Should Main Characters Die?
Should main characters die? Should they be brought back to life?
This closely correlates with my other post To Kill or Not to Kill Characters. First, I want to touch again on WHY a main character dies:
WHY: To emotionally jar your reader. Humans love drama. We love to be emotionally jarred. I can prove this because since Adam and Eve, the world has gone through periods of war and periods of peace, over and over; through the bible, through our own recorded history, and even in our individual lives. It’s impossible for humans to maintain the same homeostasis. We war because we have this deep need to shake up our emotions. We have peace because our emotions need a break. And then we want them shaken up again.
So main characters die to jar the reader. Now be careful doing this, because you dance the fine line of pissing off your readers. You have to take the readers’ emotions into account; they have invested a deep connection to your character and they don’t want your character to die any more than they want their real life best friend to die. So when you kill a main character, make sure it MAKES SENSE. Humans hate senseless deaths, in real life and in books.
The rules of killing your main character:
1) Make sure your main character's death MAKES SENSE and is REALISTIC. You WILL lose readership if your main characters die because they choke on their mashed potatoes (note I said MAIN character. I have no ruling on how SIDE characters should die at this moment.) When does it make sense? When they are a soldier and they die in battle (the situation is realistic and makes sense: soldier=battle). When they are a gang member and they die in a knife fight (the situation is realistic and makes sense: gang=knife fights). When they are kidnapped by the antagonist and go through a series or tortures (the situation is realistic and makes sense: the kidnapped=endless sadistic possibilities for the antagonist).
2) If you kill them, don't bring them back to life. Here's why: A good book to show my example comes from Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance). In this book, 2 main characters both die, and they are brought back to life by magic. I was emotionally disturbed by the first death (but accepted it because it made sense to the situation. She was fighting a dragon. Pretty easy to die there.) But she was so easily brought back to life, that when the 2nd character died, I didn’t care at all because I knew he’d be brought back to life too. And he was.
Humans revere death with a certain ceremony. We might dig mountains into deep pits, we might figure out how to make it rain when we want, but if there is absolutely the one thing we cannot change, it is death. Though I miss my father, I would be horrified and so emotionally broken if he came back to life that I'd be forever mentally changed. And that is because I’ve revered his death with the proper ceremony already. I've sealed that box. We even bury beloved animals though in nature wild dogs eat each other when they die. We bury them because we need that ceremony, that transition from one existence to another for our own closure and sanity.
So don’t bring characters back to life. Unless you do. Then follow this rule:
RULE: Just like their death MADE SENSE and was REALISTIC, make their resurrection MAKE SENSE and be REALISTIC. Don’t just kill a main character because he looked sexy when he died and bring him back to life because you still need him in the story. Harry Potter's death made sense in the last book. And so did his resurrection.
In another book of mine, the second chapter you see an object and this object is referenced throughout the story so you know it’s still there, but still have no idea what it is. Then toward the end, main character #1 dies. After his death, main character #2 finally realizes this strange object she’s been carrying around has the ability to bring him back to life, and she uses it and he comes back to life.
I get away with doing this because it wasn’t random. It was a planned out from chapter 2, and that helps reassure readers you had everything under control and it was written into the story to happen. It MADE SENSE when he was brought back to life after you realized his death and his resurrection were written into the story, even if you didn’t realize it until the end.