Oct 17, 2011

Sacrificing Story

I play video games sometimes. I tend to prefer ones with rpg elements because I like deep storylines and an idea of character evolution.

A lot of such games these days have plotlines that diverge based on a player's choices. Make one choice, and a certain supporting character will be there for the rest of the game, involved in the story. Make a different choice and that character might die and a major element of the story is gone.

That gets me thinking. Gone. Not just changed. Gone. So is the player missing out because of a particular choice, or are both versions of the story just as fulfilling?

I think this question can be applied to writing. When we decide to subject our characters to something potentially life-changing such as the death of a loved one or other major trauma, how often to we consider how this decision will change the story? Do any authors ever wonder what stories they're giving up my removing a character for good?

I've never really thought too much about it until now. I think, especially when writing a series, it's dangerous to throw in a death for the sake of drama without considering how that will affect the rest of the series. Otherwise, you could end up in situations where you need to introduce a similar character just to fill the role now left empty. Or worse, pull out a "back from the dead" plotline, which rarely goes down well, especially when it's out of the blue.

What do you guys think?


  1. I'm wrestling with killing a character at the moment. I like the fact that she dies, but I am wondering how I'd write a sequel without her.

  2. Alternate realities!!! (she suggested only half-jokingly) ;)

  3. Well, in video games you can go back and try to save the character, the audience has a hand in how the story goes, so it's not quite the same thing as killing off a character in a novel (or what have you).

    Ellen: if the story is stronger with the character dying, but you can't do a sequel without her...which is more important? The current story, or the prospect of a sequel? Is the existing story substantially weaker if the character lives?

  4. Good questions, because everything that happens in a novel needs to have a reason for being there, even if it doesn't become clear until much later. It gets all woven together like knitting.

  5. The death of that character changed the way I played my own character.

    Against those responsible and their masters, I ceased trying to take down people without loss of life. For them, it was vengeance pure and simple from a man who had so much taken from him already, and that last little bit made him snap.

  6. Ellen: I know what you mean. For Nightfall, there was a character I originally was 100% sure was going to die. But when I thought about where things would go in a sequel, I knew I wanted to change that.

    Linda: *shudder* Though, in all seriousness, that works for comic books. Of course, comic books have teams of people putting them together and several writers over different titles with the same characters.

    Gar: That's true. Though I've never found the same satisfaction investing the 40-100 hours to re-play a computer rpg once I've finished it. But that raises another good question. Is it really worth playing and replaying over and over until you get to see all the possible outcomes?

    KarenG: Bingo! There was another character in Nightfall who I considered killing off, but I figured that the death would happen so early that it wouldn't really serve much purpose. Certainly the reader wouldn't have had time to become attached to the character, so instead I had the character just injured badly, so she can play a role later in the story.

    withthatshewrote: I'm thinking of going that way. I like when stories feature the hero suffering losses. A story where the hero succeeds all the time and comes out unscathed at the end just feels less meaningful to me. Even in Mass Effect 2, I didn't bother going for a complete survival in the suicide mission. I knew certain characters should die.