Experiencing literary character deaths is part of being a bookworm. It’s HORRIBLE but at the same time…it’s realistic. I know that sounds horrific to admit! I will rage and wail over character deaths like a devastated limpet. But…part of me understands it’s crucial to telling a plausible story. A character death can make a book more powerful. It can also have me screeching on in all caps all over the internet, which is always pleasant for my followers. You love me, you know you do.
There are a ton of different kinds of character deaths too. Death tropes, if you will? (I’m not saying this is a bad thing though!) Some are soooo much worse than others. Some seem pointless. Some are catalysts. SOME ARE JUST SO DEVASTATING YOU RAGE FOR 90 YEARS NONSTOP.
So let us discuss death, my fair blogglings. I’m listing “types” of character deaths I come across frequently in YA books. I’ll give them Pain Ratings. Because ouch. And then you can tell me which stabs you in the feels the most.
LET’S DO THIS.
** NOTE: I’ll give NO examples in this post. Read without fear of spoilers!
1. THE “KICK STARTER” DEATH THAT INSPIRES ALL HEROES
Our littles heroes occasionally need to be booted into greatness. Why so reluctant?! SHEESH. They’re probably only going to be tortured and bleeding during the 400pg reign of their malicious author. BUT ANYWAY! Often times a hero/ine loses a “beloved” in the first few chapters. This inspires them to go a) kill the thing, b) get revenge, c) run away, d) change their fate. I hope you read that in Merida’s voice.
PAIN RATING: Eh. Sad but kind of boring. If someone kicks the bucket at the beginning of the book I haven’t had time to CARE about them yet. Plus it’s almost a cliche?
This is like every fantasy author’s favourite way to have a battle. GAWSH. Get to those last hundred pages and — BOOM BOOM — all the secondary characters are lying on the cold hard ground. You may sing Taylor Swift here, too, if you wish. Insert gross sobbing because secondary characters are often awesome.
PAIN RATING: This is extremely awful. It’s always the coolest secondary characters who go in the finales, dangit.
3. THE MENTOR’S DEMISE
Sometimes the hero/ine collects a mentor figure and often they get axed in the hero/ine’s darkest hour. This character is usually the CRUCIAL one. The backbone of the plot! The brains! The one keeping the group together…gah. How dare they ever die. Plus usually they’re a surrogate “parent” sort of figure for a (possibly orphaned) protagonist. Plus they’re usually funny. Plus, tears.
PAIN RATING: Let’s go with completely devastating. It always kicks me in the feels with the old (hopefully sassy/snarky) mentor is gone. Doooon’t die and leave the babies all alone. COME BAAAAACK.
4. THE “BRIGHT LIGHT” GOES OUT
Agh, contemporaries are sooo guilty of this one. Introduce a NICE character who is sweet and kind and bubbly and enjoys life and — THEN SNATCH IT AWAY. Authors seem to adore doing this. The best ones always die.
PAIN RATING: Absolutely intense. And let me rage a minute too!! Because that character actually loved living and it’s so. not. fair that they have to die. Kill the moody one, already! LET THE HAPPY ONE SURVIVE.
Basically…they don’t stay dead. There are the “mostly dead” characters who you think are dead but suddenly come back! Or maybe they become zombies? Or maybe they get magicked back to life at great cost.
PAIN RATING: To be honest, I think it’s cheating! I often feel like authors who bring all the favourites back (or can’t even ever kill the favourites) are holding back and possibly being unrealistic. Plus it gives the reader TOO MUCH SECURITY!! No one dies? Okay, it’s just a calm seaside tour then.
There are exceptions to this and they star in a famous TV show and that starts with Super and ends with Winchester and I love them and please keep reanimating them 10000 x.
6. THE RANDOM AND POINTLESS AND SHOCKER DEATH
This is the worst. IT REDUCES ME TO HOWLING, OKAY??!? It’s that moment when no one should’ve died… just routine adventure and excitement — and then boom. Reality strikes. A stray bullet. A random knife slash. Falling down the stairs. ARGH. These kind of deaths usually feel pointless too. Like whyyyy?!?! Why lose a fabulous character to that needless end?! Where is the glorious victorious death?! I NEED REVENGE GAWSH DARNIT.
PAIN RATING: Higher than the highest high of highs. It makes use of that shock factor, okay?! I always wail mightily…but at the same time I can be brought around to admit it’s realistic. As much as a glorious death is epic…not everyone gets one. I also am a subtle fan of realism.
That moment when a character dies in a grand way! Sacrifice for the good of humanity! A heart-touching monologue! Saving the world! HUZZAH AND WELL DONE! Also tears because they’re, um…dead.
PAIN RATING: This is nearly a satisfying death. I mean, it’s still sad. I might still be a wilting cucumber in the corner. But it feels like the character achieved something great since others survived because of their sacrifice.
Not a lot of authors do this! Killing the main character (or a narrating character) is unusual — but not unheard of! I’ve read several books where it happens. IT ALWAYS HURTS. It’s hard to go through a 400pg book and then end it with the protagonist pushing up daisies. I was rooting for you and you left meeee, ohmygosh.
PAIN RATING: It is heart-wrenchingly AWFUL and shocking and wow. It has to be done well or the whole book can feel pointless!! I want there to be a reason the main character died and I want there to be achievements. And in a way I actually like it because if I have to be finished with a book forever, everyone might as well be dead TOO. HUMPH.