We live in an age where it’s trendy to kill off your characters but let me give you a word of caution:
If you kill off all the characters I care about in your story, I no longer care about your story.
This has happened to me a few times, actually. It’s a difficult thing to manage, because the really likeable characters, the characters that everyone loves and adores, those are the ones that are often the most tempting to kill off. Look at FMA. Hughes was pretty instantly a likeable character. I don’t know anyone who won’t join me in my mourning throes whenever he gets brought up.
But the thing about FMA is that I also really, really like Edward. Who is the main character, after all. I like Al, I like Winry, I came to like Scar, I like Mustang and Riza and Armstrong and Bradley and – well, there are a lot of characters! And I like them.
There was a book series, Heart’s Blood I think, it was about like a dragon fighting ring thing or something. I didn’t finish it. It was a trilogy that my bestie liked a lot, and the thing about books that she likes is that somehow, I never do. (The inverse is also true. You’d think two fantasy lovers could find some common ground!) There’s nothing inherently wrong with the series but I didn’t like it much, and the only character that I really liked, to which I had a real attachment, was murdered by an angry mob in like the first book. I finished the chapter, and then because it was near the end of the book, I finished the book. But then I just didn’t…care. I hadn’t attached to any of the other characters because none of them appealed to me and I just…stopped reading.
The same thing has happened with Homestuck.
Homestuck has about a million and half characters. It’s an ex-treme-ly long webcomic and the plot is so convoluted that despite my best efforts, I’ve never been able to adequately sum it up, not to my own satisfaction. It’s written in a series of acts, and last I checked it was still trudging towards the end in a mangled and over-drawn Act 6.
I loved Acts 1-4 of Homestuck, which followed the original main cast and encompasses everyone shown in the picture, I think… Act 5 and 6 just about doubled the cast from 1-4. Unless you count ALL THE EFFING GHOSTS in which case it multiplied the cast by infinity and I’m not really exaggerating here when I say that. Act 5 involved a lot of character death. The characters that were left that I liked, a lot of them started developing in ways that made them different enough from their original selves that I…didn’t like them so much anymore. Then we introduced a whole slew of new characters and I didn’t like almost any of them. Most of them were douchebags and a-holes. And then things got weirder in a way I couldn’t get behind, and I could get behind a lot of the weird that had happened in 1-4. It felt like the original flavor of those acts was totally lost. And then Hussie went and killed all the rest of the characters I cared about and just
I’ll still wear my Terezi cosplay. I’ll still try to come up with a hyper-accurate Bec Noir cosplay because I’m insane and want to get that sword perfect. But I’m not going to finish reading Homestuck. I just…don’t care what happens to the ghosts or the kids or anything anymore because Hussie went and massacred them. And even if there’s a huge cast and there’s still more than plenty of characters left to tell the story, the homicide on all the ones I LIKED means I DON’T CARE.
I don’t hate Homestuck! And to all you Stuckies out there, glad you’re still enjoying it, I really am! I’d still even call myself a fan of Homestuck because I still really like Acts 1-4 and even some of 5. And like I said, I’d still cosplay from Homestuck.
But I’m not going to finish reading the story and if anyone tries to talk to me about it, I’ll just shrug and say, “eh.”
Almost all my favorite characters in Harry Potter died, too. Luckily for me, the last slew of deaths happened in the last book so I could and can finish the series without despair and apathy sinking in to the point where I don’t care.
So what do you do? If you are going to kill a character, review what you have left. In Firefly, the whole cast is friggun amazing. I love them. I love them ALL. The character deaths in Serenity were really hard. Any reminders make me want to cry all over again. But what we had left was still an amazing cast. If you kill your best character, take inventory and make sure there’s still a reason to keep on keeping on – for the reader.
If there’s not, re-evaluate your other characters. Sometimes you can’t tell they were weak until the load-bearing character is shot down, but if you see it, fix it. If your other character is crappy because they were supposed to develop to be cool, make sure they’re at least cool enough when you axe the other cool character. If you’re not sure, ask a wide variety of people who they like! If you just get one Rii who says, “Yeah I don’t care about any of your other characters”, don’t be discouraged. You can’t ever make anyone happy. But be careful with killing your best character if it seems like everyone who reads dwells too much on only the death after it happens.