“This character’s death was pointless.” This seems to be a very common complaint among readers. Very often when a new book comes out – especially if it’s the next installment in a series – people start complaining that a character dies and their death doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. It seems meaningless and people get upset. But do character deaths need to have a meaning? Or can characters just die? My gut response is that no, character deaths don’t need to be meaningful. But I can see both sides of the argument.
Despite personally feeling like characters’ deaths don’t really need to serve a purpose, I can understand readers’ complaints. A lot of the time, it simply seems like bad writing. It seems like the author’s only way of creating a strong emotional response in readers is to kill off their favorite character. If the author has to kill characters in order for readers to have an emotional reaction to the book, that’s bad (or at the very least, mediocre) writing.
I also feel like using a character’s death to give the main character something to wallow over is… amateur. This is very common in a lot of male-led stories: the male main character’s mom or girlfriend (or sister or wife… I could keep going) dies so that the guy has something to be angry over and be angsty and decide to turn into a hero or something. It seems maybe lazy and definitely overdone.
Character deaths also really shouldn’t be used just to give the main character some sort of renewed motivation to take action if the character dying is a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIAP community. I will refrain myself from going off on a rant about it, but I’ll leave it at this: POC and the LGBTQIAP community deserve representation that doesn’t end in death or misery.
But like I said: I don’t personally feel like a character’s death needs to have some sort of meaning. I mean, it can. If the author wants to have someone close to the MC die in order for the person to go through some sort of character development or to help propel the plot forward, I think that’s fine. But I don’t think that purpose behind a death is necessary.
Sometimes, someone dying is just the most logical and realistic outcome. If the world the story is set in is an extremely violent one or if there’s some sort of other life-threatening situation that the characters are in (like a plague, for example), it would be really unrealistic for nobody to die. Take dystopian novels for example. Can you imagine if these huge revolutions were happening and none of the people on the “good” side died? Talk about unrealistic.
But going even further than that… in real life, deaths don’t happen for a reason. (I suppose some people who are religious may feel differently, now that I think about it…) It isn’t as though people choose to die because “hey! This will give my boyfriend something to get angry about and inspire him to change things!” Let’s be real. People die for many reasons. Or for none at all. So to suggest that a character has to die to serve some sort of purpose seems kind of silly to me, I guess. People in real life die because they’re sick or because they’re murdered or because they got old or because of any number of other reasons. Because books are often written to be a reflection of reality (albeit not an exact reflection), I think characters should be allowed to die just because.
So while I do think that character deaths can be meaningful and can serve some sort of literary purpose, I don’t think they need to. Sometimes people just die.