This post was inspired by Zen Scribbles’s recent post Jack Did Not Have To Die!
Today we will be discussing something near and dear to my heart: when authors kill off beloved characters for no good reason.
Now, obviously authors can do whatever they want. If they want to kill off half their characters, that’s their choice. But what I implore authors to do before they start knocking off characters left and right is to consider the audience they’re writing for, and consider what impact these deaths will have on their readers.
Example #1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Deaths include, amongst others, Hedwig the Owl, Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks.
Why was it a bad idea to kill these characters? Because the entire series thus far had been about good overcoming evil — the idea that, if you’re true to your principles and willingly help others and try to do the right thing, you will succeed. This was a wonderful message to send to children … at least, until they read book 7 and found half their favourite characters dead.
Sirius Black’s death served a purpose — it was to teach Harry caution, to make him think things through before blindly jumping in. Dumbledore’s death forced Harry to man up and get s**t done. But Fred Weasley’s death served no purpose. Lupin and Tonks didn’t even get a death scene. And what purpose could there possibly be in killing off a fluffy owl?
I know that JKR was trying to impress upon us the horrors of war, but I feel that could have been done in a different way. Perhaps maim them, like she did to George and Bill Weasley. George RR Martin (Game of Thrones) can kill off all the characters he wants because that’s the world his story is set in, that’s the genre he’s writing for. But Harry Potter isn’t a gritty political intrigue — it’s about a boy hero facing down true evil and winning. And I believe that senseless deaths have no place in a series like that.
Example #2: Mockingjay (Book 3 of the Hunger Games)
Deaths include, amongst others (SPOILER ALERT), Finnick Odair and Primrose Everdeen.
Now, Finnick’s death I sort of understand, much as I’d rather not — he was deep within a warzone, after all, so death was a very real possibility. But Primrose’s death? Ridiculous. There was no good reason for her to be in Capitol when those bombs went off. She’s a child, for God’s sake. She should have been safely back in District 13 — by all logic, she would have been. And yet, there she was when President Coin’s ridiculous plan to explode everyone happened.
The point of her death, I assume, was to … um … screw up Katniss even more than she was already? I think Peeta’s alarming mental instability and constant attempts to kill Katniss had already screwed her up sufficiently — killing off her sister was just unnecessary.
Now, Suzanne Collins has more of a leg to stand on than JKR, because she had already established that her series involved killing mass amounts of people. But prior to Mockingjay, people had been killed in a context that actually made sense. Primrose being in Capitol during the final wave of attack made no sense. Not to mention that the assorted people back in District 13 who were Katniss’s friends and confidantes would have been looking out for her sister while she was away doing totally pointless things in the Capitol.
Pro Character-Killing Tip:
You can judge whether or not a character’s death is appropriate by viewing your readers’ reactions.
If they read the death scene in utter shock and scream, “Noooooooooo! [Insert Name of Character Here]! Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!!!!!”, then you did well. Congratulations. The death scene you wrote was touching and believable within the context of the story.
If they read the scene with an expression of increasing disbelief, followed by them snapping the book shut and saying, “That was just stupid. Why the hell would the author do that? That made no sense!”, then you might want to consider a rewrite.
Thus endeth the rant. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments.
Unrelated images of the day:
I have to agree. I killed a main character one time and cried like a baby. That unpublished manuscript holds the door to the laundry room open waiting for a rewrite