Can, or rather, should you kill off a POV character in the middle of a book? Obviously it would be a mistake to kill a POV character in a one or two POV book. And, we all know that the bad guy can, and often does, die near the end of a book, that’s okay. But what if you have multiple POVs? Can you kill one of those?
I’ve seen forum posts on this very thing and often, it depends, appeared somewhere in the post. It depends on how you treat it. It depends, does it further the plot? It depends on the phase of the moon. Well, maybe it does. But I’m going to take a stand and say, “Damn right you can, and you should. Why? Star Trek.
That’s right, Star Trek. The original series with Captain Kirk and Spock and Bones and Scotty, that Star Trek. The greatest sci-fi series of it’s time and progenitor of movies, tv series, action figures, and worldwide conventions. But, Star Trek had a flaw.
Only the guys in the red shirts that you’d never seen before ever died. Oh sure, every now and then a main character was put in mortal danger but you knew they weren’t going to croak. You knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt so, no matter how artfully contrived the pickle, your fear and dread were less than they could have been. Now, I understand that sort of thing is a constraint of an ongoing tv series but we aren’t writing a tv series. Even if we are writing a series of novels, I would argue that you have to kill a main character once in awhile and, if you have multiple POVs, you ought to kill one of them.
The argument against killing POV characters seems to be that you might upset the reader. Okay, that may play in certain genres where there is an expectation of a ‘happily ever after’ ending. But fantasy, my genre, isn’t one of those.
Killing a POV character changes the dynamic for the reader. The reader, once invested in the characters, will fear more for them. Tension will increase if anyone in the cast can die. The momentary, “Crap! I liked that guy.” reaction will soon be overcome by the need to find out if the rest of them make it. The reader will have to see what peril the rest of them face. Will they overcome or succumb?
I have a novel that needs a lot of work. It’s the first one I wrote and it’s sitting in a drawer, and on my hard-drive, and on a couple sticks and one day I’ll pull it out and work on it. Many things will change; the antagonist needs some redeeming qualities, the protagonists need some work, I might pull a few scenes and write new ones. The one thing that will not change is the title character being killed two thirds of the way though. He dies for a reason and that reason is central to the book. He dies to demonstrate to the readers and the characters that the danger is real and imminent. He dies to demonstrate that his plan, no matter how vital and necessary, is likely to get some, maybe all of them, killed. And that, even should the plan fail, they must try again, no matter the cost.
That’s a pretty good reason to kill him. But I don’t need one that good. POV characters find themselves in threatening situations all the time, They can’t survive them all. If they all do all the time, the story will become predictable just like Star Trek. I don’t want any guys in red shirts in my books. POV characters will never get a free pass in my books. But those are my books.
What do you think as a writer? As a reader? I’d love to hear it.