Hello wonderful people! Today we are going to talk about why killing off characters/having characters die can be a useful tool for the storyteller to affect the audience, and despite what you think, not in an overall negative way.
Death is usually thought of a negative thing. Why? A lot of the time it is negative because there is someone still living that doesn’t want to see the dying person go away. In real life, if a person died completely alone but was at peace with their death (SEEING JESUS!) there would be no sadness because no one was there to mourn the death. In stories, there are always people around ready to morn. That is the audience.
It is OK to make the audience sad.
Largely in stories, the dying person is not alone, and in this instance, I am not talking about the audiences’ observance. Usually, there is another character communicating the loss to the audience. In other words, there is a character who is struggling with or showing their grief about the death of another character.
It is especially useful when the storyteller uses it against their main hero because, of course, the best storytellers make their heroes endure catastrophe after catastrophe, and the loss of a loved one is one of the biggest catastrophes ever. The audience identifies with the character experiencing loss.
Now, why is death a positive thing to do in storytelling?
Stories are all about the emotional experience. Think about it. If you were not emotionally connected to a story you would not care about it and thus would not be engaged in it.
It is true that sad memories tend to stick with us longer than some happy memories. Sadness has an effect on human beings. It is one of those emotions that can bring us closer together because it is a hard emotion to deal with alone. Well, if stories are all about the emotional experience, the sadness that comes with killing off characters can often bring the audience into a closer appreciation of the story. It can help them identify with the characters more and want to reach out and comfort the fictional people as they would in reality. The audience cares more. They also remember it more. 😉
From a negative emotion, stories can derive a positive impact.
Now, if you ever do this in your own storytelling there are at least two things to remember.
First, you have to make your audience care about your dying character, if they don’t care about the character, there is nothing for them to morn losing. Sometimes this is where having another character experiencing the loss, can help the reader sympathize if they do not care much for the person who is dying, but that is not an excellent strategy. Ideally, you want the audience to experience the loss of the dying character personally as well as through the character experiencing the loss in the story. The more the audience knows and cares about a character, the bigger the loss.
Secondly, death should not be for nothing. For example, Ninjago: Season 10 pretty much faked the death of Cole. It seemed as if he was gone, but he was soon shown to be alive. While my sister and I were crying and did not want Cole to die, part of us felt cheated when he was quickly shown to be alive. The Ninjago story would have been so much more powerful had the effects been forever lasting. It was a very powerful scene in Ninjago, but we looking back on it we don’t feel the same effect and just because he lives it makes it less memorable.
Ok, I’ll give it a break since it is a kids show, and many kids might just be angry if one of the Ninja died, plus Lego could not sell Cole minifigs and toys anymore, so…
Honestly, death is just not as impactful if it does not last… at least for a while.
Sometimes we do not want a character to die, but as long as the story furthers to a meaningful end and brings the audience into a closer relationship with the story, it is worth it for beloved characters to be killed off.
But hey, don’t kill off everyone just to affect the audience. Death is not the only way to make an impactful story. If overdone, it can get the audience quite upset. Would not you be a kind of angry/sad if everyone you loved died in a short span of time? Yeah.
BUT! An impactful death may be just the thing a story needs to rake in its audience. 🙂