DISCUSSION: Killing Off Characters & Why It's Not ALWAYS a Bad Thing

[Each named character who died in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has their death marked]
Raise your hand if you've ever cried over a fictional character's death. Hmm, yep, I thought so. I have too. It's painful isn't it? But, here's a fact: I don't really mind characters dying. Or, at least, I understand why they have to. That's not to say that it's not heartbreaking (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hurt me more than the characters, and that's saying something) but it's necessary.
Why Killing Off Characters CAN Be Good

I. IT KEEPS YOU ON YOUR TOES
If an author is prone to killing off an excessive number of characters (e.g. GEORGE R.R. MARTIN) then at least there's an unpredictability to who dies, regardless of whether they're a major or minor character. Whilst with series like Harry Potter you know Harry, Ron or Hermione won't die, with ASoIaF anyone could die with a flick of the page. George R.R. Martin mentioned in an interview that he wants the "suspense to be real"…

"I want my readers, and I want viewers, to be afraid when my characters are in danger. I want them to be afraid to turn the next page because the next character may not survive it."

II. IT'S NECESSARY
Often characters are killed off to make points. E.g. In Harry Potter, each death symbolises something different. Killing off a character (for the majority of authors) is not gratuitous, it's to make a statement about something or other.

III. IT SWITCHES EVERYTHING UP
Sometimes killing off a character can change EVERYTHING. Perhaps another character completely reevaluates what they're doing or reevaluates who they trust… everything can depend on the death of one individual.

E.g. If you've read Daughter of Smoke and Bone: Remember the ending? "They're dead, Karou. It's too late. They're all dead." That certainly changed things around… exciting right?

IV. IT'S REALISTIC
Okay this is the part where I begin to sound like a psychopath. BUT, hear me out. I mean, in an epic, action-filled series, killing off characters IS realistic and HAS to happen. Yes it's heartbreaking when a ton of characters on the 'good' side die, but one side can't win a battle without making huge sacrifices: not all the 'good' people can live on… it's unrealistic. And, to quote Moriarty (although, in the least heartless way possible, because I promise you I'm not evil):

So, where do you stand on authors killing off characters? Especially authors killing off A LOT of characters? Do you agree with me that it's (sometimes) good?

23 comments:

  1. Nice one Ruby. The HP circumstance is different because they come back. The killing needs to be appropriate. In some dystopian novels they kill without need and sometimes it ruins all the books.

    Amelia @ YA Bookologists (ya-bookologists.blogspot.com)

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    1. Mmm I see the dystopian point, but surely if dystopian worlds are truly awful places then people will die a lot… right???

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  2. Killing off characters is good. Realistic. I agree with you over that. Breaking your readers hearts makes your story into a bestseller. But there is a line. Killing off a new character every ten paragraphs or so is a bit too exreme don't you think??

    mahnoorapple.blogspot.com

    p.s. I love your new blog design. And the inkheart quote on the right. My father made a wooden plaque with the same words engraved on it for me :) I wake up to the words everyday.

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    1. Well I guess every ten paragraphs WOULD be bait extreme haha! :)

      And the quote's beautiful, isn't it?

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  3. I have to *begrudgingly* agree. I'm extremely sensitive so even if a minor character dies, you'll probably find me in a corner crying my eyes out. But that's the emotional part of me; the logical part knows that it's only realistic if a character dies in a book where epic battles are plentiful, and to be frank, death does not discriminate *stares daggers at The Book Thief* <- LOVE THAT BOOK. So I totally get if an author were to kill off beloved characters. Usually, my respect for an author increases if they're not afraid to take risks - it must hurt for them, too.

    Lovely post, Ruby! Definitely discussion-worthy. I hope I don't eat my own words after I finish Ruin and Rising. >.>

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    1. Ahh yeah logical and emotional sides of a reader is worthy of another post entirely. :) And yeah, I can only imagine how painful it was for J.K. Rowling to kill all those characters…

      I hope you enjoy Ruin and Rising – I can't wait to start!

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  4. I definitely agree ... I recently saw this interesting thing about death meanings in Harry Potter:

    http://www.teampwnicorn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Harry-Potter-Death-Meanings.png

    I've just started reading Game of Thrones. What you said to me was almost an exact conversation I had recently:

    Friend: they're terrifying because he just kills anyone. He lets you get really attached. In Harry Potter you know that Harry, Ron, Hermione etc. can't die --

    Me: YOU DON'T KNOW FOR SURE *mini attack of the Fred feels*

    Friend: yes but with GRRM, anyone can die just like that!

    So that's pretty scary. I have an inkling that my feels are going to suffer badly from this series ... and I'm only 200 pages in ....

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    1. Oh I've seen that too – the meanings are really interesting.

      Haha A Game of Thrones is definitely not a book where you want to get attached to characters. Although, that said, the characters are so great out's difficult not to be.

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  5. OH GOOD GRIEF RUBY WHY DID YOU GO AND DROP THAT DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE FEELS BOMB ON ME TO RE-FEEL ALL OVER AGAIN *flails* *falls on the floor*
    I love this post though because I. for one, feed EXACTLY the same way you do. I actually kind of enjoy when characters die, NOT ENJOY enjoy, I think it brings more to the story, sure I cry and collapse in hysterics on the floor but I appreciate the author for doing it because in most cases it makes the story better. :)
    *saves gif for later use*

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    1. SORRY BUT IT WAS NECESSARY… RIGHT? ;D

      Yep, it definitely does bring more to the story. :')

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  6. I definitely agree with you on this one Ruby! I think killing off many characters like George R.R. Martin does, even though it can be soul destroying for the reader, is way more realistic than all of the characters staying alive for a happy ending.

    I am terrified to look at that Daughter Of Smoke and Bone Spoiler, 'cause I'm reading it right now and don't want to ruin it for myself... but I have a feeling I will be checking back after I have read it to see what I have missed:D

    Great, thought provoking post as usual!

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    1. Yep, definitely! [Overly] Happy endings = unrealistic.

      Oooh I hope you enjoy DoSaB – I LOVE that book!

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  7. Honestly, I'm alright with authors killing off characters. In the case of Harry Potter, it can of broke my heart each time a good character was killed off, but that's the reality of life. PEOPLE DIE. It doesn't matter what genre the book is people die at some point or other providing you're not immortal and having people die in books makes those works of fiction realistic.

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    1. Yep, Harry Potter characters dying hurt me a lot but I totally understand why JKR did that.

      And yes, it definitely helps increase realism.

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  8. Love that Sherlock gif you added at the end of the post, because it actually really fits in well with this discussion. Great post! :)

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    1. Haha I love a good Sherlock reference. ;) Thank you!

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  9. I love this post. Seriously. SO. MUCH. LOVE. You've basically said what everyone thinks even whilst their drowning in a pit of their own tears and thinking about creative ways to blackmail the author in bringing them back to life. *claps* I APPLAUD YOU, KIND SIR.
    -Rita ;) xx

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    1. Aha I love your comments Rita. :')

      And thank you – glad you agree with me! ;D

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  10. I feel the same way - if the book is well written and the characters are not one dimensional, it's almost guaranteed to make me cry. But I don't really mind. Books wouldn't be realistic if no one ever died - it makes them more real and - as you said - it keeps you on your toes. :)

    Great post! :D

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    1. Thank you! And yes, I too will probably cry aha! :)

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  11. Honestly, there was a time where I was afraid Harry died.. I could totally see Rowling pulling such a stunt, haha. She often made me cry on the inside with deaths of characters, but it was effective and played an important role in the story. Then I can live with it. When a character dies because they did something stupid in the storyline, I just get frustrated.

    The realistic part is especially important to me. Sometimes the story needs a character to die.

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    1. Haha there was a time I misread a line and thought Hagrid had died aha. :') And yes, I guess a character's stupidity can be super annoying.

      The realistic part is definitely the most important factor I think.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. I will now direct people who don't understand deaths, in either books or tv, to this post because you've made excellent points - particularly the realistic aspect!
    Great post!

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