Monday, July 23, 2007

Character deaths

For those of you who are familiar with my writing and/or why I started writing, you already know that one of my pet peeves is that my favorite character in a story usually dies a heroic death. The point of this post, however, is not to rant about how the author had the nerve to kill off a character (specifically, a character that I liked); rather, I want to show why character deaths bother me so much from a writer's standpoint.

Realistically, I don't mind the character dying. Hey, I've killed off my fair share of valiant heroes, innocent bystanders, and rabidly cruel villains alike. BUT! I really do mind when my favorite character in a story dies for practically no purpose whatsoever, especially in a story with sorcery. It's not the death itself that bugs me (often, some character death is necessary) - I just want to see it done well!

First Point:

There must be a need for the character to die.

If a characters dies, there MUST be a need. Take, for example, Gandalf from "Lord of the Rings": though he technically didn't die in Moria while fighting the Balrog, to the knowledge of all but he and the Balrog, he was no longer on the radar. This was necessary because, with Gandalf present, the Fellowship probably would not have broken up. Gandalf would have kept Boromir in line, so Frodo wouldn't've run off to Mordor; he would've sensed the Orcs coming sooner, and so would have warned Merry and Pippin to stick with everybody else. His death also heightened the stakes and increased the sense of danger for Frodo. So, Gandalf's temporary death was necessary, story-wise.

What I dislike is when characters die simply because "someone has to die". That is so incredibly pointless. Which leades into my next point:

Second Point:

The death cannot be cheesy.

If I read - or watch on TV, for that matter - another heroic death in which the loyal servant/sidekick/friend character takes the death blow instead of the hero(ine), I'm going to retch. Not because I dislike heroic deaths; rather, because they're usually done so poorly.

My opinion of the typical "friend leaps in front of the hero and is skewered by the spear meant for hero" scenario: it's pretty pathetic and an easy way out for the writer. If someone has reflexes fast enough that they can leap in the way of a moving spear (or arrow in flight, or javelin thrust, whatever), they're going to have insanely fast reflexes. So, if they're fast enough to throw themselves in the path of a moving javelin... wouldn't they be fast enough to be able to shove the weapon away with their hands? Or at least deflect it?

That's one thing that bugs me.

The other thing is mostly applicable in novels with sorcery or magic. The very first thing that a sorcerer (especially one with a lot of enemies) is going to do is protect his life in some way or another. All right, maybe some morons would do this by surrounding themselves with spells of strength, invincibility, etc. - but, if someone's smart enough to use sorcery in the first place, why would they do that? Rather than practically shout out "here I am and I cannot be killed... except by someone who breaks these spells!", why not hide all methods of self-preservation? Why not make a labyrinthine maze of complex spells that are next to impossible to trace and almost completely invisible/unbeknownst to the average enemy? It seems odd that sorcerers would put all their energy into, say, something as obvious as the One Ring.

So, in conclusion: I like deaths that are obviously well thought-out on the writer's part, that work well in context of the story, and that take characters who are likely to die. Apart from that, though, characters deaths annoy me. A lot.


Matt said...


I completely agree Sam. I am tired of the long drawn out "cheesey" deaths of a favorite or notable character taking the "bullet" for the hereo. 1 it makes a really good character that has been doing well in the story have a bad end. All of the sudden, its like, where did the character go? ooooh aww man that is his/her ending, that stinks!

Of course everyone gathers around the character that took the fall,they cry and sob, hug and etc.. and thats it. It also makes that character look bad, because of course if he was not that fast, he/she could have done something.

2nd I have known books that draw out the character death for way too many pages. Those kinds of things are too long and drawn out.

If the writer can do it just right, then I can say its good. and well done character death.

Sounds good Sam

Love, Matt

Sam said...

Well, there is something to be said for "taking the bullet". You can't very well shove a bullet out of the way. *grin*

And drawing out a death, if done well, makes for a great read. I have never tried it, but will probably do that eventually. There are some characters that just won't die quickly -- they simply refuse to stop living. Killing them is difficult, even when they're mortally wounded.

And there's certainly much to be said for the heroic death! Matter of fact, it's the best way to go. I just don't like it when the character departs due to an utterly ridiculous set of circumstances and forced events.

Rebecca said...

Good heavens Sam, you think too much. But I totally agree with you, except for the "heroic death is the best way to go"...why do you have to kill them off? I personally think that if a character dies, it almost completely spoils the story for me (being the emotional sanguine that I am.
P.S. Does anybody else read your blog besides me and Matt?


Matt said...

I stand corrected ;)

Yeah, it does need to be done just right, unfortunantly there are alot of characters that get the cheesey easy out death that is kinda lame. But yes Character deaths are necessary and very important

Nope some characters don't give up. But yeah you definently are correct on that. I am trying to think of the last charcter death..oh yeah The chronicals of Narnia, the lion's death, wow that was a major one. I have not seen it in awhile to write a good review.

Ttyl Sa'Kayda :P

Love, Matt

Sam said...

*chuckle* Answering your question, Rebecca: "Why do you have to kill them off?"... I do my best not to. I'm always so crushed when my favorite character in a story dies. But if they simply MUST die, then I think the heroic death is the best way.

And I think some other people read my blog (hopefully!)... they just don't comment very often.

Now, replying to Matt's comment: Aslan's death in the Chronicles of Narnia was absolutely necessary! As a symbol of Christ, representing Christ's Crucifixion was an essential element of the entire story. But, you need to read the books to more fully appreciate that. *still can't believe that you haven't read the Chronicles of Narnia*

Anonymous said...

WHAT!!! How can you NOT read Narnia! I'm beginning to have a different opinion of your boyfriend, Sam...(JK)


Matt said...

I never Said that I wouln't read it. My library card has gone missing lol. Okay I need to take the time and get a new one.

Yes I did enjoy the movie very much so and I would go out and try to borrow the book. Does anyone have a copy they could send out? and I promise I would read it.

Yes Sam I would need to read it to fully understand it all.

Would you have a copy I could read Sam :)?

Love, Matt

Anonymous said...

If I had the money for postage...