precisely the main reason why I despise the books during and post NJO - the deaths do not feel like an integral part of the plot but more a stopgap to cover holes in the storyline.

    But per se I am not really interested in seeing characters I've grown attached to killed off even for the most important of reasons. After all - and I freely admit it - I am looking for some time off from reality and do not really want to spend that time "mourning" fictional characters ;)
     
  25. Onoto

    Onoto Jedi Knight star 5

    Registered:
    Oct 7, 2004
    Of course, it really isn't realistic to expect every character to die heroically. Sometimes they need to die like that character in The Next Generation: pointlessly. Otherwise it gets boring if everyone valiantly sacrifices themselves and makes a heroic speech. I'm not saying have someone killed by a falling anvil, but take into account that sometimes the simple fact of character death is enough of a reason to kill someone off.

    I seem to be in the minority when I say that shock is usually a fine reason. I write to entertain and I read to be entertained. Shock me, daggumit!

     
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