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I am a young author writing a fantasy series. I started this book with a light bulb idea late one night while reading Peter Pan.

I didn’t know anything about writing, but I ADORE reading, so I pulled out a notebook and let my mind flow. I started with a Prologue that I ended up deleting, because it gave away to much information, but in that moment I decided to make my POV first person.

So I started developing characters.

For my main character, I thought it would be easier to write the main character as me, but a few years older. Only later I read that there can be problems with making that character perfect, but my character has huge flaws. In fact, if she wasn’t the main character people would hate her.

Anyway, I developed an epic heroic tragic love story, between her and the second character I thought of, Dylan, Camryn’s future boyfriend.

I created Dylan to die. Why?

Dylan would be killed by the antagonist. The main character, Camryn, before Dylan’s death, wanted to find a different way to beat her (love compassion etc...) Well, there wasn’t another way. I poured my heart and soul into the antagonist, making her practically invincible except if you did this one thing then you could kill her.

Anyway, Dylan’s death is important because it makes Camryn bent on revenge, finally killing the antagonist. This all seemed like a great idea.

At first.

Then I got emotionally attached to Dylan. I know that is supposed to happen, but I fell in love with the guy. Naturally, since I made the main character after me, I made the main characters love interest after my crush. I gave him a backstory, hometown, all that colorful stuff.

And now I’m wondering, should I make this a bitter sweet victory? (Kill Dylan)

Or have them live happily ever after. (Let Dylan live)

I hate this option in books because real life just doesn’t work that way. but now as the author, it’s really hard for me to kill him. AND I would have to completely re-write the script for the last book.

There are pros and cons.

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    Sorry for asking so many questions but as a new author writing a series.... I have LOTS of questions.
    – Leila
    Oct 21 '20 at 19:44
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    There's no problem with asking loads of questions, as long as they're on-topic and not duplicates. Heck, if people didn't ask questions, this site would die off pretty quickly.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 21 '20 at 20:05
  • When do you want to kill your character? Inciting incident, midpoint, climax?
    – Alexander
    Oct 21 '20 at 20:35
  • I have mapped out around eleven books for this series, (and I have no intention of not finishing. I’m obsessed) and would kill him on the tenth book, so right after his death they find a way to kill the antagonist as he does not die in vain.
    – Leila
    Oct 21 '20 at 20:37
  • @Leila "would kill him on the tenth book" I think you will have a plenty of time to reconsider and change your mind.
    – Alexander
    Oct 22 '20 at 0:41
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Simply put, it's okay to kill the main character.

There's just one thing to worry about, make sure that you don't make it to where the character dies because they die. The reader shouldn't walk out thinking "What was the point of reading the story if he was going to die?". If this is what you get out of readers, then your character, no matter how well built and complex they are will fall flat to some degree.

In short, don't make the character die meaninglessly.

First, there has to be a reason the character died. This isn't exactly a spoiler since the character says they'll be killed at the beginning of the book but in Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer, Magnus Chase dies in the book. This sets up interesting plot points in the rest of the series and actually makes sense.

While you don't necessarily have to use death as the reason the book is the way it is, it should still affect other characters in some way and not be pointless. There has to be a reason a character dies, and it's difficult go back. While resurrection can be done well, for the most part, it's just completely anti-climatic.

Think of the following questions:

Why does the character die? What does it do to the plot and does it make sense? If I were to incorporate the character's resurrection, can I do it well? Will this be a better conclusion for the character than an ending where they are alive?

In conclusion, it's completely fine to kill the main character of your book. Just don't let it be meaningless.

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    Seconded. Whether in living or in dying, a good character needs to fill some important roll in the plot.
    – MarielS
    Oct 21 '20 at 20:12
  • I agree with everything you wrote. To add something, I would swap "vain" with "meaninglessly". A character can die in vain and make for a compelling story. Oct 21 '20 at 21:17
  • Fair point, Dylan. I'll make sure to edit that! Oct 21 '20 at 22:26
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You need to ask yourself what kind of story are you trying to tell, what are the themes and the core messages. Then ask yourself whether the ending including Dylan's survival contributes or detracts from those things compared to an ending including his death. How do your characters grow, learn, and change over the course of the story? What is Dylan's role in the plot, and in the growth of the other characters? How is it going to affect the other main character if he dies? How about if he lives? Does him living add to the plot, character arcs, and themes somehow, or is the only reason you are waffling about killing him because you have grown attached? Is there an additional active roll for him to play in the plot that couldn't easily be filled by the other characters? Ask yourself all these questions, and try to look at it objectively.

I've had to admit to myself before that a character I liked no longer had an active purpose in the plot and that it would create much better tension if I killed them (even though my romantic heart wanted them to live and marry another character!) Conversely, I've reversed the decision to kill a character before when I realized there was a new direction I could go where they lived that actually had more plot, conflict, and interest then my original intentions. So it really depends on the circumstances, and where you are going with things.

One author I read originally planned for the lead in his series to die at the end, but reversed that decision when he moved up events that were supposed to happen later originally (and he also admitted he was afraid all his fans would come after him with pitchforks if she died, since she was everyone's favorite! Which is also a somewhat valid reason, given that fans are the ones who buy your books!)

P.S. Adhering to realism is a good policy (and when you are being strictly realistic and then back off it can be glaringly obvious, like how in Game of Thrones at the beginning main characters died left and right, then at the big battle at the end none of the main cast died and all the fans called them out for the unlikelihood of that) but sometimes you need to recognize a little step back from realism can be a good thing, too. Many people read books to enjoy new places and experiences (fantasy, sci fi, magic systems, all very realistic, yes?), or to escape their own boring, depressing reality (why do you think many women devour sappy romance novels? Swoon). So it really depends what you are trying to write and convey to your reader. Generally "suspension of disbelief" is where we consider the line between realistic and not in writing to be: basically, will the reader be happy to just accept this and go along even if it isn't 100% realistic, or are they going to find it hard to believe and jarring? It can be a delicate balance to strike.

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Try reading Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy.
Spoiler Alert

One of the main characters gets killed in an epic battle at the climax of the first book. However, he then becomes a martyr and god to the people so his influence lives on, while other more subordinate characters rise to become main characters in their own right in later books. Really effectively done, and makes for an excellent bit of variety in the series without losing the continuing storyline.

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Heck yeah, you can kill a main character. If you've read the Harry Potter series,

Spoiler alert if you haven't

The Goblet of Fire opens up with a character who quickly becomes central to that books story line. Cedric Diggory was created as a mostly perfect character, (very likable, handsome, nice) specifically so that when he was killed at the end of the Goblet of Fire it set a precedent of how bad Voldemort really is and increases the seriousness in the books following.

Cedric of course was not a main character but quickly became an important character.

I would Definitely say that it's fine to kill a main character and there are a lot of other books out there that do it. Just make sure their death is impactful to the reader, the storyline and the other characters.

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    I would argue that [even bigger spoiler alert!] Dumbledore's death at the end of Half-Blood Prince is an even better example than Cedric's.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 21 '20 at 20:06
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    @F1Krazy I just remember Cedrics death being a bigger moment for me because of how it was so sudden and Voldemort hardly seemed to care. It was the point that shifted the series from a children's book to a young adult novel and showed a lot about Voldemort who until then we'd heard more bad things about than we'd seen. But yes, the Harry Potter series is a great example of how to effectively kill off main characters Oct 22 '20 at 3:03
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Yes, it is okay to kill a main character.

But be careful, readers experience the story you've written through your characters. Killing a character could effectively shut one the windows your reader views the world though.

However, there's nothing about death which forces a character's presence to vanish from your story and your reader to lose that vehicle of experience. There are many tools at your disposal, including flashbacks, time travel, the supernatural, journals, videos, prologues, and the list goes on.

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And they never recovered the body...

I'm a big fan of the 'mysterious death' scenario. I've even seen games that integrate this into the rules. In this case, as the MC defeats the hero, he/they go plummeting downward into the clouds over the sea. The body(ies) is/are never recovered. This way, readers who also love the MC can hope he's really NOT dead, and hints that he IS alive can crop up as a subplot in your series. You can even have someone people think is the MC, or someone who believes themselves (mistakenly) to be the MC. I personally wouldn't ACTUALLY let him live, but the option is left open. Bringing him back from the dead violates story causality (usually), but can be pulled off with the right justification.

It also means that as your plot progresses across multiple books, you can reserve the right to change your mind. Once you say definitively "He's dead and splattered across the pavement," there's no going back. If his soul and body may be imprisoned by a sea ghost, this can be an object of quests, character angst, and all sorts of great literary stuff.

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  • Actually I’m going for the “seriously gory violent and tragic” kind of death, because this characters death has to have a lot of significance and meaning.
    – Leila
    Oct 22 '20 at 0:42
  • @Leila Death is meaningful all on it's own. If you make the character beloved, brutally killing him may be a turn-off to your reader. Unless, of course, you're going for the gritty martyred "dying on the cross" type symbolism. If your character has nothing to live for, death is less significant/suicidal, so love interest is a decent balance. Good luck!
    – DWKraus
    Oct 22 '20 at 0:58
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Flip a coin. Heads he lives, Tails he dies. That way neither you nor your reader can predict if he lives or not.

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    Loving the simplicity of this solution! One of my favourite authors, P.G.Wodehouse, was reputed to plan his stories by jotting a series of fairly random events or characters on post-it notes and then juggling them into some order on his bedroom wall. His books are hilarious as a result. Nov 3 '20 at 9:53

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