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Some spoilers to Serenity (the Firefly movie) and Red Rising and Golden Son by Pierce Brown.

FRIDGING is a problem in storytelling. Briefly, it is the act of killing a character in order to (from the writer’s point of view) inspire other characters to heroic action. The perpetrator can be a maniacal villain, an unsympathetic bureaucracy, a selfish god.

And of course, above all, the writer put them up to it. Let’s get this out of the way: Whatever your characters do, it’s your fault. Don’t blame your characters for doing this or that. Own it. Joss Whedon murdered Wash. Pierce Brown killed Eo . . . and Pax.

There are good reasons to kill of a key character. Maybe you want to show that no one is safe from your terrible, swift pen (as in the case of Wash). In this case, foreshadowing is your friend. Prepare your audience for the coming loss.

(OR DON’T!)

Killing off a major character can open up all kinds of interesting possibilities for storytelling. Pull the chair from under the audience. They’ve gotten too comfortable with the story formula. (I’m kind of pissed still at Kameron Hurley for killing off a certain character in RAPTURE. That’s means it worked. I think.)

Fridging is different. It’s killing a character just for the sake of inspiring others to take their grief and convert it into (often violent) action.

You should recognize this situation in your own writing and think about what you are doing. If that’s really what you want to do, then own it. Realizing too that it may really turn people off. I admit I almost threw Red Rising against the wall when Eo died, in her husband’s POV eyes the perfect woman born in squalor calling for revolution. (I did appreciate that in Golden Son *SPOILER* Darrow’s mother revealed her own less than flowery opinion of her late daughter-in-law.)

It’s not something I can’t get past as a reader, but it feels like a betrayal IMO. Frankly, it’s lazy writing. I’m sure at some point I will do it myself, but it’s a cheap plot point. Like heroes that are orphans by default, it frees your hero from those pre-existing emotional bonds that would keep them from heading into the world of adventure.

So think of something else.

My own aphorism is this:
Don’t ride the dragon, be the dragon, don’t be the martyr, lead the revolution.

Take the too-good-for-this-world character and make them live through the change they want to realize. It’s less of a fairy tale, but it’s closer to reality. What happens after the revolution is won, when you have to actually pay off your rebel army and get to the business of creating something new, worthy of your children and the blood of those who don’t live to see the world they died bringing into existence.

Because dying is easy, living is harder.

 

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