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… and Then the MC Died. The End.

A Writer's Musings

I recently read a review about a series where the Main Character died at the end – and the reviewer was not a happy kitten.

I admit that I’d be pretty upset if the main character I spent three, four, five, maybe more books rooting for died at the very end, and I’m sure you feel the same way.

But is that really such a bad thing? When I read a book, I want there to be a chance that the main character doesn’t survive it. If I can count on the main character being alive at the end, I know a pretty important part of the final struggle before I even start, and can stop worrying about the main character’s safety. Theyย may get hurt, possibly badly, but they won’t die.

Of course I want themย to survive, but that doesn’t mean that they haveย to just to appease the reader.

When I realised that there were more books in the Sword of Truth series than I’d known about I ordered the remaining four books. The author himself warned readers that, if we wanted a happy ending, we shouldn’t read past Book 11. I was prepared for the main characters to die – and it made the read far more exciting! I’d made peace with the main character dying at the end, and was prepared for it. I came to terms with my favourite characters probably not making it – but I didn’t know for sure, and that made it so much more thrilling to read on!

I don’t think killing your main character should be frowned upon. Of course readers will hope that they survive, but if there’s no chance of him or her dying at all I already know how it ends. I do read books for the journey, but I want some uncertainty about the destination, too.

If you’re a writer yourself you probably understand that sometimes, people have to die. It makes more sense for them to die than to live. In Rise of the Sparrows I tried to save a character, but ultimately let them die because it wouldn’t have made sense for them to be the only exception. Death in fiction has to be justified – characters shouldn’t just die because we feel like it – but their lives need to be justified as well. If there’s simply no way a character can survive something then they shouldn’t. Even if we’re talking about the main character.

But enough from me! What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that the main character should always live, no matter the odds? Or do you think it’s acceptable to kill your main character, if it’s justified? Get yourself a cookie and some tea, and let’s chat!

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23 Comments

  1. Having the main character always live is boring. I find tragic endings, whether the main character dies or not, are more memorable. I wish Harry Potter died. I thought the Epilogue was extremely unnecessary and eye rolling. I’m not sure how my series will end yet, but I’m hoping to make it really memorable.

    • I agree, I thought he might die as well. It’s nice and all that he didn’t, but a big showdown where they took down each other would have been more thrilling. I felt like I knew how it was going to end from the beginning – which isn’t a bad thing, but if every book I read ends like that it’s going to get boring. Where’s the suspense? They don’t need to die for the ending to be memorable, but I don’t want a feel-good ending every time.

      • I would have preferred that too. I agree. That’s the problem with endings. They’re too unrealistic because a lot of them end happily. Yes, there can be happy endings, but there should be an equal chance for other kinds of endings too.

  2. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, but I know this isn’t always believable. I agree with celstefani- the Harry Potter epilogue was cringy, and don’t get my started on the Hunger Games one- urgh!

    That being said, I have read some shockers when the MC dies, and I was totally unprepared, and have never quite forgiven the authors. It’s about balance. Is it necessary? Will their death aid the narrative?

    • I haven’t read that many books where the MC died, but I’m open for recommendations ^^ You’re right, it’s definitely about balance and necessity. They shouldn’t die just because.

  3. I think the best stories are the ones where there is that little bit of uncertainty over who will survive and who won’t. I do want them to live and get their happily ever after but I don’t want to know that will definitely happen. It does often anger me when an author bumps off a character I love but if you’re angry you’re feeling something which is the most important thing in a story for me.

    I’m basing this on the show rather than the books but Game of Thrones is brilliant for creating this uncertainty and that’s what makes it so addictive viewing.

    I do still enjoy books where you can pretty much tell the MC is indestructible but you do get a bit “yeah whatever” when it comes to battles or fights as you know they’ll be fine.

    • “…if youโ€™re angry youโ€™re feeling something…” Well said! What more can you want from a book? I might not be happy with the MC’s death, but it’s not about what I want, it’s about what happens in the story. If they can’t be saved, they can’t be saved – I’d rather read a book where the MC dies and it’s justified than read a book where he lives and it’s not. Game of Thrones is a great example!

  4. I agree with you wholeheartedly – if there is zero chance your character will die, then that takes away so much tension and suspense!

    • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll still enjoy the story itself if it’s great, but it takes the suspense away from the fights.

  5. It does take away part of the thrill if you are sure the main character won’t die. Not knowing, fearing the worst that could happen, helps me get into a story and is very important to me to connect to characters. I love the uncertainty of who will make it til the end of the story. I’d rather have a great MC die in the end if there’s a purpose to it, than get a happily ever after that doesn’t sound quite right. As long as the MC’s death is believable and serves the story, why not?

    • Well put, Donna! In the review I read the reviewer was so angry that the author had dared to kill the protagonist, even though it seems justified. When I finish a book I loved I’d like to think that they lived happily ever after, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. It can still be a fantastic ending, even if the MC dies!

      • Well, sometimes we get too attached to a character ๐Ÿ™‚ But that’s part of the game!

  6. If it’s adventure, sometimes it’s nice for the MC to die if it’s justified, not to say I don’t dread it, but it’s always interesting.
    I have a book that I love to read, it’s not even adventure or fantasy, it’s actually a YA romance novel, and one of the things I love about it is the fact that he doesn’t live. It’s my go to depression book when I need a sad read.
    For other characters though outside of the MC, I personally enjoy just killing people off what may seem randomly anyways. I think I just like plotting deaths though.

    • “sometimes itโ€™s nice for the MC to die” That’s almost too harsh ๐Ÿ˜›
      I don’t normally read romance novels, but you’ve got me intrigued! What is it called? ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Well, sometimes it just fits the story and I couldn’t see it any other way. It does still suck but then I’m like, oh cool, epic.
        I will have to find it on my book shelf and let you know the name…I think it’s called If he was with me” though….

  7. I’ve read just a few books where the MC dies and to be honest, I like it that way. But, i don’t mind if they don’t because it’s intriguing to find out how they escape or survive, even if the odds are stacked against them, of course, it does throw away a bit of the thrill.

    • I agree, if a character can pull off an escape even though the odds are against them (as long as it makes sense) I’ll like the character more! Good on them for managing it! As long as it’s skill, and not just because the author didn’t want to part with the character.

  8. I think you are right – deaths must be necessary for the story to continue on a new path or hold a certain purpose. Some deaths just happen for the shock factor but it seems forced and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Brilliant post.

    • It also frees up room for new characters to take the stage ^^ I agree, deaths should never happen just for the shock factor! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. What a great post, Sarina! You’ve touched on a really important debate. If we didn’t have to fear stakes, then it would take out so much of the conflict and suspense in these novels. As long as a character’s death is meaningful and not just simply put there for an emotional tug of war with the reader’s heart, then there should be no reason for an MC not to be killed off!
    When it is a long enough series, the reasons to kill off the MC are exponentially increased as it allows a breath of fresh air to fix what could become a stale plot!
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post my dear <3

    • Thank you!I think often writers let their characters live because they’ve grown attached, too, and because they don’t want to disappoint their readers, but sometimes it’s necessary. You can’t always save every character, and neither should we! They’re important to the plot, but only until the very end – they aren’t indestructible, and even if they are they have weaknesses! Their enemies aren’t doing a very good job if they don’t know what those are ๐Ÿ˜›

  10. I totally agree with everything you said. Like you, I’ll admit, it sucks when one of my favorite characters die. I’ll pitch a fit, vow never to read another one of the authors books, cry but then I eat a cookie and calm down. If a death is done right, then sure its going to hurt but it will only serve to make the story better. If it’s done solely for the purpose of a jaw dropping moment and does nothing to propel the story further, then that author gets a middle finger salute. People are going to get attached to characters and as a writer, that’s what we want–for readers to love our characters and feel for them. But sometimes they have to die and I wish readers understood that a bit more.
    Wonderful post as always!!

    • Thank you, Mollie! I just don’t see why the MC should have to live – as you said, we grow attached to our favourite characters and it hurts when they die, but at least the writers has made us feel something! I want to feel more than happiness when I read books, and mourning for a favourite character is the right kind of grieve to aim for. Which isn’t to say that MC should die, but it should be an option. No writer should feel that the MC has to live or else their readers are going to leave!

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