This post was originally written and posted February 23rd, 2015, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.
Woo boy, this topic has been a while in coming. I mean a while, I had this written down on the second list of topics I put together. Seeing as it’s one of the last on my third, it’s pretty clear I’ve been putting it off for a while. Granted, part of that was because every time I looked at getting around to it, I had a story coming out, and I really didn’t want to be that cruel, but since we’re looking at a month or so before Beyond the Borderlands is ready, I feel now I can safely tackle this topic without worrying a bunch of you. Well, except for the Beyond alpha readers, but that’s the price of being an alpha reader.
So, killing characters … Why do we do it? And how?
Well, let’s set some ground terms here. First of all, we’re not talking about red shirts, those well-meaning but ultimately diversionary characters whose only purpose for the story is to die a few scenes or minutes in just to emphasize that the situation is serious. Though these particular characters have their place (the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for example) in establishing a scene or mood, that isn’t what this particular blog is about.
And we’re not talking about killing background or secondary characters either. You know, the kind that’s just one step above red shirt, like a main character’s parent? The one who, if they die, will actually conveniently set up the main character for their journey of discovery and adventure? Or the one who’s always been a friend to the character, but doesn’t really get much screen time past a few mentions or small scenes and a hug, but then dies during or near the finale in a manner startlingly similar to a red shirt, never to be mentioned again except maybe once in passing?
We’re not talking about those. And to be fair, maybe we should at some point, because each one of those scenarios does come with it’s own laundry list of little cliches and storytelling tools as well as drawbacks. But today we’re not talking about those. No, today we’re talking about the most influential kind of character death.
The main character death.