Character Death

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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 5 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 5 years ago

Life After (Character) Death?

The death of popular characters on TV shows often leads to the fandom being outraged by their death and many fans claiming they’re going to quit watching the show now that the character has died. But many don’t actually leave. Does their behavior, in staying even after characters are killed, encourage the showrunners?

  • Interesting topic. You could very well go into different character deaths, provide examples of when it was necessary vs. when it isn't. – Nayr1230 8 years ago
  • A cool thing to do would be to analyze the ratings before and after big character deaths. Oftentimes the news of the death gets spread like wildfire on social media and brings more attention to the show, potentially leading to an increased audience and definitely encouraging showrunners – Dominique Kollie 8 years ago
  • I agree with Kollie...Analyzing the rating while the character is still on the show, and then once the character is killed off, would provide the best definitive evidence. "Die-hard" fans will likely stick with a series, as they have invested their time in it and desire to see how the series will wrap-up. I do know of people who began watching a series, let's say on Netflix, a few seasons behind, and once hearing a spoiler of a character's death, have stopped watching due to the disappointment or questioning, "Why even bother to watch anymore?" Now, a show like Game of Thrones would NOT be good to analyze since everyone dies. Yet, as they say on the show..."What is dead may never die," which sounds like an obvious point, but has been proven numerous times that the dead do tend to return. There have definitely been shows that are affected by huge deaths. One that comes to mind is "Grey's Anatomy." When one of the lead characters was killed off, viewership went down...even the "die hard fans." Another factor is whether or not viewers feel that the death is a pure act of sensationalism or a necessary means of driving the plot forward. This aspect is a very important component to this question. – danielle577 8 years ago
  • You could also take this in the direction of survival or other reality shows that actually rely on the process of eliminating characters to increase popularity. – Jutor 8 years ago