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!
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:
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.