author C.C.Cole's blog

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On Character Deaths

"The Omega Man"


 "The Terminator"

In Dark Fantasy, if there’s anything that strikes the readers, it’s who will make it and who will not in the dangerous adventure.  We want to see the good guys make it and the bad guys get what’s coming.  But does it always have to be good-guy-lives and bad-guy-dies?  What about the larger message carried in many dark fantasy stories, that good is achieved only by great cost?  What characters will the writer sacrifice to make that cost?

I was talking to a reader recently who told me to stop talking and start writing my third novella in the Gastar series.  When I commented on finding out which characters make it in the series, she looked at me wide-eyed.  “Don’t mess with my fantasy.”  Then she walked off.

Hmm…as I ponder that encounter, some interesting questions entered my mind.  As we dark fantasy writers create our worlds, we are creating the fantasy of our readers.  Our stories translate into their minds, so each reader sees our story a little differently.  That makes sense when I’m reading fantasy; I get fixed in my own mind what I’d like to see happen, especially when it comes to the demise of key characters.

Protagonist deaths to me are probably some of the most difficult to write and most difficult to sell.  Who wants to see the good guys die?  But they do, and to being a dramatic element of self-sacrifice to stories, as in non-fiction, add depth and emotion.  In dark fantasy, we often see protagonists return by reincarnation, regeneration, or in another form.  Generally, killing the main protagonist requires careful crafting to keep from killing the hope of the reader.

Antagonist deaths give writers a wider breadth; sometimes they redeem themselves by giving up their lives.  Others die with the same bravery as the protagonist, not backing down even at the end to create a dramatic unforgettable scene for the reader.  Amoral antagonists deaths are what the readers are looking for, not so much the victory of the good guy, but the defeat of the bad guy, in in some creative way that makes us smile when it happens. 

So again, go forth, new authors, and create some great dark fantasy for us to enjoy.  We feel the mixed emotions of the protagonist, the respect for redeemable bad guy, the dislike for amoral characters, and hatred for turncoat traitors.  However you craft it, it’s OK.  Make we the readers feel it.  That’s what we’re looking for, so we can appreciate our return to reality.


  1. I found that I had trouble writing a novel where the main character doesn't die tragically in the end and I realized that even though it's hard to read about a main character dying, it's actually harder to write about them living in the end because you have to fix everything for them to have a happy ending and that can be really hard to do satisfactorily. It's easier to just kill them, so nothing is resolved.

  2. That's an excellent point, and a self-sacrifice on the part of the protagonist. Thank you for commenting!

  3. I have mixed feelings when characters die. I sometimes feel it isn't needed, but then others, I don't feel like the story could be finished without it, because, essentially, what is a story if not a telling of events of someone's life? And sad as it is, all life does end with death. But the beautiful thing about a death in a story -no matter who dying- is that it can always be linked to some symbolism- be it that good beat evil, evil beat good, an end to an era, an end to emotions, an end to events or an end of a series. The possibilities of what a death could mean are endless, because, even a lack of symbolism attached to a death, is a deeper message in itself. That's what I love when writing a death into a story and I definitely believe it's an important part of the writing process, no matter who wins in the end- good or evil.