We all love those movies where the bad guy gets his. I’ve actually stood up and cheered when it happens. I’ve seen others do it too, so I don’t feel like my reaction is strange. The same holds true in books although I’m usually a little more restrained.
But what about when a good character gets the short end of the stick?
I remember watching “Bridge to Terabithia” last year on a flight from Calgary to Toronto (Spoiler alert!). The early parts of the movie involve Josh and Leslie becoming friends and inventing Terabithia where they can be the heros. Then, Leslie unexpectedly dies. I remember the shock and the tears running down my cheeks as I continued to watch the movie. After all, one of the heros isn’t supposed to die!
Today I pored over a series of pictures sent to me by a teammate who happens to work in Chengdu, China where the earthquake hit. Thousands were killed including schools full of children. Did they deserve to die? The same can be asked about those people killed in Myanmar (Burma).
What I realize is ‘deserve’ isn’t the right word to use. Of course those people didn’t deserve to die. Few people do. Unfortunately, the cycle of life for all mortal creatures is one of birth and death and that is the focus of my topic today.
As in real life, characters in your stories are born, live and eventually die. But should the good guys always live to a ripe old age while the bad guys die in some ironic and satisfying manner every time?
I don’t think so. That simply isn’t true to how life works.
In fact, the only stories that work are ones where the protagonist(s) are faced with a dilemma. Granted, it doesn’t always involve death, but I think it should. Decisions made where the outcome is potentially fatal are much more interesting. I would also argue that no character should be exempt from dying.
For example, I wrote a story where one of my protagonists does something very nobel… and rather stupid at the same time. He ends up dying for it. When I originally wrote it, it was the only possible way for the chain of events to happen. Then I cheated (only a little). In a following scene, he is resurrected (in an entirely plausible way, I might add). Still, it made the shock of his death… less.
As I look back on that scene, I think that perhaps he should stay dead. It will make the ending stronger and it will make the other protagonist more interesting. It will also make the reader realize that anything can happen.
It will also be more true to life and that is what I’m trying for.
One caution to killing off major characters: if you have any hopes of writing a sequel, you might want to keep other major characters around unless your sequel involves the undead.
In the same story, a supporting character is killed in a rather grisly way. This was done to emphasize just how bad the antagonists were. I’ve seen the same thing done to underline just how dire the situation all the characters find themselves in.
Now don’t get me wrong… it’s alright to inflict pain and suffering upon the bad guys. All I’m saying is it is equally important to make the good guys suffer too.
Unless you don’t want realism in your stories, that is.
My new story is coming along nicely. I’ve surpassed the 6,000 word mark (a little behind schedule, but not much) and am working on chapter 5. I’ve read what I’ve got to my test audience and they like the story so far (I’ve noticed a few editorial changes that need to be made, but nothing major).
Oh yes, and I will be killing a character in this story.