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I'm an aspiring writer who has been writing stories since Kindergarten (None released). Obviously I have a lot of experience, but I'm still unsure with extremely important things. As all of my Novels have never been released and all my short stories have either been scrapped or again, not released. I feel I'm finally ready to release my first Novel, which I have been working on for 3 months or so.

I've been planning ahead for awhile or so, but I'm pondering whether at the end of the story I should kill my main character. FYI: I don't plan on creating a series. In my experience most novels' sequels are never as good as the original, and I don't want to be known as the guy who ruined a good book by making it a series.

For a rundown of my character, hes a 34 year old man who grew up under abusive parents. He was moved to a foster home when he was six, and this plus the parents inflicted some serious mental issues. When he was 15 he ran from the foster home and started a petty crime business, stealing from houses and pick pocketing.

When he was 19 he committed his first murder, and loved it so much he became a vicious serial killer.

When he's finally arrested he becomes the subject of a work in progress government project: They take evil criminals, plant a special data chip inside their brain, and then send them into the world making them think they're someone else.

After a few years of thinking he's a different person, he gets into an accident which damages the data chip in his head. Over the next week the chip keeps shutting down slowly, until it's on the brink of a complete shut down.

The main character suddenly has a urge to kill again, though he still thinks he's someone else. He gives into the urge and becomes a serial killer once again Throughout the last bits of the story the reader notices his mental decline into complete insanity. In the last chapter, when the police are closing in on his position, his chip completely shuts down. All of the memories come flooding to him, and just as he remembers who he is.........

ANNDDD that's where I'm stuck. I want to kill him off, thought I don't know if I should. My goal is to make the reader hate him, even though he's the main character. I've researched several things and read a lot of books to try and find a solution, but I can't decide if killing him would be a good idea. I'm afraid if I kill him the reader will feel the story was a waist of time, but I also think if I killed this vicious killer the reader will get what they may want: the character's death.

Any help?

(NOTE: I know there is already an answer, but that's for good main characters. This is for bad.)

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    Welcome to Writers! Your question has been asked before. I would suggest you look at this question. It also has links to some other similar questions. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Aug 26 '15 at 23:52
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    You can't have a protagonist that the reader doesn't like. Why would they want to keep reading? The story is about the protagonist, if your protagonist is unlikable, it makes sense that the reader won't want to read about him. A dark protagonist is one that is 'bad', but still redeems himself to the reader by having a desire to be better, even if he doesn't admit it to himself right away. The rules about killing protagonists are the same for dark as for normal. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Aug 27 '15 at 3:33
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    @TommyMyron Meh, I dunno. A protagonist's "desire to be better" is neither here not there for me. In fact, I usually prefer morals to be fairly secondary in any story. To me, if the character is interesting, if I identify with them on some level (and I usually have a lot more fun identifying with their negative qualifies), and if the character really owns whatever it is they are up to, they can be the devil himself. I'll still like em. – Misha R Aug 27 '15 at 6:40
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    If readers cannot empathise with the main character, they will not read the book. For a good example of the serial killer that people can empathise with, look at Dexter; it works because he specialises in killing serial killers. However, you can end up disliking and even hating what a good character becomes; consider the fall of the everyman (e.g. the main character in Breaking Bad) as an example of this. This is difficult to do properly, so make sure you attempt very early on to get the reader to empathise; look at the tricks others have used to do this to ensure the reader stays with you. – Craig Sefton Aug 27 '15 at 8:53
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    On a side note - 3 months is quite a short timeframe to get a whole novel release ready. How much critique have you taken? How many times have you read it through? – superluminary Oct 6 '15 at 19:48
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Everything that happens in a story should happen for a reason. And the main reason is to impress the reader.

That said, yes, you can kill your character, but only if you make it meaningful.

Character deaths in stories have two reasons: to drive the plot forward and to evoke emotions in your readers. See George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, for a masterful way of making the reader go through an emotional roller coaster mainly by use of character deaths.

To get to the point, a character's death must have meaning. Either the readers should want his death as to release him from his suffering or he should become more humane toward the end as to make the reader hope for his survival.

Also his death should come with a certain finality. It should conclude something. Don't just off him in an inglorious way like falling down the stairs. There should be a moral to the story.

I don't think you should make the readers hate the main character, especially if he's a POV character, because then they'll just drop the book.

You can, however, write an evil serial killer who is slowly losing their sanity and commits heinous murders and still have the readers like him.

Normally we look at criminal psychopaths and see only their actions. We empathize with their victims instead of them and see them as horrible inhuman beings completely different from us. We forget however that they are still human beings, guided by thoughts and emotions not unlike us. And those thoughts and emotions need not be so different from our very own.

So if you can make your readers identify to some degree with the main character, be them thoughts, emotions or actions, then you can make them like him.

If you are writing a serial killer or psychopath I recommend you the following book first: http://www.quantumfuture.net/store/sanity_1.PdF

It has an insane amount of information on psychopathy, sanity, mental disorders and various other related stuff.

P.S. If the link ever gets taken down or ends up broken, the book is called The Mask of Sanity, by Hervey M. Cleckley. Just search for it on google, I'm sure it's easy to find.

  • The link to the book alone is worth a vote. – S. Mitchell Aug 27 '15 at 17:05
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Oh goody, in this context you can do both.

Would it not be absolutely horrendous for your protagonist to be first cured, then be eligible for trial and be sentenced to be chipped yet again

Nice scene where he is dragged screaming towards the end, his body to continue but all of his personality to disappear into the void?

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I had a fellow aspiring writer tell me that a major rule in writing was to never kill your main character. Not only did the concept of "rules" in writing boggle my mind, but I almost immediately thought of one of my favorite books which is "The Stranger" in which the main character is mostly waiting for his execution having killed a man for utterly no reason. Having said that, I think the suggestion (as opposed to rule) would be to not kill your hero heedlessly. A character is just that; a character. They might be despicable. You could create a character that the reader ends up relishing their death like in the book "Perfume" (the villain is the hero of their own story). Someone who is set up to be a hero, though, could/should die through a noble sacrifice.

You have somewhat of a Janus potential in your story. Maybe the second version of this man becomes obsessed with the first version of himself and despises him so much that shooting himself seems like a noble sacrifice.

But whatever you decide to have happen, there are no rules. Don't let anyone tell you there are. There are good guidelines for writing things that people will like (i.e. writing something popular) but you can randomly have your villain murder your hero at a pinnacle moment just because you think it's funny. Maybe the reader will hate that. If the tone is right, they might also think it's funny. You never know. I've written a couple of stories that friends found gross and horrifying and I've always asked, "but was it compelling." And usually the answer was yes. I'm more interested in compelling than entertaining, and the two aren't mutually exclusive, but ask yourself which you prefer, and write that story. Without the tone, I could see your story being tragic, comic, even heroic, or just dark. Try giving credence to one of those goals and make sure the character(s) narrative and thoughts suit that purpose.

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Books often operate according to dream logic, under which death is a symbol of rebirth. A good technique for a morally damaged character is to have their death coincide with a moral transformation or redemption.

A great example is the movie American Beauty. The main character isn't as evil as yours, but he's self-centered, lecherous and (initially) passive. When a series of events push him towards taking active control of his life, he eventually evolves towards a moment of moral clarity, near the end of the movie, immediately before his own unexpected death. Another good example is Darth Vader's story arc in the original Star Wars trilogy.

This is doubly meaningful for your audience, because it satisfies the desire for moral justice, where your character pays the ultimate price for his sins, but simultaneously leaves the reader mourning the possibility of the better person he could have become.

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Doesn't he figuratively die anyway?

The main character in this story goes through a complete change of personality after being arrested. He then undergoes another one (backwards) when the chip breaks down.

Who (potentially) dies at the end?

Now, I see two ways to look at the potential figurative and literal death(s) of the character(s):

  1. When the personality-change happens, his original self dies (figuratively), only to be revived after the accident. After being revived, he (once again his original self) is then potentially literally killed.

  2. When the main character undergoes the personality-change, his new self is "born". This self could (or should?) be treated as an entirely different person. His new self goes undergoes a slow decay from the accident, before figuratively dying when the chip shuts down.

How can we use the literal and figurative death(s)?

  1. If you managed to make us (the readers) "like" the main character's original self, we might feel that the figurative death is a fate worse than literal death itself.

  2. If, however, we prefer his new self (which would make sense from your society's perspective, but not necessarily your story's perspective), we would feel that his original self is then (kind of) killing his new self.

Depending on how the reader relates to your main character(s), the death(s) could be looked at differently. This will depend on your writing and how you portray the personalities of your main character(s).

If we (the readers) prefer the main character's original self, we would likely prefer to see the new self die, perhaps regretting that his original self then eventually dies.

If the reader prefers the new self, we would perhaps hate his original self for killing him/once again making "a bad person" of him, potentially feeling that his original self deserves his eventual death.

No matter which personality we prefer, I personally think this story should be treated as dealing with more than one death: 2 figurative and 1 literal.

The duality of the story could make for a very interesting experience. Depending on how you manage to portray the personalities, whether or not his original self should be killed should relate to the ways the personalities are portrayed.

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As has been said, the question isn't whether one should (or should not) kill a main character, it's 'what is the point of such a death?'. If it's pointless, don't; if it has a good reason (one can sometimes have a bad reason to do it), then by all means, do it.

The reason you gave for killing him was...

the reader will get what they may want: the character's death.

Personally, I wouldn't say that's a good reason. Don't give the readers what you think they may want; give them what makes sense within the story.

So what would be a good reason to kill off the character? Some possibilities:

  1. the character has no redemption and the final punishment is death (because there's no other way to stop him)

  2. the character realises his evil ways and atones (willingly or not) for it with his own death

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All of the memories come flooding to him, and just as he remembers who he is…

Here is a different suggestion. End it there. Furthermore, leave is enough evidence in the writing to support either ending, depending on the reader’s own interpretation.

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