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Author Topic: Insights And Questions  (Read 2339 times)

Offline SarahW

Insights And Questions
« on: December 29, 2014, 01:55:09 AM »
As I've written more (especially flash fiction), I've found any new insight I get leads to a more in depth question in the direction of such writing topic. How would you successfully kill off a main character in fantasy without going into the fridging territory.

Is fridging simply killing off a character to further the plot, or is it specifically killing off a female character to further the male character's journey? This is one aspect that has confused me, and why I've often hesitated to kill my characters.

I used to kill off both male and female characters, usually episodically for different reasons. When you tally it, it comes out to allot, but per short story it's only like one. Assuming it's not one of those, where you think they are dead, but they come out being alive by rebuilt significantly with robotic parts.

In this context I mean for fantasy, though I'm sure the question applies to SF too.

I think this is one reason I quit fantasy and SF for a while. I wanted to focus on developing characters, not blowing them up in detached colonies that once was levitated by a Space Turtle.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2014, 02:24:24 AM »
I worry about the fridging thing as well. Supporting characters (often female, but sometimes othered or dependent in another way, such as race, age, sexuality, or disability) dying and having repercussions on the (often male) main character is such a common trope in fiction that it can exert weight on my story ideas without me being consciously aware of it, so any time I am looking at including a character death as a plot point - especially if it's a woman - I try to consciously deconstruct the element.

Some things I like to consider:
  • Is this a "classic fridging"? Is the character killed or otherwise brutalised at the start of the story to propel the hero into action? e.g. Batman's parents, Liam Neeson's whatever, the retired warrior's wife and daughter forcing him to take up the sword he had sworn never to swing in anger blah blah blah. Is there a better, more interesting, less cliche way for me to move my character?
  • Are there problematic elements to the death? Would she have survived if: she had followed his advice / he was there to protect her / she'd only stayed out of this / she was a man?
  • Does the character who is killed have purpose and significance to the story beyond their death and its impact? Is that character well-rounded and interesting in and of themselves? (Obviously we want the reader to get to know the character who dies so that they grieve as well, because we as authors are a nasty nefarious bunch who are nourished by the tears of our readers, but the character should be a character, not a collection of endearing traits.)
  • Is the character just killed to show how nasty the villain is? Is this really necessary? Can it be shown another way? Ot at least, can the death also have other plot connotations?
  • Are the surviving characters reacting more like someone broke their stuff than that they've lost a friend?
Sometimes I'll answer yes to more than one of those options, but I'll still try it out in the story because there are other elements that I think balance it out, and/or it does seem to be the best plot option, all things considered. But I think it's very, very important to consider the matter carefully, because as I mentioned in opening, this stuff just seeps into your subconscious. And I consider all of this for the deaths of male characters as well, because it's still cheap - if slightly less dominant-paradigm-problematic.

Offline SarahW

Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2014, 02:41:15 AM »
Like the stories I usually have in mind, tend to focus less on actually killing characters, and more on the hunt for the characters, and their ordeals that could lead to death, which such being more like a side effect of more relevant concerns. (Like "how am I going to save the baby pterodactyls?" or "How can I steal an outfit for this poor family, and stay alive?)

So to keep the answer short, no the death isn't the focus at all. They might be threatened by execution several times in the context of adventure. I just don't care for killing off the main character before the plot (especially for a novella) has completed it's course.

And now that I'm outlining less, I really don't know when the story ends. Everything just becomes more complicated when I'm not doing a chapter synopsis per chapter.

This was a lot less tricky, when I tried to write dystopian puzzle adventures.

Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2014, 03:21:01 AM »
I think this is one reason I quit fantasy and SF for a while. I wanted to focus on developing characters, not blowing them up in detached colonies that once was levitated by a Space Turtle.

I want to read this now. ;D

So the question is: "How would you kill off a main character without it going into the fridging territory?" That's a good question. I think cupiscent said it best:

1) Make sure the character has agency beyond its death. Motivation is rarely a good reason for the author to kill. Make it realistic (though I hate throwing that word around in this connotation).

I try to abstain from killing off anybody early on in the story, or anybody important that can fall into fridging territory. I'm actually in the middle of a rewrite where in the beginning (about 100 pages in) a main character dies. Because I'm a plotter by nature, I decided to add another chapter or two to increase the characterization and thus effects of the death rather than some heartwarming conversation before "stabbity-stab-stab" ensued. Which is what I originally was setting up.

2) "Can the death also have other plot connotations?" This is a big one. Especially if the death is linked to a murder mystery. The more I think about it, my nasty anti-hero of a narrator only kills maybe five people in the entire novel, including side and important. But I do have some deaths you could consider off-screen. This is why I try and tie in a mystery to each death (where only a few are actually unimportant).

3) "Does the character who is killed have purpose and significance to the story beyond their death and its impact? Is that character well-rounded and interesting in and of themselves?" I'll leave it off here. Brilliant analysis. I would say that as long as you can answer one of these two, you're out of the fridge zone, though both tend to play off of each other.
“It’s a dangerous thing, pretense. A man ought to know who he is, even if he isn’t proud to be it.” - Tomorrow the Killing, Daniel Polansky

Offline SarahW

Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2014, 04:40:39 AM »
I already feel better, knowing others aren't alone in this.

Its more of a question I have in longer fiction. Like I was trying to write a middle grade novella back in last January (December and January are my writing months), but then the novella went totally off the rails and while characters were making the best of their situation I had a peculiar dark turn by the second half.

Like I don't try to kill them, it's more like if you suddenly warp back into a Winter landscape from like hell/purgatory, your chances of getting used to the cold weather are very slim.

And now I'm having a hard time justifying the ending, which usually means I should either change the ending or expand on it with seven more chapters. It's this burning question that keeping from writing other novellas.:/

Offline Elfy

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Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2014, 11:52:07 PM »
I think the real question is does this character need to die? Is it integral to the plot or is it being done to provoke a response from another character or the reader?
I will expand your TBR pile.

Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2014, 12:22:19 AM »
The death of characters can serve to establish a sense of realism and peril. In the Matthew Reilly Jack West Jr. series (The first being 7 Deadly Wonders) Jack is the leader of an international team. They go through many combat situations involving adversaries of equal or higher strength. When some of the team members died it gave me a sense that the battle was realer than if everyone survived and it added a greater sense of risk to their future encounters.

If there is only one villain having them kill may not be the worst thing they can do. There are things and conditions worse than death. What I would consider is what level of evil do I want the character to have. If they do kill how is it done is also key in establishing their level of malice.
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Offline SarahW

Re: Insights And Questions
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2017, 08:37:03 AM »
As a small update: I ended up figuring out specifically what I wanted in my one story. Although I'm not quite sure how to do in the next few.

The framework was basically a warped of warped and twisted love triangle, but changed it up by making one girl a conflicted spy and the other already dead being the core driver for the plot (having died before the story began). It's explained in context, given that the medieval society is built on top of a giant catacomb computer of an earlier advanced society.

What we call uploaded brains now, manifest as ghosts of a future medieval technological society.