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When can I go from thwarting, to destroying?

For example, say the protagonist was working towards a goal, but towards the end they killed the people they had spent the novel with, as they became so obsessed with the desire and didn't want to be stopped. The threat was not destroyed, their friends were dead, and they were left to well, be insane.

Would doing something like that be way beyond thwarting the readers hopes, and destroying their enjoyment of the novel? Its pretty obvious that the protagonist would reach their goal from the start, so, I was thinking about destroying it. Is going to that point too far, or would it be more sensible to let them have their goal, but at a price?

  • This sounds like a story about witchcraft. It might not be your intention to write such a story but it is an excellent and long lived genre. There is also the "trials of Hercules"...who interestingly was a man and not a God. In other words "he will die in the end." This very much gets to the heart of story telling...especially in the verbal form. – Doctor Zhivago Jul 31 '16 at 20:24
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Depends.

  • Do you want a happy ending, or a downer?
  • Do you want to explore the idea that "winning" or "achieving the goal" can come at too high a price?
  • Will your protagonist realize that it doesn't profit if s/he gains the whole world, and loses his/her soul? Or will s/he stand cackling amid the ashes clutching the prize regardless?
  • Does your protagonist become evil in the end (another antagonist) and wind up getting taken out by another character?
  • How the reader supposed to feel about the protagonist's pyrrhic victory?
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No! Not too far!

People have liked this kind of thing for thousands of years. In the play "Medea," the main character step by step destroys everything that was important to her including her own children. It was written around 400 BC and has been continuously popular for over 2400 years.

Some other good examples are the character "Jack" in the movie "The American" where his life is on a downward spiral and ends with his likely death. Also, Darth Vader is also a good example, although his story arc ends with his redemption at the last moment.

Not everyone is going to like everything. There are people who enjoy cozy mysteries, people who like horror, people who like stories with warm and fuzzy endings, and people who like tragedies that end in the protagonist's destruction. As long as you have a passion for the story and you write it well, you can tell any story you want and there will be people who will enjoy it with you.

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