Killing off Charaters


Justus Brocka, Herald Reporter

I originally became curious about the connection between fiction and real emotions when I was writing a book that takes place in an alternate timeline from the main series. When I started I thought to myself, “It takes place in an alternate time so it doesn’t affect the main plot or the main timeline; I can kill off characters in this book as much as I want, without the feelings that come with killing a character in the main timeline.” I was dead wrong. There were two to three times while writing it where I just had to stop writing for a few minutes after killing off a character. Then it got me thinking, “How do stories get us attached to characters even when we know the characters are just fiction? Why are we able to feel excitement at their victories and sorrow at their deaths?”
As I was writing this I thought of the fact that the best death scenes in fiction draw the same emotion with or without context, the only difference is that when you have the full context the emotion drawn will be a lot stronger than if you didn’t have the full context. Then there’s also the death scenes that still draw the emotion even when you know they’re coming. Some are even worse if you know they’re coming if you know it will happen just not when the waiting might actually make the emotion stronger.
When a fictional story is engaging we find ourselves getting invested in the plot but that wouldn’t be enough to get us attached to the characters, but when we get invested in the plot we get invested in the characters who are interagale to the plot.
The feelings drawn by a character’s death are drawn differently than the feelings drawn by anything else in the story. When it comes to a character’s death the emotions felt aren’t from the character dying but how the other characters react to the death. If the killer is smug about the death and gloats about it the viewers will often be left feeling a form of anger towards the character. Similarly, if you see how devastated another character is at the loss then you’ll have a feeling of sadness.
From everything I’ve been able to find it seems like as humans most of us can’t just turn empathy on and off just because we know someone is a fictional character, our reactions might be a bit weaker because we know they’re fictional but that doesn’t completely get rid of the feeling.