You probably read the title of this article and thought:
“What the hell is going on?” or “Isn’t the protagonist the good guy as in the one the audience wants to read about?”
Well yeah, he is, and that’s why you should kill him, her, or it. But wait! before you go about cleaving the head off your favourite character, you need to understand why and in what situations you should do so.
In case you don’t know who George R. R. Martin is, and you haven’t come in contact with the film series adapted from his novels then allow me to give you a brief introduction. George R. R. Martin is a multiple award-winning novelist, scriptwriter, short story author, and television producer. He created the high fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire that was adapted into the hit HBO series Game of thrones. The series was so successful, it was the first film series to be nominated for 32 Emmys in over 25-years and a spin off series titled House of Dragons is in production. In 2016, it was nominated for 738 awards and won 269 out of them. George R. R. Martin has frequently been paired against the late great J. R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and many more as the king of fantasy.
Once, In an interview, R. R. Martin was asked:
“If you could ask any question to Tolkien what would it be?”
“Why did you bring Gandalf back from the dead?” He swiftly replied. “He should have stayed dead.” He added.
If you’ve been a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire book series or have seen the HBO film series, then you must agree that part of the allure of the series is the unpredictability. As a viewer, you are put in a place where you worry about the fate of your favourite characters. R. R. Martin’s storytelling is so unique not just because of his detailed world building, multifaceted cultures, and well planned out story structures. A big part of why I love his stories is because of the undiluted element of realism. Martin blurs the line between reality and fantasy and no longer are characters given the cloak of invincibility. Reading his stories, you get to see your favourite characters weep, bleed, and even die as a result of actions taken.
Quote: In writing, you must kill all your darlings. – William Faulkner.In writing, you must kill all your darlings. – William Faulkner.
So why should you go off killing your protagonist or your favourite characters?
“It irritates me when I’m watching a movie or reading a book, and the hero is going through incredible dangers: he and his six buddies and none of them die…they would survive pretty much untouched in the end. If you’re going to write about fearful situations, I want you to have fear and the right kind of fear. I think writing is about strong emotions. I want you to be afraid when I’m putting the characters in a scary situation. When a character dies, I want you to grieve for that character like you would a friend or loved one. It is an entire vicarious experience, which is my goal as a writer. I want you not just to read my work but to live my work.” – George R. R. Martin.
There is an underlying truth that states that for every action you take, there would be a responding reaction. Characters lose a part of their edge when they seem to be able to do anything they want with barely a scratch on their skin. In the real world, these would be impossible feats so readers are put in the position where they’re aware that this isn’t real.
We, as writers, are sentimental for our favourite characters, and because of that, they are given immunity throughout the story. It is the worst thing to do to your characters because it hinders your storytelling and affects their growth arcs. They end up having unbelievable experiences, and it only solidifies your reader’s mistrust of the story. Do not magic away their problems, let them face them, and therefore handle them.
Although this is a subjective point of view, R. R. Martin has repeatedly spoken about his feelings about the return of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series. R. R. Martin made a strong argument stating that he felt like it could have been an incredible teaching moment for the other characters. So, he was impressed and intrigued when he first read about it in the books and was shocked to see it as a reader. He wondered what the other characters would do because Gandalf had such an important role to play in the journey of the protagonist. He felt somewhat disappointed to see him come back to life.
Guess what, he was not the only one that felt that way. Creating a protective blanket around your favorite characters might be the one thing that kills your characters at least in the eyes of the reader. Most of the iconic characters that we have grown to love are not because they are perfect in every way and untouchable by the elements. It is quite the opposite. We bond with the characters that have had countless battles with deep scars to prove it because, in many ways, we all have some form of a scar or wound that we struggle with. We sympathise with the characters since to an extent we are them. It creates a sort of kinship with a fictional character that most people struggle to form in real life.
So, let your characters experience the reaction to their actions and learn from them no matter how harsh it may seem if you value your story as much as your readers would.
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