Killing Your Main Character in a Romance? How Dare you!
I wrote a book called Discord, in which twin sisters were raised separately due to a horrifying situation at birth. While they can stay connected, it is with limited understanding of this connection. This book is about them finding their way to each other and earning the love they both deserve after so much heartache in their lives. I did end up killing one of the main characters despite this being a happily ever after romance – this got reactions from several readers. I would love to share some of the unique emails I got on this topic. I’ve heard repeatedly how you kill the main character in a contemporary romance and still manage a happily ever after ending.
Killing the Main Character – A Slippery Slope
Sure, this has been done in fantasy, suspense, and other genres, but rarely in romance. When I first outlined Discord, it was not to kill my sweet, earnest main character. Unfortunately, like life, the story took me to a place where everyone escaping without a scratch and living happily ever after was not feasible. Yes, with the paranormal twin connection, the ending could be crafted to deliver a happily ever after, but I clearly remember when it became evident that my main character would die. There was no other organic place to take the story, and yes, despite probably having to put a warning on the book about adult content – I was going there.
Writing is an art and, many times, mimics life. Life is messy, horrid, and often even in the most earnest of quests, we do not succeed in the manner we hoped. Readers escape into books for that happy ending they might not have attained in life. This does not mean that your stories always need to be syrupy, sweet without any obstacles, and that holds for romance. This would not be realistic or even give enough content to fill a reasonable story of in-depth details and backstory, obstacles, and joys when success is attained. As anyone that has turned on the news recently – bad news prevails everywhere. It is the main reason I write romance, with the endings, so many of us never get. So, how do you kill the main character but not immediately have readers slam down their kindles and not finish?
For me, I made the bad guy so horrible that taking him out was a positive. The fact that it had to be at this sweet girl’s hands the only obvious conclusion, and then still managed a tiny twist with the paranormal angle to tie it up. I have written fifteen books under my pen name since and ghostwritten forty, and Discord’s story is still one of my favorites. Realizing killing the main character comes with additional nuances that must be addressed. In romance, as they climax and ride into the sunset, such a book with such a tough emotional loss will require additional work to wrap it up and keep the readers from giving a one-star review.
Killing main characters in books, movies, and shows is a tricky business. Watchers of shows and readers of books invest in these stories for the characters and their like or hatred of them. Taking one of them out mid-story requires the writer to provide some wrap up still that feels like that was the only path that could have happened and still provide a semblance of ending that resonates with readers. Remember, resonating doesn’t always mean happily ever after; I always tell people – if you got an emotional reaction from a reader, you succeeded. Even the hate mail after Discord made me smile; it meant they got to the end of my book and felt enough to sit down and write me about it. That, for me, was a good day. Happy writing all!
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