Killing main characters

One of the most dramatic but equally difficult acts is to kill off a main character. From a viewer’s experience this is traumatic, dramatic and endlessly memorable – I will always remember when Buffy killed Angel at the end of Season 2. However, it is a very difficult task for a writer to engage in, we spend so much time building our character and imbuing them with a level of personality that becomes real to us. Yet it can be such a powerful tool to engage the reader. On the other hand, it can also be detrimental to a reader’s engagement, some may check out in frustration, others will become less engaged emotionally with the characters – for example, the developing death-exhaustion of those following ‘Game of Thrones.’ So what are the pros and cons of killing a main character? Should it be done at the start or end or midway in the book? When is the right time to kill a main character? What are the pros and cons of the "return" (as in Angel coming back in the next season), or leaving it as permanent? So many questions: Discuss.

  • Something to also consider is the general idea of these "fake-out deaths" in media. I mean, Eren's "death" at the start of Attack on Titan is a powerful scene that gives the world real stakes (for the time) but it kind of feels pointless when it turns out he survived. I mean, the same can be said with Angel. When Angel came back after Buffy sacrificed so much to send him to hell in Season 2 of Buffy, it felt kind of un-earned that he just suddenly showed up again. Fake deaths, even at their best in Attack on Titan, can give us mixed feelings as we wonder if the story could be better if they stuck with a character's death. Then in Buffy, it can feel unearned and manipulative as the show gets the viewer to care about a character's death/plight before kind of just correcting it with minimal explanation. It's an interesting topic, for sure! – Dimitri Adoniou 6 years ago
  • For some cinematic examples of killing main characters, consider looking at Hitchcock's "Psycho," which is probably the most famous main character death of all time. "The Place Beyond the Pines" is another very effective one. It would be interesting to look at how audience reaction to these deaths effects the consumption of the rest of the narrative. – BradySimenson 6 years ago

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