Let them die!

I have a few pet peeves when it comes to stories. Love triangles. Zombies. Unnecessary swearing. Insta-love.

And CHARACTERS WHO WON’T STAY DEAD.

This is a plague that runs rampant in stories today, be they in books, TV shows, or movies. If a character you like dies, have no fear! The writer(s) will find a way to prove that the character actually cheated death. Even if this character has “died” three or four times before, there’s no need to worry.

Last night, I watched the newest Doctor Who. They brought back a character who died at the end of last season (who, incidentally, has “died” at least three times in the new series alone). Thirty minutes later, this character was “dead” once more. And I had zero emotional reaction. Because, seriously, people–when was the last time a main character actually died in Doctor Who? (You may bring up a certain beloved character from season 8, but I’m not convinced he’s really dead for good, and I won’t be until Clara is long gone.)

(Which brings me to another obnoxious trend of the latest Doctor Who series–this stupid fixation on claiming that the Doctor is going to die. People. The ENTIRE STORY is based on the fact that the DOCTOR DOES NOT DIE. Cut the drama and find a more creative plot device.)

But seriously. If you’re going to kill your characters, make it count. Leave them dead and make your other characters (and readers) deal with the heartbreak. This is something I love about the Harry Potter series–even in a world of magic, characters who die stay dead. Not even the Resurrection Stone could truly bring someone back. The grief shapes the story and has a far more profound impact on the reader than a wishy-washy she’s-dead-but-no-she’s-not-just-kidding sort of event.

How do you feel about characters coming back from the dead? Are there any other plot devices that make you crazy?

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11 Comments

  1. Supernatural. I like how they winked at the fact they always die. While meeting a dead character, the guy says, “I’m not going to bother saying goodbye. I’m sure I’ll see you soon.” But I do agree. Either stop killing character, or keep them dead. And swearing. I’m getting so tired of the mounds of swearing. Takes away the punch it’s supposed to have.

  2. I think we can blame Arthur Conan Doyle for this anomaly.

    After they die, they should only come back as ghosts, in subsequent adventures, and they should abide by the limitations for apparitions. Otherwise, a new adventure for a character who has died must be set in the character’s past.

  3. About Insta-love: I remember reading something to the effect that psychological research indicates love-at-first-sight does happen – to men. Women may sometimes feel the chemistry early on, but if they do, they tend to regard it conservatively, for numerous personal reasons, although the instinct has to do with waiting to gauge a man’s fitness as a permanent mate. When I was young, I saw it happen to a man who immediately asked me for a date. I went out with him a few times, and he was always the perfect gentleman; nevertheless, I did not feel the chemistry, and broke off the dating. His attraction to me was so intense, it was scary. A couple of years later and several thousand miles away, I was startled to hear that he was still carrying a torch for me, although he never tried to contact me. There was actually much about him to recommend him, but I think many women would have been spooked.

    • I’m firmly of the opinion that so-called love at first sight is nothing more than lust at first sight–meaning that people can be physically attracted to each other at first, but true love, love based on a person’s being rather than a person’s looks, comes only with time and effort. And, as you said, when this insta-love is one-sided and intense, it can be truly worrying. That’s why it bothers me when it is presented as romantic in stories: it presents young people with the idea that intense, overwhelming devotion based solely on looks is acceptable, even desirable. And a healthy relationship is so much more than that.

      • The reality is that it can happen, but in novels, it often degenerates into the “bad-boy boyfriend” trope, although there’s nothing romantic about domestic violence. If writers portray that kind of behavior, it must be done with good knowledge of the psychology behind it: real causes need to be there, and realistic solutions, not magical thinking. When a fictional bad boy goes through the obligatory “grovel,” there should be some indication that both parties to the relationship have become aware of their psychological problems, and that they will be getting professional mental health care. Love is not “never having to say you’re sorry” (which has to be the dumbest catchphrase ever written); love is being very sorry, and willingly going to therapy.

  4. Yes!!!! I hate it when people keep bringing a character back because they’re loved or fun. But when someone dies, they should stay dead. Unless it’s a zombie or vampire book. But otherwise, let them die! I skipped over some of the Doctor Who talk here because I read too much into vague details and haven’t seen the episode yet. I will soon, though.
    Why are people so afraid to let a character die? I know death is a scary and disturbing topic to contemplate, but sometimes it helps to deal with character death in fiction as it prepares you for death in real life. Not to the fullest degree, by any means, but sheltering people from the effects of death and destruction only sets them up for failure in the real world. With unrealistic expectations. I know we’re supposed to be able to separate fiction from real life, but a lot of people don’t. Or can’t.
    It’s something to consider, for sure.

    • Yesssss! That’s a point I wanted to cover, but I wasn’t sure how to make it work. In some ways, fiction is a form of escape from reality–but I think even in escape, fiction should equip us to better deal with reality. This habit of bringing people back from the dead is dangerous for the same reason the trend in literary relationships being based solely on hottness factor is dangerous. IT’S NOT TRUE. And, as Neil Gaiman so aptly put it, “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all.” Although the things we authors of fiction write may never have happened, they should still be bearers of truth to our fellow sojourners in the human experience.

      • *applause* You hit the nail on the head, my friend. Fiction is fiction, but it still reflects real life. Otherwise no one would read it. As William Nicholson said, (I love quotes!!), “We read to know we are not alone.” We need human interaction and experience, and for some, that comes in books. I think readers are more equipped to handle the difficulties of life. If the writers they read take care to ensure they write what could actually happen. Even in fantasy worlds, physical rules are set in place. Without environmental rules or any type of governance, the story would not work.

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