Killing the protagonist?


#1

So I’m wondering what the communities feeling at large on this is. Basically as your reading a book or a story what’s your feelings on killing off the protagonist? Some stories can pull this off and I’d asked a few friends their opinions and well it’s all very mixed.

On one hand the readers been following this character for quite awhile and they’ve probably gotten attached to them so seeing them suddenly killed off could be seen as any number of negative things and would more than likely piss a bunch of people off. On the other it would be great motivation for the people he left behind and well there’s probably not a better way to showcase a horrible irredeemable villain than have them kill off one of the heroes much less the protagonist. So What’s the consensus on this from a community of writers? Does this strike you as a good decision for an author to make or not?


#2

I HATE IT!!!

I really, really hate when the protagonist dies. Particularly if it’s a book with a GBLTQ character I’m reading. I will read spoilers so that I don’t get disappointed when a character I like dies.

There’s a few exceptions.

After watching 7 seasons of Dexter I really, really wanted him to die. I desperately wanted an ending where he gets caught, goes to jail, and then DIES! And that was the only conditions I was going to watch the last series. But no, it didn’t happen.

If I dislike the protagonist I don’t mind them dying. But if I dislike the protagonist, chances are I won’t read the book.

I suppose if it’s dying of old age after a long happy fulfilled life I’m less bothered.

And if it’s noble sacrifice, a decision chosen by the main character… wait nope, I don’t like that either. Even if it’s foreshadowed and everything leads up to that point.

I think the only case I don’t mind it is Cabin in the Woods. But that was a spoof on the genre. I thought the ending fitted.

Trying to think if there’s any more cases. The sort of time travel movies I like.
Donnie Darko, Looper, Twelve Monkeys, The Butterfly Effect I liked the idea of the alternate end.


#3

I personally dislike my character in any game or the main character in a book to die. I’m fine if its a companion or even a love interest but it just feels like a let down when the character whos thoughts hopes and dreams have been laid bare in front of me only to be cut down its just a punch in the gut.


#4

Well the primary problem with killing the (sole) protagonist, is that there tends to be a lack of closure. Unless it’s very intentional and done right, it is rare that a protagonist’s death is going to be responded to positively if there are still plots that need to be tied up. If the series is ending and the villain is still alive, the hero’s friends are in danger, or there’s some sort of romance that wasn’t completely resolved, people will cry foul and likely write you off as an author, claiming your finale ruined the series.

Another thing to consider is how the death is handled. Did the cause of the character’s death happen because of an out of character action of either themselves or a friend? Did they fall for an obvious trap, or willingly let themselves die for no real reason? This has to be done right as well.

Also, are there multiple protagonists? If there are four characters whose stories we see simultaneously, it probably wouldn’t hurt too much to kill even as much as 3/4 of them off, so long as you follow the two above rules (rule 1 is less important in this scenario, as the story can continue and the plot threads can be seen to their conclusion.).

Tl;dr you need closure and a reasonable cause of death for the death to be ‘successful’.

Note that the above is a severe oversimplification. Protagonist deaths are often expected at the finale of a series, so it’s become a bit of a cliche (especially in dystopian fiction). Unless you’re doing something that is rare or never before seen, you are unlikely to evoke a preferred response in your audience.

Edit: My personal opinion is that if you don’t follow my two rules I don’t buy any more of your books. You can kill a protagonist (much as it pains me when done), but do it right. Looking at you, Divergent Series.


#5

I second all of that :slight_smile:


#6

More often than not I hate it.

Most writers don’t handle it well and effectively cuts off the story they were telling simply for shock value.

It is a bit different at the end of a series, but even then I tend to dislike it because more often than not it is a few way it is either a blatant attempt to manipulate or a way for the protagonist to not have to deal with the consequences of their choices.

There have been exceptions, but those have been earned by making it clear that this was the only real way for the story to go and that is very difficult to write.


#7

It depends. It takes a lot of guts to do that, but it requires even more talent to pull it off properly. If I feel that it kinda needed to happen, I accept it. Like it happened in the (read at your own discretion) (Teenage Dystopian Series Spoilers!) Divergent series. I mean, I hated that it happened but it was so understandable that I made peace with it… Breaking Bad is another good example. On the other hand, if they kill off the protagonist simply to “shock” the audience rather than for the sake of the story… then it kinda ruins it.


#8

Personally I feel that, the divergent series was a stellar example in how not to do it.

The first two books was written with only one point of view, but the third book suddenly introduced a new point of view, which kind of makes it seems like a whoops gotta get another view point in this book.

Also it does kind of make it seems like that the author actually cared more for the love interest than the protagonist in this specifik series(adding to this was that the love interest had suspicously gotten a lot of point of view books in between so it seemed like that the character the author really cared about was love interest not protagonist and that the love interest should have been the protagonist from the start of the series.)

Also the ending was a bit of a mess in general so I am not even sure that the protagonist death was worth it.

Is this better, @FairyGodfeather ?


#9

Hey, any chance you folks can be a little more specific with your spoilers? Spoiler tags are most helpful with a vague idea of what’s being spoiled inside. I edited a couple of posts (feel free to change my edits though.)

Admittedly just naming series in this thread is likely to be a spoiler anyway.

I have just spoiled so many movies.


#10

I suppose I’m the only one with the opposite perspective. I hate few things more than I hate plot armor. In order for me to get invested in a story, I need to feel like there is something at risk and the protagonists are in actual danger. Otherwise I get bored, because I already know the outcome. It’s why I can never get into shows that are so terrified to stray from the status quo.

I’d say the solution would be to have multiple protagonists so that when one dies, there are still others who can carry the torch and it means that when I do have characters that I really like, I become concerned. If they die, I’m sad, and if they live then I’m relieved. All of which are emotions, and I like feeling those. I can’t when I don’t care. (though if they die and come back, I’m annoyed. Death is not something you can just ‘get better’ from)


#11

Author’s decision. If they think it fits the story then they should go ahead and kill off the entire cast of characters if they want to.

Personally it doesn’t really bother me. I mean sure I might get disappointed since maybe I wanted to see more of that character, but it happens and there are times some character out stay their welcome and they probably would have been better off getting killed in the first place.


#12

While I don’t generally like seeing the protagonist die (especially, as @FairyGodfeather and @Lizzy have said, if that protagonist happens to not be straight), I also agree with @Interestedparty, in that if there’s no possibility of death, then there’s no tension. I guess the solution would be to have multiple reasonably major protagonists, kill one of them off earlyish (so that the audience knows you’re not messing around), and then keep the rest alive until the finale, when you can kill another couple off (just so you’re consistent with the stakes). Obviously, the gay guy will not only survive, but get a boyfriend, too. And, drat, I’ve just revealed the plot of my novel. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

EDIT: The lesbian can get a pet. :innocent:


#13

Fixed your typos for you :slight_smile:

I can see the merit of having an important character die to add effect, but still not the protagonist if there is just the one. It just reminds me of ME3, when Mordin died I cried my eyes out, when Legion died I cried my eyes out, when Shepard appeared to die I got pissed


#14

If it´s written correctly then I have no problem with it.


#15

For the most part I’m against it. Sure if it’s via a meaningful heroic sacrifice, then it might be acceptable, but even… Well, that might be okay in a book, but not so much in a game - being railroaded into making a heroic sacrifice a la Mass Effect 3 just leaves a sour taste in the mouth at best, no matter how ‘meaningingful’ said heroic sacrifice is… Besides, as others have mentioned, the death of the protagonist is seldom pulled off well - often it’s just done for shock value; a last-dich attempt at leaving a lasting impression on the reader/gamer, or worse, as a way of giving the readers the finger (even it’s not the finger, it’s often done in such a way that it’s a clear declaration of ‘I’m offically done with this’ or the like).


#16

Thanks @DreamingGames and I’d definitely agree with you.

I’d actually be really interested in a piece of interactive fiction where you’re the Chosen One. It’s understood that you must sacrifice yourself to save the world, and your loved ones, right throughout the story. You’re loved and adored by all. But you get the choice not to, to run away in the face of certain death. Or to strike a deal with the villain. Or do something else in order to cheat your fated death, but do so in a not heroic way. You’re destroying your legacy, you’ll be reviled, but better that than dead. And when you approach your loved one, you discover it was the whole thing of just being with a hero, that they wanted. And everything in your life falls apart. And you’re again faced with the same choice, sacrifice the tatters of your life for the world, keep living through, or change your identity, and try and rebuild a life of not being Chosen or special anymore, and everyone hates you.


#17

No. Just. No.

Killing off the protagonist (most unavoidable deaths, really) will always feel cheap to me and I’m tired of it. If I spend a book/game/movie/whatever getting attached to a character, killing them off will do nothing but piss me off and make me feel like I wasted my time. (Still haven’t touched Mass Effect since the third game. That stupid ending threw me in a pit of depression for a week.)


#18

I’m all for THE FEELS, so if it was set up well, serves a purpose and was foreshadowed - go for it. Angst is my middle name. Taking away the one character you have spent all this time cheering for, who you have seen grow and mature can be a very powerful thing - if done right.

Mass Effect 3 fell on its face because as a game series which relied on the freedom of choice it forced you into very scripted endings that served almost no purpose.

The Walking Dead Telltale game however managed to make you care a ton about the fate of your player character AND said character’s death served a purpose. It wasn’t something that made you go “How stupid is this!?” like Mass Effect did, it set up a whole new season and let Clem mature. No character matured from your death in Mass Effect, hell they didn’t even really knew about it when it happened.

Persona 3 made you care about your character’s fate, too. You are a hero, did what no one thought possible and sacrificed yourself. It’s a noble sacrifice and while some might think it is a cop-out it served a clear purpose and fit the overall theme of the game quite well. It also didn’t come out of nowhere.

So, my opinion: Is it okay to kill off the protagonist? Yes. If the story sets it up nicely and in such a way that you do not feel cheated. Which can happen quite easily, so it needs to be considered carefully.


#19

Problems with the ending aside, at least with Mass Effect 3 the whole self sacrifice thing worked even if you weren’t the knight in shining armor type. You could at least see it as way of giving the last middle finger to the Reapers before you succumbed to your wounds since you were pretty much dying anyway by that point.

Didn’t work so well with Dragon Age: Origins. Good game overall, but it didn’t make much sense to sacrifice yourself when you could either let Alister or Loghain sacrifice themselves or just avoid the whole thing and sleep with Morrigan instead (or have one of the other two do it).

“Gee, death or sex? That’s a difficult choice…”

And Fallout 3 had about the most meaningless death pre-Broken Steel expansion. Made absolutely no sense to sacrifice yourself at all and it was even stupider if you were traveling around with a ghoul, super mutant or robot at the time.

“Yeah Sarah, you go in and do it. Be the hero, I’ll be alive reaping the benefits.”

But honestly I’m more sick of seeing the whole self-sacrifice of a protagonist, what I’d like to see more of is ignoble, mundane or random deaths of protagonists.

A good early example I can think of is Jason from Jason and the Argonauts. The guy goes through a pretty epic adventure and does some fairly heroic things, and how does it all end for him?

He’s alone, unhappy and dies by his own ship crushing him in his sleep. Lol.


#20

He deserved it (poor Medea). But, more generally, yes, Greek myths generally did include the hero’s death. For example, Heracles was accidentally poisoned by his wife; Odysseus was accidentally killed by his own son; Agamemnon was purposefully killed by his wife (or her lover); and Ajax Minor got to be killed by the gods themselves (although which one seems to depend on the exact myth). Only a few of them (Perseus, for example) got to die of old age.