One of my favorite scenes from the entire Star Wars franchise (all three films) was the Battle of Hoth. I had an AT-AT when I was a kid, and I’d recreate the scene where Luke figures out how to trip the four-legged machinations with the tow-ropes, bringing down the seemingly invulnerable beasts.
What’s so gripping about the scene isn’t just the cleverness of the tactic, or the long odds the rebels are facing, but the grim reminder of the uprising’s cost. The man who fired the tow rope, Dak Ralter, Like’s copilot, dies when another AT-AT crushes Luke’s snowspeeder.
Tell that to the actor who played Dak, who recently Tweeted to Star Wars writer Gary Whitta that he’s not quite dead yet. This would be quite a bit of rewriting to canon, but it’s already been done in the case of Boba Fett, whose armor supposedly saved him from the sarlacc that gobbled him down in the third and final Star Wars film made (so far). All it takes for a character to be resurrected is to gain popularity, it seems. But what happens when part of that popularity is due to the circumstances of their death? And why are writers and IP holders so loathe to let these characters go?
It drove me nuts as a comic book fan. Not only did Batman (and everyone else) stay roughly the same age for fifty years, but no character was allowed to die. Ever. The entire medium suffers as a result. It becomes a farce. Superman should be dead for good. And that doesn’t mean I don’t like Superman; I just don’t like the emotional castration that comes from learning to never mourn and never worry. These characters are valuable, and so they are unimaginatively immortal.
I see it as laziness as much as anything. Writers and IP holders marvel that they’ve created a character people like and who drives the plot forward, and they seem to worry they’ll never be able to create such a character again. That lack of confidence means clinging to fictional characters long after their story arc has been told. It means recycling the same internal conflicts with zero emotional growth. It means paying homage to all the lessons the character learned, by giving them memories of those conflicts, but no real transcendence, because then we can’t play out the same proven tropes with them over and over. Batman has not yet learned that his brand of capering isn’t helping Gotham, nor that Arkham isn’t the most secure of lock-ups. It’s hard to root for a guy like that. These characters become lifetime politicians with rubbish track records. What we need is change.
George RR Martin has it figured out. He can make you love (or more likely, loathe) a character in two paragraphs or less. Then kill that same character with a single word or a few gory pages. While you’re still recovering from the loss, he’s introduced you to another character you pour your heart into. Sure, it can be as tiring as someone who keeps fruit flies for pets, but it’s emotionally honest. And no one ever read a potential death scene in a Martin work and said, “Oh, she’ll be back.” Or: “He’ll probably make it through this, somehow.”
Oh no he probably won’t.
Even as a kid I was troubled by the pandering. Every Cobra jet GI Joe ever blew up made three white puffs: The smoke from the explosion, and then the inevitable two parachutes that opened after. Here’s a war where no one ever died, ever. Not even copilots. Sure, I wish real wars were like that, but until they are, I wish my fiction reflected real life. Not only to help me feel something powerful as an adult, and allow me to get invested in the characters I encounter, but to prepare me for the heartbreak of the real world. Dak is dead, dammit, no matter what some actor Tweets. And it was a good death. I bet Luke thinks of him often.
I recently wrote a trilogy of short works in the WOOL universe, and I killed off a character at the end that some readers were kinda fond of. For every “I fucking hate you” email and FB message I got, there were dozens that just relayed sadness. Even some who reached out in sympathy. Reached out to me like I needed consoling as well. I loved that. Because these readers knew that we had both lost someone. They must’ve known it wasn’t easy on me either. It never should be. Why would we want it to be?
It should mean something when someone survives, and it only does if there’s a proven alternative. But the real tragedy is that avoiding death costs us more lives than embracing it would. Reading the umpteenth battle between Spiderman and Doc Oc deprives us of a battle between the two unknowns that would take their place. The immortal crowd out the unborn. Not letting Superman stay dead means some incredible character that more reflects the modern age, with shades of gray and complexity of character, is not allowed to rise up and take his place. The audience has a limited amount of emotional empathy to spare. So the real shame is not allowing these heroes to die at the height of their powers, or perhaps even to die in disgrace.
I’m not fond of killing characters, but I do it more often than most writers. I trust that I’ll be able to come up with another character I’ll care about who will move the plot not just forward, but off in new directions. I long for more fiction that gives me the same honest twists and emotional lurches that life provides. I want to feel, as well as be entertained. And I want to get to know all the characters not yet dreamt of who sit on the benches, waiting for their shot.
I hate it when it happens, I’m not going to lie. I bawl. I complain like anyone else. I wish it happened more often.
72 replies to “Letting Go”
If you wish it would happen more often, you should read the books of Dawn McKenna (Low tide is the first). She’s recently published the first three, and is quite successful. I heartily recommend it. Just… y’know, be prepared to tear up a bit
I have to admit I utterly loathe being made a fruit fly lover when reading a book. I hate pouring my heart into a character and then having them killed off at the end of the chapter for a plot point. It’s what made me put down “The Swarm”, and it will prevent me from picking up GoT.
On the other hand, if a character death matters, if he or she is a Dak, that works for me. I have even killed a main character in a way that was a triumph. (And cried half a day.) I think death is so important and has such consequences that it should be used sparingly and be given the impact it deserves.
But yeah, characters shouldn’t be kept alive and turned into hollow images without a chance of personal growth for profit or out of fear.
Exactly. My personal preference for main character death is that each death needs to be critically important to the story, and that the consequences are long lasting for the characters. I agree 100% that the “they’re not rally dead, don’t worry” attitude detracts from my being able to take comics seriously, but the “oh, you like that character? They’re dead not” GoT style is just as bad. As a result, I have little interest in reading either.
I become very emotionally attached to characters and just bawl when they are killed off. I remember the first time I read Game of Thrones, I called my friend who had lent me the book crying and asked him why in the world he would make me read that. He told me to just keep reading. As much as it pained me that the character died, it made complete sense with the story line. It progressed the plot, and the series wouldn’t have worked without it. I feel that way about all the main character deaths in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I haven’t watched the show, so I don’t know how it’s portrayed that way. However, as far as the books go, I hate George R. R. Martin for killing off my beloved characters, but I also respect him for having the guts to make choices that progress the story even when it upsets readers. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve loved everything he’s done in all of the books, but speaking specifically to character deaths, I believe they’re well crafted.
“I think death is so important and has such consequences that it should be used sparingly and be given the impact it deserves.”
I agree with that.
I enjoyed reading the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire (Martin), but then, the more I read, the more I felt like a vulture awaiting in which way he was going to kill his next character.
It made me feel uncomfortable, so I stopped.
However, I agree that I, too, hate when a character is killed and then comes back to life.
Amen! I am sick of all the comic book remakes..who cares if Ben affleck is batman…I can never really get invested into these stories because I know the hero is never really in danger of dying. That is allure of GM…when he writes that kid being thrown out the window on page 40 no less..I flicked through the remaining 1000 pages and thought to myself….I am in for an emotional ride…and I loved it. When holsten dies in wool I was heartbroken that a good guy is killed off immediately( or early in the work. I didnt come to wool as short stories I read when the we’re all in one book.) But he loved his wife and was lost without her…he was supposed to die and I knew just like GM I found a story to sink my emotional teeth into and again loved it.
As a teenage girl all my friends, aunts, mother, grandmother etc all watched soap operas. I couldn’t stand the lazy writing. everyone gets amnesia…it was a cheap recycled way to get you invested emotionally but never worked for me. I believe in creative license but creative is the operative word.
Death is a real thing. Loss never goes away. Just dealt with, some days better than others. In fiction,death and subsequent emotions primes the feelings without the real loss…I read to be in contact w feelings and to connect with the world where death and loss are a real factor. Happy endings are not always satisfying.
Keep up the mayhem ..I trust in your creative license. As for bringing back Luke’s coopilot, I am betting oif the writers cave to the demand to bring him back….I berting on a dream sequence (definitely not original but its less offensive than the amnesia tact)
The Superhero genre isn’t my thing per se, but I don’t begrudge the legions of fans who love it. One of the things that has kept me from diving in is the agelessness, lack of death, constant reboots, etc. That said, I think there is a place for new generations of writers to contribute with their own stories. Some have created their own characters, while others want to contribute new stories for pre-existing characters. Calling it mere laziness seems to me to denigrate the entire Kindle Worlds concept, not to mention fan fiction in general.
Some readers like cozy stories where they “know” their favorite character is going to make it in the end. Others like, as GRRM puts it, “to be afraid to turn the page.” I think there’s a place for both, and they feed different needs.
When it came to 80s cartoons, I totally agree. I loved G.I. Joe, but like you, one of my biggest complaints was that with all the violence, no one ever died. But then Robotech came and changed everything.
Regarding the actor who plays Dak, I imagine that he just likes Star Wars, and wants to be involved in the new films. Resurrecting the character could be just a tongue-in-cheek way of suggesting that.
My other comment seems to have vanished or is in approval limbo.
I just wanted to echo Dan above.
80’s cartoon. Robotech: The death of Roy Fokker.
Yes, definitely. Roy Fokker dies, there is fallout from that, and the very next episode, another major character dies. Big double whammie.
Never mind Khyron and his lady friend. Epic story. So glad I contaminated my brain with those ideas. :)
Drawing Invid and veritechs ended up taking me in a path to my visual effects work. :)
>> One of my favorite scenes from the entire Star Wars franchise (all three films)
I see what you did there. Well done sir, well done.
Agree wholeheartedly. I have to say that was one of the most interesting and realistic aspects about the George R.R. Martin “Game of Thrones” series — that he wasn’t afraid to let major characters get killed off. And, of course, that he is talented enough to build up some of the other characters to take their place in readers’ imaginations.
You want to see change in a character, (and yes I’m going to plug my work here), check out the books Pizza Man, Taco Bandits, and Chuck A Chick, in that order). The character, David Wild aka The Wolf, a pseudo-super hero by way of Kiss-Ass and Watchman, makes a dramatic change over the course of these three books. All of the characters do and because of the baddies they battles many will die, but this is just life. Great post Hugh!
Off topic, but you might find this funny, Hugh. I loved the Hoth scene from Empire Strikes Back as a kid, but I can’t watch it today without ruining it for my children. I shake my head and mutter, “Why don’t they attack the AT-AT’s from the rear?”
I think that every time, among many, many other tactical mistakes throughout the series. Attack the AT-AT’s from their rear blind spot, copy the Death Star data to multiple encrypted partial couriers, etc. And don’t even get me started on the sheer blindness and strategic idiocy of everyone involved in the prequels, because that list is a mile long.
Read Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything.”
It’s a Superman story addressing the problems with creating stakes (both emotional and physical) for a man who ultimately can never change (largely because he is an archetype and IP).
It was written before the whole Death of Superman thing. And imho it’s a more thoughtful take on upping the ante without resorting to comicbook death gimmickry and future obligatory resurrection.
Or Heroes 1st season- much as I liked Silar as a villain… to keep the character around after season 1… kind of killed the show for me.
I made it through season 2 but suddenly nothing really mattered.
They should have stayed true to the story arc they’d built, let the character stay dead, and moved on.
Fiction is fiction. It’s made up. It’s unreal. It doesn’t, in fact, exist. So don’t worry about dead/dying characters. They are pretty much like that “disposable” Star Trek character beaming down with Kirk and Spock. You know the guy’s not going to make it back. I enjoyed Star Trek more than Star Wars, because Star Wars turned future space life into cowboys and Indians in space. Shoot-em-ups and black and white “good guys and bad guys” humdrum characters. Kirk and Spock were often outside the box, finding solutions to inter-galactic social problems. Inspired by bigger ideas than battles and blowing things up – that boring American fixation. Lets kill off all the characters who are all about solving conflict with violence. Violence is NOT entertainment.
So… get rid of an entire class of entertainment you don’t like, but who cares because they’re just words on a page anyway? Not going to happen, and many people are far more emotionally invested in the stories they read, and the characters they read about, than that.
What George RR Martin did that was an act of genius was, by killing off (SPOILER) Eddard Stark, he made readers aware that nobody is safe. Nobody at all. So when you read the books you are always on edge waiting to see who expires next. And of course, he doesn’t dissappoint.
Having said that the rest of us still get pulled up for killing off our characters, and I’m not altogether convinced readers are on board with this as much as we writers might like.
Killing off characters has, rightly or wrongly, become the one thing that GRRM is known best for. He has legions of fans, yes, but he undoubtedly has scores of fantasy readers who avoid his work because they refuse to become emotionally invested in a main character with a high chance of death.
I’ve always seen is as reading about a world that happens to have a cast of characters vs reading a character’s story. To each their own.
I suddenly feel much better about the character I killed in my recent epic fantasy trilogy, because I AGONIZED about doing it, and about whether I should have them have a triumphant resurrection scene (in some cases it doesn’t help to be a Catholic). In the end, I decided that they needed to be dead–full stop–and I sniffled like a ninny writing it. My readers tell me it worked, but then we both sniffle together. I feel ridiculous! Or at least I did. Now I feel SLIGHTLY less ridiculous. Lol. Thank you, Hugh. :)
Two other things I meant to add in the piece but forgot:
1) Just because a character is dead doesn’t mean you can’t write about them. Why can’t Batman have died in the 70s, and we just keep writing new capers he solved that took place before his death? When I kill a character, I know I can go back and write about them at any time. I didn’t cover everything.
2) In the comic book world, what happens by not killing characters is you have to keep making them more and more powerful. Because they survived the last epic battle, so the next epic battle has to be more epic. This leads to the problem DC has, where everyone is super-cosmic in their powers. Even Batman, somehow. But especially the Lantern stories and the Supe stuff. It ratchets one direction only. Makes it boring.
I hear you loud and clear about the importance of characters being allowed to die, but sometimes its fun when they come back. Ian Malcolm’s death in Jurassic Park was all kinds of meaningful and was the smart decision when Crichton wasn’t planning a sequel. But The Lost World needed Malcolm and the book wouldn’t have been as fun without him. Doyle famously killed Sherlock Holmes, but readers didn’t want him to be dead and Doyle apparently agreed with them in the end as he brought him back.
Picking on Batman awful hard in this post:( Expecting him and his universe to be realistic about death when nothing else is realistic is kind of odd. If you wanted realism, why are you reading Batman? And Batman is just about the most elastic character in history as he’s continuously reinvented. He’s a mythological figure at this point and future archaeologists will find no small amount of artifacts from our time with yellow-circled bats on them because this is a character that America values.
And more, although I’m all for new characters, I enjoy seeing fresh interpretations on these classic American myths. Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Movie, Smallville, and Man Of Steel all touch on many similar plot points, but they’re not exactly the same story. There’s a wide array of contextual differences and each captures a snapshot of the values of the age that produced them. If I had a time machine and I could go 200 years in the future, one of the first things I’d want to see is what’s become of Batman and Superman.
Fiction can move us and teach us, but it can also just be fun. Sometimes I’m ready for Saving Private Ryan, but other times I like that the soldiers get parachutes. I know I and everyone I love is going to die and sooner than I’m ever going to want it and that evil will sometimes triumph, but after a hard day’s work, what’s wrong with sometimes enjoying a fantasy where the good guys win and live forever?
Well said, Mr. Howey. I love Doctor Who, but this problem of compounded epic-ness is exactly where it has gone wrong in the modern era. Forgive my ignorance, but where are these 3 new installments in the Silo universe published? Thanks.
I didn’t see anyone reply to your question directly, so I thought I would. The 3 stories are within the Apocalypse Triptych books which Hugh and John Joseph Adams put together: ” The End is Nigh”, The End is Now”, and ” The End has Come”.
Wonderful books filled with brilliant tales.
On a tangent, Phoebe Gloeckner’s movie The Diary of a Teenage Girl is history making. It just came out. I only recall the Persepolis movie having a female creator behind it. Other comic book movies that star female characters are written by males. Not to bash the male creator, it just is what it is. Also, Ms. Gloeckner has a medical illustration background that puts her ahead of the typical comic book mold. You might want to check her work out.
On the flipside though, the one thing worse than everyone important being immortal is when a great character dies a cheap and avoidable death (usually in the form of a self-sacrifice where you can see a dozen ways they could have done it without killing themselves) because that’s the only way the author can think of to add extra emotion etc to a scene.
SPOILER ALERT FOR DIVERGENT SERIES!!
I felt exactly that way about Allegiant. Exactly.
I admit, I always wonder if those who didn’t see the inevitability of Tris probably dying, and absolutely after Caleb was picked for a suicide mission, were even reading the same parts of the books. Her surviving would have fit a YA romance (which the books never were, they were dystopian coming-of-age), but it would have been much less realistic in the world that was built and for the character she became, reckless and excessively self-sacrificing.
When I was 8 I used to read a short lived comic called Starlord (no relation to the Marvel character). In two of the stories (Strontium Dog and Mind Wars), major characters died. Properly died as not coming back via some form of twisted logic. I kinda gave up on American comics after that. Well, until Alan Moore…
Great article. As a reader, character deaths can pack an emotional punch for me. IE: The deaths in Harry Potter were well done IMO. But when a writer starts getting rid of his characters just because, I disconnect with the story. I no longer care, because the writer doesn’t seem to care, and then I don’t trust the writer and the story he is taking me on. It becomes more of a shock value thing. As a writer, to me death is easy; you don’t have to develop that character anymore. It’s an easy way out instead of coming up with a way to escape the corner I wrote myself into.
I will admit that I HATE when the main character dies. A friend wrote a fanfic and killed off the main character and I was really pissed off about it. lol. (she warned me, so I wasn’t blindsided.) If anyone else had written that fanfic, I would have skipped it if I knew the character died. However, I don’t have a problem with someone close to the main character dies because that can add a lot of emotion. I also don’t mind bringing a character close to death, and maybe someday, I’ll kill off the main character in my series, but at the moment, I’m trying to let him fade away, eventually to retire to live a life he always wanted. To that end, I created a spinoff, but fans of the character keep writing to me begging me to keep the original character around.
I deal with enough death at work–I don’t want it in my books unless it’s the bad guy. Seriously, when you talk about someone pulling the plug on life support –well, I am that person “pulling the plug”. Some days I think I should carry a sickle around with me. (don’t get me wrong, we do our best to save people too!)
Even though I don’t want characters in my favorite novels to die, I still like to worry that they might, and just the worry is enough. I don’t need for them to actually die at the end.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I agree completely, and I think that especially in America we have this weird notion that immortality, in whatever form, is always preferable to a limited time on earth. But when you eliminate the possibility of ever losing something like a life, it’s no longer so precious. We take so much for granted already – our easy access to modern conveniences, food, shelter – that we forget that every moment we have is precious, because it will never come again. That’s magical. I truly appreciate your candor in both your writing, and in sharing your thoughts, Hugh. Thanks for being such a voice of reason and inspiration!
On the other hand, it is possible to write a compelling novel around the idea of a man who is biologically immortal – e.g. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love. It isn’t “immortality by wishful thinking”, it’s designed as a real premise.
As rejuvenation technology passes from science fiction into actual reality, possibly in our lifetimes, it will provide the context for a new human experience, one not infected with what Aubrey de Grey calls the Pro-Aging Trance. Currently human life is normally limited to well under a mere century of existence, despite the fact that our knowledge and minds can grow till the day we die. As the inevitability of death by aging is removed, perhaps the idea that living longer is escapism will be replaced by a greater regard for life.
As well, when men start to live for centuries, it will be the first time in history that a truly long term perspective can exist in individuals, not from reading about history, but by personally having lived it continuously. I think it will be transformative to civilization to have men who’ve had centuries to mature themselves and their thought processes. What can geniuses do with 300 years of sustained thought rather than a few decades of brilliance that dims rapidly as aging corrodes away their brains and minds? What projects will be achievable when one man with a long term goal can work on his own vision for centuries using a level of resources he can compound over time beyond the ability of those with short lifespans? (Think building a real starship.)
I’d agree in most cases that resurrecting dead characters is a bad idea, I do have to say that there are two resurrections that changed my reading life forever. The first, of course, is Wesley’s resurrection by Miracle Max in the Princess Bride (along with the fakeout dream sequences beforehand). Mostly BECAUSE that was schlocky and silly- it was the first time I’d experienced anyone playing with “The Rules” and the fourth wall. It taught me something about storytelling and the role of a writer that I don’t think any other book has done (at least for me).
And the second was Gandalf. Maybe it was because the first time I read it, I was at an impressionable age. Maybe it was more the way my father read it TO me without giving it away at all. Maybe it was because the death was sold so well in the first place and the resurrection came at such a dark, dark point, so unexpectedly. Or maybe it was because there was a real cost to Gandalf’s revival. He wasn’t the same afterward. And his time was limited. Tolkien liked to call it a “eucatastrophe,” and for me it was basically a literary miracle (and I don’t mean that in a light or dismissive way). I know there are vastly superior works of literature out there, and I’ve enjoyed many of them, but that scene, that moment of unexpected, unbelievable joy, is probably the scene that transformed me from someone who mildly enjoyed books to an avid, lifelong reader.
Comics (American, that is) is of course the poster boy for abusing this, because they’re committed to keeping characters they’d had since the 1930s. With that much material, continuity is really more a joke than anything else– they’ll use what they want, but nothing sticks any longer than they want it too.
Worst of all, those comics have *tried* to create honest deaths and meaning. Jean Grey shocked the whole comics world when she died, stayed dead, and was never forgotten… until, a few editors later, some genius said “wouldn’t it get attention if…” Or Barbara Gordon being put in a wheelchair (by a classic *Alan Moore* story, no less) made her as Oracle more popular than she’d ever been as Batgirl… but sooner or later…
US comics *have* done it right. But only if we look only at that one storyline and forget that the status quo always wins.
Part of the problem with killing off these characters is the fact no one for saw that they would not just end. No one saw they would be around 60-70 years later. The truth of the matter is, these character support many peoples live. I watch guys at comic conventions drawing these characters, making money off them with con sketches, who never, as far as I know, worked on these characters for those companies. For get the people who actually did. As to being able to replace them, that has proven to be not so easy a task. Quite a number of NEW characters have been created by VARIOUS companies and INDIVIDUALS creator owned concepts, but all most NONE have gained the type of traction that SPIDER-MAN or SUPERMAN have, and their like. So, while it is easy to say create the new, it has proven not so easy to do. I laud the idea…but in fact almost all have failed. What I loved about meeting you was, you succeeded. You had an idea, you followed through and it happened. I love a good success story. That you are a good guy on top of that, I love even more. Hopefully your run will be long and as you create more, new series, or even individual stand alone books, you will find the same success that allows you to keep following the path you are on. That said, right now, there is only one STAR WARS, STAR TREK, BATMAN, HULK, CAPTAIN AMERICA and so on. Despite what we might think, it is a rare thing to create this type of IP.
Yes, let the story end. And as characters carry the story…then must end. Either in death or in end of series/novel.
However, re-telling a story with a new viewpoint in a different medium is fine, as long as that also…ends.
Re GRRM, have any of the 4-6 MAIN characters died? Don’t think so…
And we all know Jon Snow is coming back…
Well, like Hugh said every now and again a character will make it. But it has to mean something. And I can’t wait to find out more about John Snow’s future role. Fried white walker anyone?
Remember The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep: A New Way Of Getting Children To Sleep?? It seems to be gone from the ebook section..any thoughts?
Random House bought it. The first thing a publisher does when they buy a bestseller is make sure customers can no longer purchase that bestseller.
I wonder if they will sell it again. They must have paid them a lot.. I heard Bella Forrest author turned down her offers or so she said when I messaged her or him or whoever the author is…
Actually, the book/ebook is now back on Amazon for sale. And now under the new publishers name. But I don’t see the different languages, just English. Thanks for that info. I actually bought the ebook cause I was so curious and wow, I must admit, the book really sucks. I guess when well marketed, some books can sell. I found it very bland, boring, and barely any pics. Well, maybe it really did make me fall asleep or want to lol
A group of us were talking about this at my day job today–about how it can sometimes be difficult for an author to kill off a main character after investing so much into them.
You can’t just backspace on the page and say, “Yay! They’re alive, again!”
Deep down you still know how things play out. You may be bawling through the scene as you’re writing it, and the people at Starbucks or Panera Bread may have to ask if you’re all right.
“I’m fine. It’s just the onions…”
“You have hot chocolate.”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
I like your perspective on the issue, and it makes sense. I love most of the Marvel movies, but I can see limitations in other studios doing origin stories and reboots over and over again.
Thanks for sharing! Have an awesome night!
Great article. I totally agree.
Hmm. .. maybe that’s one of the reasons I am enjoying the TV “adaptation” of The 100. They established early on in the first season that they would not be afraid of killing some important characters when the story needed it. It adds an emotional depth to it.
David Wong did the Eddard Stark thing one better, in his brilliant and fun debut novel.
You knew before you cracked the cover open that no one was safe.
In fact, you knew the moment you read the title.
The book was called: “John Dies At the End”
I never understood the fascination with Boba Fett. The only thing he did was follow the Falcon to Lando’s mining colony. The rest of the time he just stood around.
Anyway… I agree with you, Hugh, about the immortality of characters, but GRRM went too far in the other direction in my opinion. I gave up reading after the Red Wedding (third book I think, but it’s been so long ago now I’m not sure) when I ran out of characters to root for other than Arya and Bran? (the crippled Stark boy). Those two, however, featured so little in the books I didn’t feel it was worth my time. I had no interest in reading about characters who were largely reprehensible, and, seemingly, the only ones not vulnerable to GRRM’s axe. There should be an element of danger present for the “heroes”, which is why I was never a fan of Superman, but the reader shouldn’t be made to fear an emotional commitment either. After a while in GoT, the reader or viewer ceases to create strong attachments because they know that axe will come.
The point at which that happens is going to be different for different people, but having an environment in which your reader is afraid to make an emotional investment in your characters because they know that investment will never pay off is a mistake, long term.
I’ve often wondered if GRRM isn’t involving everyone in a grand social experiment to see if he can get us all to root for the bad guys over the even-worse guys because all the good guys are dead.
I wrote a post recently about a tragic event in my life involving the death of someone I love. The post got more attention than I was expecting (1,000 views in a few days, which is a big deal for me). Aside from feeling a bid cruel for having posted it so publicly, I also wondered if that’s what authors like George RR M feel when they write about death and it affects the reader deeply (and affects the author, I’d hope).
But that isn’t what motivated me to comment. My favorite thing about this post is that you pointedly ignore the existence of Star Wars episodes I-III, as if they don’t exist.
As far as comics and killing characters go, Image comics does it best. But you can’t fault Marvel or DC for not killing their cash cows. Their business model is predicated on being able to put out monthly content. To have left superman dead would have been to abandon one of their (DC) big three. For the better part of the last four decades, a sum of roughly 20 characters have largely carried both franchises. Multiple generations of children (and adults) have enjoyed the stories.
With that said, I understand your point. Limited run series from Image, Dark Horse, or even the Big two have been significantly better as far as characters go. Look at series such as Saga by Brian Vaughn and Manhattan Project by Hickman, or even The Walking Dead and Precher (Ennis) for stories that have emotional resonance. Though these stories and characters will not last 40 more years (ala captain America), they do resonate much more now.
That’s just it. Do these IP holders think they’re incapable of creating new heroes? They act like it. We can’t know, because they don’t try.
And even if you killed Batman, you could release a comic called “Batman: Case Files.” Who wouldn’t get weepy reading old adventures of the Dark Knight knowing he isn’t around anymore? I would.
Jon Snow is not dead.
There is an interesting pair in Serenity.
Book is killed because Ron Glass wasn’t available for the film. But Book’s death doesn’t have any impact for movie goers who weren’t obsessive fans of the TV show. If the movie is the first Firefly you see, Book is just a background character. Wash’s death hits much harder for new viewers. They’ve come to know him over the course of the movie. Was it a senseless death? Yes. He didn’t die heroically, sacrificing himself to save the others. He died after he had heroically saved everyone. Is it a plot driven death? I’d say it’s a structural death. And it’s beautifully timed.
The heroes have just overcome the greatest obstacle they have faced so far, and that they or the viewers anticipate. Now they just have to make the final dash, activate the McGuffin and the movie is over. At this point there are no expendable characters to kill off to signal that things are serious; no redshirts, no Ensign Ricky. Wash’s death /at/that/moment/ tells the viewers that the bad guys are still pushing hard, that victory is not certain, that anyone can be lost. The final few scenes are many times more intense than they would otherwise be.
Much as I hate that death, I admire the skill with which is was crafted. Wash was killed while doing his touchdown dance in the end zone. He had his moment of glory, but he wasn’t killed during his moment of glory. His death was momentous and stupid at the same time. It’s the stupid that racks up the tension. Anyone can go at any moment, not just when they’re sacrificing themselves heroically. The rules that make us confident we know how the last few minutes will play out do not apply.
There have been stories in the comic book continuation of Firefly set before both these deaths. You don’t have to undo the death to revisit the character.
And I agree with gabby. Bringing Silar back ruined Heroes for me, even though I loved Silar as a villain.
And I will never watch that movie because it was a senseless death for the exact same reason: they thought they MIGHT restart the show and the actor wasn’t going to be available if they did. Great reason to ruin the movie on a maybe. I’ll never forgive that and never consider the movie canon for the TV show I love.
Hugh, I completely agree with you. Resurrections most often feel too convenient and fan-driven to evoke any meaningful emotional response to the character’s return. I also appreciate the deep sense of closure that follows the devistation of losing a character held close-to-heart.
I must add to this by saying I need some closure for Molly Fyde. I’ve read everything you’ve written at least twice, and it’s killing me not knowing if the story is over or not. I know a fifth book was originally in the works before wool took off and your time became a precious commodity, (which was extremely well spent, as the Wool and Shift series were amazing.)
That being said, I just have to know: Have we seen the last of Molly Fyde? Is it time to pull my eyes away from the horizon and let go?
Part of the problem there is few people have read the epilogue to the fourth book, which was removed from the print and ebook editions. It provides more closure. I’ll write more in this series, I just don’t know when. For now, imagine a “Happily Ever After.” Even though it won’t be. :)
One of my favourite authors growing up (and still), was Katherine Kerr. In he fantasy series she does what few authors do – regularly kill off her main characters! It was refreshing, and it made me really FEEL the danger the characters were in – because I knew that their chances of survival were appropriate to the situation, rather than relying on some inevitable last-page implausible rescue. Her useful trick was that her books were based on reincarnation, featuring the same characters over and again as they were reborn, thus allowing some of them to have really epic and gruesome deaths, whilst still returning (eventually, and often quite different – sometimes even as the opposite gender!). Man, I LOVE her books, and it still brings a thrill to me when I remember how a certain character died, the heroism and sacrifice, the anguish I shared with that character’s friends and loved ones… It’s made me want to write a reincarnation-based series ever since. So watch this space :)
I had a favorite villain who took over one of my novels and got himself taken out of the story in a most surprising way. I wanted to stop him because he was such a very good villain, but he had the bit in his teeth.
I very much enjoy the “chess-game” story where the characters are moving quickly (figuratively and literally), the stakes are high, and they’re picked off heroically, tragically, or otherwise. Martin mastered this to the point where you’re not even sure who the main character *is*. When writers cared deeply for their characters, when they wept over their character’s death as they wrote it – it shows, and makes for a more compelling tale.
The other thing I don’t really get is the continuous ‘reboots’ of stories and characters that we loved. How many times can you tell Spiderman story? And each spiderman story is slightly different, yet really the same one we heard over and over again.
I hate to be the one to jump off topic (I did that in one of Hugh’s talks too. Sorry) but where can I find this trilogy of short stories in the WOOL universe? Is it seperate from the Wool, Shift, and Dust? I’ve looked on Amazon with no joy.
They’re in the Apocalypse Triptych. The first is called “The End is Nigh.” Edited by myself and John Joseph Adams.
Awesome! I had seen that but not realized it was there. Going to go grab it right now. Thanks, Hugh!
Hugh, I haven’t read any of your books, but I’m waiting on that Wool movie for sure, if there ever is one. I write and publish on Amazon. However, I do read your blogs, look forward to the next one, especially if it relates to KU new pay system and selling/payments stuff that authors relate to.
I always think it is hilarious when Marvel is about to kill off a classic character and it makes the news. They never truly “die”. They never invent new characters anymore either–we’re still worshipping the same superheroes the kids loved 70 years ago. Rather than creating new characters, we just change the race or the gender of an existing character (again making the news) and call it “progress”.
In my opinion, this is why Dumbledore will forever be superior to Gandalf.
My difficulty is NOT killing all my characters off. I guess if you are writing a character that has a life story, death is pretty much the logical conclusion, especially if they have a conflict-filled existence. In terms of superhero comics, to me they are more an eternal archetype, reflecting what is happening in the society of the time of writing, than an individual. If you’re going to save a character from the possibility of irreversible death is to set them apart from everyone and that can take away from our feeling of empathy.
As a non-writer, I’m trying to reconcile your thoughts on killing characters with the fact that I’m reading a novel that some say “never should have been” and some say “perfectly continues” the deceased original author’s vision of a character.
I’m enjoying The Girl In The Spider’s Web.
It’s just SO MUCH pressure to come up with a thoughtful opinion…
Yeah, I get in my own head quite a bit, actually.
Will never forget the scene back in ’83 when Luke removed Darth Vader’s mask, and some guy chuckled nervously in the dark at the cinema. We we all riveted, what IS he going to look like? And then the gentle, ageing, wise face.
And Samuel L Jackson dying so early in Deep Blue Sea? What the hell was that?