Monday, September 19, 2011

Character Assassination

I've been thinking a lot lately about the various ways writers kill off characters, partially because I'm in the process of doing it again myself. As anyone who's read Kate's blog last week HERE and also HERE already knows, the German soap opera, Alles Was Zaehlt, recently killed off a very popular character. Unlike Kate, I've watched the episodes in which this death occurred. Much as I hate, hate, hate the fact that the character was killed,  I have to admit they did a good job. In fact, I was actually surprised at how well it was handled in part because, too many times, it's really not handled well at all. 

So, here's my informal mini-list of the do's and don't's of character assassination.

#1. It ought to have a reason. "It happens like this in real-life" is not a reason. A lot of things happen in real life that don't appear in fiction because they either have no meaning or they don't advance the story. 

"The actor wanted to leave the show" isn't a reason either. Although it may just qualify as an excuse.

#2. It ought to be a fitting end. Let's talk about the Sarah Connor Chronicles for a minute here, cause they've got one of my least favorite character death's of all time, that of Derek Reese. Derek was a great character. Not your typical vanilla hero, Derek had depth and substance and an intriguing amount of darkness.  Also, he was played by Brian Austin Green who'd come a long, long way from his Beverly Hills 90210 days.  When he was killed--off camera, yet--by a random, stray bullet and viewers didn't even know about it until the other characters were stumbling over his body on their way out the door, it was just wrong.  

When Kate was killed on NCIS--also via a single bullet to the head--that made sense. Someone was shooting at her. Someone killed her on purpose. The other characters actually seemed to notice she was gone. With Derek...not so much. 

I had the same problem with a certain fantasy series about an underage wizard who shall not be named here. Far too many characters suffered deaths that left me feeling less than I should, where my primary reaction was, less, "oh, no!" and more "that's it

#3. It ought to be plausible.  A brilliant neuro-surgeon on an unlikely mission to retrieve a donated heart by himself (cause yeah, that happens all the time!) stops in the path of a speeding train and he's not smart enough to get out of the car???  Yeah, I don't buy it either. 

I'm sure there's a lot more I'm forgetting, but it's late and I'm tired and I have my own character to kill. I promise his death will be both fitting and plausible and definitely occurs for a reason. 


Meg Benjamin said...

Probably the most harrowing TV death for me was Buffy's mom. It fit all of your criteria and it was an episode which should have won an Emmy for everybody and I never want to see it again.

Erin Nicholas said...

Killing people isn't an every day occurrence for me-- in real life or fiction ;) but I did kill a very minor not-even-quite-secondary character in one book and it was *so* hard! I don't know how people do it regularly. But as a reader, your list definitely works for me. Except, of course, in the case of a series about a certain underage wizard-- I happily and completely abandon all disbelief and rules at the door (bedroom or theater) with that one! *G*

Kelly Jamieson said...

Geez I'm trying to think if I've ever killed *anybody*... Gabe's mom in Power Shift. But she was a very very minor character. It did have a place in the story, though and was an important turning point for Gabe. Hmmm. I think I must kill more people...

daydrmzzz said...

B..But.... what if we don't want him to die *sniffle*