What are the odds that no one dies?

People die. Yes, I know. BAM! In your face is a very dark, morbid, pessimistic view of life, but it’s the truth. Everyone dies and anyone who has read my discussion posts before knows how important it is to me for fiction to mirror reality. So when no one dies in a book, I often find myself lowering my rating and opinion of said book. But let’s break this concept down because not every story needs a death, right?

Genres of Death

There are so many different genres out in the fiction world and they are each unique from each other. As such, it would only be understandable that certain genres would be more likely or less likely to have character death because of the type of story being told and the world in which the story is taking place. Want some examples?

  • Romance: Given that an HEA is almost guaranteed, character death is least likely in this genre.
  • Dystopian: Given that a rebellion is likely taking place, character death should be extremely likely in this genre.
  • Fantasy: The likelihood of character death in this genre depends on the type of fantasy and the particular plot archetype. If it’s a hero’s journey, we all know who is going to die. If it’s some massive war being fought, just about anyone is up for grabs by Death.

Plot Types of Death

Of course, genre isn’t the only thing that plays a role in the likelihood of characters dying. As I mentioned above in the fantasy genre, there are certain plot types (of the seven) that are more likely to lead to character death than others. For example…

  • The Quest aka “Hero’s Journey”: Potentially a loved one dies/does not exist. The mentor has to die for the hero to take control of their own destiny. And the enemy will likely die because this story type plays very heavily into good vs evil.
  • Rages to Riches: A loved one dies at the beginning of the story/is presumed dead, thus throwing the character into an undesirable situation, which they will inevitably come out of because of love (potentially to the presumed dead person).
  • Voyage and Return: Unpredictable. There are instances where no one dies in this plot type and there are instances where lots of people die in this plot type because it depends on what will have an impact on the main character.

So now that we’ve broken this down and offered some explanation, I can offer my viewpoint on why characters need to die and why they, unfortunately, do not end up dying.

Well, the most obvious reason for characters needing to die is because it’s reality. Even most magic systems do not allow the return of a character from death. It is final. It is forever. It is a fantastic way to motivate other characters to do something, as it’s often used. But more importantly, it’s a stake. If no one dies at the end of some EPIC battle – or at least no one of consequence – then, to the reader, it feels as though there were no stakes in the story. There was no real risk being taken in fighting because CLEARLY it wasn’t as dangerous as everyone thought.

(Honestly, this is one of the reasons why I don’t really enjoy superhero movies
because you KNOW the superhero ain’t gonna die.
Infinity War was kind of a joke.
Not sorry.)

So, if characters dying is so important to a story, then why do so many stories not have any major characters dying? Simple.

Authors are weak.

Oh yeah. I said it. I have no problems making this claim because I have seen enough authors struggle with killing their characters. God knows I have struggled with this (and then I jumped off the deep end and literally no one is safe in my books any more. I stop keeping tally now. Oops!) Authors become attached to their characters, most often because each character possesses a tiny piece of themselves so it’s like killing part of themselves when they kill a character. There is also this obsessive need in American stories for a HEA: Happily Ever After, but if people die, how can we have a HEA?

So there are no character deaths because authors love their characters, because readers EXPECT all characters to live (even though many of them are disappointed in the end), and because… you never know when you may need that character again. Which is where the ‘fake death’ cliche comes from. (But that’s a WHOLE other discussion, which I’ve already ranted about.)

But what do you think?
Is a story satisfying without death?
Leave your thoughts below!

And check out my discussion from last week:
Sensitivity Readers


10 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} No One Dies”

  1. Awesome discussion, Melanie! Not to sound morbid, but I love it when authors are risky enough to kill off their own characters. It’s realistic and I can’t stand it when everyone is safe, so the ending can remain happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? I don’t think we should sacrifice a good story for a HEA and America is really the only country that’s this obsessed with HEA, which is why a lot of foreign entertainment doesn’t make it over here. Shame. I like variety. I like my ending to be unpredictable and they just aren’t nowadays. :/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really like how you brought up that HEA do appear to be mostly an American trend. In many animes and Japanese shows, I’ve noticed it’s quite common for endings to be sadder. In one of my favorite movies it deals with an Irish protagonist and one of my favorite lines in the movies is when he says (as he’s dying at the end of the movie). “I told ya, this isn’t an American story. It’s an Irish one.” It was brilliantly done and I loved it!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hahahaha! That sounds awesome! I noticed it a lot in German movies too, especially older ones. HEAs just don’t have priority in the rest of the world and it’s fantastic! 😀 aaaaaand then I try to write that here and people FREAK OUT on me. sigh

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I think a story can be satisfying without deaths, depending on the story. You are right that having some death not only makes it more realistic, but can add a lot of emotional clout if done correctly. But then, I think creating a character just to have them die is a little false as well. Unless it is a tragedy, like Hamlet, I don’t like just killing everyone – one reason I refuse to read Game of Thrones.

    Truthfully, it is something I wrestle with. I’m sure you’d say I don’t kill enough of my characters. But then, I don’t want to kill any just kill them. It has to make sense in the plot. I don’t think just killing to kill works. Yet it can add to the story. Emotional depth, making it more real, a bigger sense of danger and immediacy, etc. It is interesting to think about…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the reasons I love GOT is because of all the death. Martin isn’t afraid to kill off characters because he has woven an intricate, complex story that doesn’t rely on any one single character. THAT is something I’d prefer to read, honestly. You never know what’s going to happen next. So much better than: “Well, you know they’re all gonna live HEA.”

      I never said killing to kill, but when your characters have lived through scenarios that in EVERY INSTANCE should have killed them, that’s just pathetic. And killing just to kill doesn’t have the emotional complex to it. I read a book just last week where characters were killed, but no one important so they didn’t matter.

      I kill off a lot of my characters – much to the dismay of my readers – but it’s because I put my characters through some tough situations. The odds of all of them making it out alive is 1/gazillion. Someone has to die. The trick is to make that death mean something.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think a lot has to do with story, where you want it to end, situation, genre, etc. I’ll admit that I don’t kill enough of my main characters (in my longer fiction). Yeah, I get too close to that sill they live HEA… On the other hand, I just mentally went through some of my favorite books that I read in the last year or two and the body count was pretty low in all of them, particularly when it came to main characters.

        I do have a rough draft I’m planning on breaking out at the beginning of next year. After this discussion, I think I will kill a few of the main characters 😉 (I was writing it as a serial on line. I divided the climatic scene in half (two posts) and had a lot of people message me not kill the character that I had planned to kill, so I changed it. Hmmm, now I will change it back…)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I am particularly known for killing a lot of my characters (as my readers will attest), but the hardest part with that is you have to set up a HUGE cast to begin with otherwise you end up with only 1 or 2 characters at the end. And with a large cast, it can be difficult to get the readers attached to them so there is a fine line to walk between ‘character with actual purpose’ and ‘character with purpose to die.’ So I fully understand why there are such small body counts in stories, but I still support it. And if I know I’m killing someone off later, then I will do my best to feature them as much as possible to create that connection between reader and character because I hate when characters only purpose is to die. That’s just bad writing.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Part of my problem is that I am very much a panster. There does come a time when I sit down and take all of the loose threads and become a plotter to tie them together, but if I had been only working with a handful of characters…

            On the other hand, a lot can be done with a second (or third) draft. I have a first draft that I will start working on again in the late fall or early winter. I do need more death in it, which means more characters, which means a few changes in plot to make these characters meaningful. I know where in the book the deaths will occur, but I’m not sure how to work the people in. Yet. And there is another I have in there as a main character that just might have to go. Hmmmm.

            I think i need to break out the virtual pen and start writing…

            Liked by 1 person

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