Killing the Protagonist

Warning: Spoiler’ish and a tad dark.

So I would be willing to guess most writers have no trouble ‘killing’ in their work. Whether that be secondary or lesser characters or whether the antagonist gets it in the end. I would suggest that most writers have the ability to be rather bloodthirsty on paper. But what about the protagonist? Should they always be spared?

A while ago I watched a rather interesting Black Comedy named ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ where the writer in the story has a compulsive habit of killing her protagonist. She can’t help it and so over a number of years it is expected that with each new book the main character will meet his end.

I can see how this could become a habit with some writers but I have never really explored the reasons why this would become a compulsion. In works of crime fiction we are used to seeing secondary characters or acquaintances of main characters killed off early which of course will trigger some form of investigation or perhaps in the case of a loved one some form of vengeance. But we don’t grow fond of these characters and so the parting of ways is easy. They are part of the plot. We don’t particularly care that they are dead but we must establish the why.

From my own personal experience I have written about a dozen main characters and at this point only one has died. It was early in my writing journey and from an accidental overdose. There may be another death of one of my characters in the not too distant future. I am contemplating it. I would consider that particular death a main role too so I am treading carefully while I make that decision. But the only other death I can recall writing about was that of a secondary character and barely secondary at that.

J.K. Rowling toyed with the idea of killing off Harry Potter.

Those writers who feel they must kill protagonists sometimes do so for some form of disconnection in the case of J.K. Rowling and the film studios who made the Harry Potter franchise. They toyed with the idea of killing off Harry to avoid talk of more sequels. It would have been a closure of sorts and this would have made the letting go a little easier. But are there some out there who cant help themselves? Are there those that simply cannot disconnect with their character without taking them out at the end of each of their works? I have thought about it at times but common sense dictates that if a character is strong or resilient enough then surely serialization awaits. There are some detectives that are eventually killed off also so even serialization will not last.

In epic tomes I like to think that sometimes the heroes just get to sail off into the sunset like Frodo did at the end of Lord of the Rings. Tolkien didn’t kill his hobbits but he let the reader know they wouldn’t likely be heard from again.

In any case don’t let my pause to contemplate literary mortality stop you. Feel free to deal fate the way you would a hand of cards, if that is your Modus Operandi. But always know in your own mind the sense or senselessness when placing that full stop. Because once you end that critical sentence with that period, the full stop might as well be a bullet. It is muzzle of the still smoking gun you just used. Can you live with that decision?

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