Why not kill the hero?

Charles Yallowitz is taking a much deserved vacation this weekend. He didn’t want to abandon his readers, and asked several of us to host an article while he was absent. He’s conscientious that way.

I’m only too happy to help. Charles is a good guy, and is always willing to help me. Today he’s talking about why authors don’t take the easy way out in their stories.


Thank you to C.S. Boyack for offering to host a promo/guest blog. Now to get the introduction and promo stuff out of the way. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz and I’m the author behind the Legends of Windemere epic fantasy series where the latest one is Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue. I also just released a 27-page short story for 99 cents called Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts, so you can get a quick, cheap taste of me . . . whatever. Let’s move on to the fun!

Yahoo Image Search (Captain Picard)

Yahoo Image Search (Captain Picard)

I saw an interesting statement on a review. The person asked why the villains don’t kill the heroes or why I explain the reason for them not taking the kill shots. You know what? I’m betting we all think this at some point. As for my own villains, I’ll sum it up in a few words to cover the reason rainbow and not do spoilers. Ineptitude, sadistic pleasure from causing pain, reluctance to being a hero, and still having a use for the good guys. Read Legends of Windemere and find out who is what.

Now if the villain simply walked up and shot the hero dead that would be the end of the story/series. Is it realistic? Yes. Is it good storytelling? Not really. It’d just be the murder of somebody that leads to a courtroom drama or vengeance tale. Let’s forget the whole decision about killing characters because this is about villain mentality. In various genres, these tend to be ‘larger than life’ characters that you’d never find in reality. The closest comparisons are genocidal dictators and I don’t think those are taken out by a gang of ragtag adventurers or a solitary hero. There’s a fun speech that I’m reminded of whenever I work on my villains. Let me share it:

Again, is this realistic? No. Yet it does demonstrate that most villains in a series have a flaw that prevents them from doing a simple ‘I shoot you dead’ scene. They have arrogance, pride, ego, love of the fight, and so many issues that can hold them back from that brutal, real world finish. We as the readers don’t think this way, so we tend to see their actions as ridiculously self-destructive. Even when a villain tries and fails, many can point out the one thing that could have been done to get the kill. Yet, the truth is that they’re characters designed to tell a story and evolve together in a fantastical adventure. I could have had my heroes die at any point, but where would I be then? Onto the next series and leaving ‘the bad guy wins’ ones behind. My main series probably wouldn’t have even made it beyond ‘Beginning of a Hero’ if I let the villains take the easy kills.

It’s also really hard to explain this mentality because villains aren’t usually aware of it. To have the hero or narrator bring it up can get a little too much as well. Villains that have a reason for keeping the hero alive tend to keep it a secret as well. It might get mentioned once or twice, but it’s not an easy thing to do. Mostly, who wants to hear a villain tell the hero why he won’t kill them? That kind of takes the fear and power out of the character and story. It also brings up the question of why does the hero not kill the villain? That probably comes down to morality, which I’ve noticed many readers seem to ignore and call for death.


Filed under Writing

12 responses to “Why not kill the hero?

  1. Reblogged this on Lori Beasley Bradley my writing and commented:
    This is very interesting. We not only have to be writers, but psychologists to create convincing characters!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent post, Charles! I love how you psychoanalyzed the reasons why we can’t just have the villain kill the hero, or vice versa. Really, really good; I think this is my favorite post of yours. Of course, whenever the subject of murder arises my ears perk up anyway. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. It’s something I’ve actually discussed with people since high school. Maybe this is a big difference between a writer and a reader. The former sees reasons for the characters not to finish each other off while the latter sees reasons why they should. Not sure if that makes any sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This type of discussion always reminds me of Austin Powers, and the scene where Dr. Evil is explaining how he’ll drop Austin into the pool with the sharks and their lasers. His son (played by Seth Greene) keeps asking why his dad doesn’t just shoot him. Just shoot him already! It just puts a spotlight on that–just kill the hero and be done with it. It’s almost like how a cat doesn’t kill the mouse right away; she’s got to play with it for a while. A toy’s no fun once it’s dead 🙂 Thanks for the great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ali Isaac

    Great post, Charles! It would be a deflating experience indeed to witness the villain kill the hero… And what then? Is there anywhere left to go? GoT is the exception to the rule… He kills off the majority of his main characters and gets away with it, probably because there are so many others waiting in the wings. Generally, though, you kill the hero, you kill the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think GoT has the ‘no real hero’ thing going for it. When I’ve asked friends who the main character is, I get multiple answers. So if Emo Warrior is killed off then they still have Dragon Lady around. It’s definitely a series with flexibility. I wonder if villains who kill their arch-enemies ever feel like quitting after that.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I really wanted to make TCOS into a Greek tragedy. It would have been easy, but it has to change something forever. I don’t think modern readers would have been kind about it. I pushed it as far as I dared.


  5. An interesting post. I think of Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes and how everything would just, well… end. More recently, I think of the ongoing villains in a series of novels I follow (Aloysius Pendergatst) and part of what keeps me coming back is the endless battle.

    I admit it….I want to see good triumph over evil 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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