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I'm considering to have my Main Character die before "finishing" his arc, but have other characters carry on the plot to its conclusion, let's say to fulfill his visions.

In a way, the MC finishes his arc after his death. Those seemingly minor characters will have to carry the burden to go through the climax and the conclusion of the story without him.

The MC would die at about 60% of the story. I'll be foreshadowing his potential demise early on, but I'm afraid the structure would fall apart after that point since so much effort has been put into building this guy. I can't have the other characters saying things like "Ask yourselves, what would MC do if he was with us?"

My question is: what structure components should I pay attention to for this approach to work?

  • Well, JK Rowling was planning to kill Harry too before the end, right? If you thing you can keep the structure strong with the side characters, I can't see a reason to not kill the protagonist. Just make sure those characters aren't too weak or minor to not be capable of carrying the story on their shoulders. – Bella Swan Mar 20 at 5:24
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    I can think of one novel with a plot like this, quite a good read: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold. – Tom Zych Mar 20 at 10:36
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    Eddard Stark!!! I still remember watching the beheading scene. I was so blown away that I immediately went online and bought the books! So yes.. if done right (as in if it serves the story) ... it can be a very good move. – ashleylee Mar 20 at 18:41
  • @ashleylee, does he count as an MC though? He's definitely significant, drives the plot a little, but to me, his death is the inciting incident for the series. – iamtowrite Mar 20 at 18:44
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    @imatowrite: I don't think you need any special structure to kill a MC. Eddard's death came out of no where. The entire time he was in prison, the Lannisters were making deals with him, threatening him with the lives of his daughters, asking him renounce his claims, and promising to send him to the Wall.... The readers were totally convinced that that's where the story was headed, with Eddard Stark to the Wall... Moral of the story is.. just kill that poor bastard, and name a new MC.. – ashleylee Mar 20 at 19:13
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Legacy can be a potent force.

You envision a situation where your MC, overcome by the difficulty and dangers of his quest/journey has perished with his task half done.

The task is vital, so someone finds himself with greatness thrust upon him. He or she might not be too pleased to be the one who must continue this journey and finish the task.

I suggest that you have a couple of secondary protagonists who, when your MC dies, can soldier on. They can fail and struggle and fear they will fail utterly - a better and stronger hero perished, so this is no easy feat.

Together, they manage and their flaws and strengths complement each other. One of these could be someone the MC thought little of so he has even more to prove.

Bella is right - the other characters must be interesting enough to carry the story. If you have only one character who is fully realized and the rests are filler, let your hero finish the quest.

If you have multiple interesting characters, kill the hero, but make it meaningful. His death can be a catalyst for others and inspire still others.

Years ago, a young cancer survivor who lost his leg to cancer decided to raise money for the cause of research by running across Canada. It was an inspirational story that was covered in the nightly news - his progress carefully measured. Donations began to pour in and people would meet him on the road and wish him well, cheering him on. He went far, but did not finish. His cancer was not completely in remission and it returned. He died still raising funds for others.

Two others chose to follow in his footsteps. One used his wheelchair and succeeded in his quest, the other started from the other coast and did what the first had hoped to do. Steve Fonyo people do not hear about, nor do they talk about Rick Hansen - but every year in communities all over, there are Terry Fox runs.

He raised more because his brave effort failed, yet was so inspiring. Everyone who takes part in a Terry Fox run is helping raise funds and doing it in his name, in his memory. Had he succeeded in crossing the country, he would have raised a lot of money, earned accolades and been highly esteemed, but his death made people wish he had succeeded and choose to try and help.

Make sure you have characters who can pick up the torch and not be crushed as they carry it onwards.

If I were doing it, I might have a scene where a few of the others gather, mourning the death of MC. A few ‘without him, we are lost’ and then a realization that they learned something from MC. Without intending to, he prepared for this, teaching skills to some that would be needed.

A quiet realization that all are expendable and yet all are capable and valuable can come to one of them, who might explain that together, weak as they are, they will be stronger than even the MC since he was such a hero, always charging on ahead and doing the noble thing. Together, they are smarter and stronger and can succeed - if only they stay together.

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What makes your main character as Main?

Does it have special powers?

Is a wise person?

Does he/she is made out through writing?

One who makes everything right at the end.

If Yes.

Be careful to plot the story. Plan well from the beginning. Make your side characters powerful, in parallel, make strong reasons for the main character to leave. Make your readers think/guess of multiple reasons for his/her leaving. Sometimes it can make your story more powerful than before, but sometimes it can backfire and make everything uninteresting.

So Yes, the main characters can leave early provided you handle it carefully.

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The side characters that you are planning to hand over the story should not be minor. Their arcs and characteristics have to be explained too along with the protagonist’s, so their image is strong enough for the reader to accept them continuing the story after the main character's death.

Either you can choose one or two of them or all of them could somehow collectively carry the story on. Just remember that during the first 60% of the story, apart from building the main guy, put some effort in building the side characters too.

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