It usually happens during a battle scene. The tension is high, the fighting has been fierce, but things have finally turned around for the good guys. You’re just about to breathe a sigh of relief…and then, without warning, a significant-yet-somehow-disposable character gets killed.
And, if your luck is anything like mine, it’s usually your favorite character that bites the dust.
In some cases, I can understand why it happens. Without naming any specific titles, in one example that comes to mind, the character who dies is about just about to win his fight against one villain when another villain suddenly appears…and stabs him. He doesn’t die instantly, which means that he has plenty of time to reflect on his life via a heart-wrenching montage and, in so doing, make peace with his allies, who he just finally recognizes as friends / the first people who ever fully accepted him. He dies with a smile. His friends, of course, are not smiling, but they win the fight, and his death becomes another motivating factor in battles to come.
When a character’s “surprise” death has meaning, I can accept it. I still hate it. It still makes me mad. But I can accept it.
In other cases, however, I can only conclude that the storyteller behind a given tale gets some sick, twisted joy in killing off characters he gets bored with. In another example, the group of heroes is desperately attempting to outrun a significant enemy. The chase is intense, but finally, it appears as though they’ve reached safety. One of the heroes is pretty much in the midst of breathing a sigh of relief when…oh look…an enemy weapon just killed him. No warning. No chance for him to say goodbye. No real purpose, even, except to say to the audience, “You thought they were safe? Ha! We sure fooled you, ROFL.”
Now, I understand that the second scenario is more realistic. In the real world, we are not guaranteed a 5 minute goodbye scene when we die. But that’s the real world, and if I wanted the real world, then doggone it, I’d look outside my window or turn on the news. More often than not, I’m immersing myself in a fictional world because I want to escape reality for a little bit. (Especially if, as in the case of my example, the fictional world is clearly fictional and has little basis in reality, anyway.) Yes, there can be tragedy — even though, on the whole, I don’t prefer tragic stories — but at least let me see a tragedy with meaning, okay? Let me see that the characters left behind have a chance to mourn, or that there was some purpose in the disposed-of-character being, well, disposed of. At least try to soften the blow.
Or, better yet, stop killing off my favorite characters unless you absolutely have to. *angry glare*
Anyway. Admittedly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever run across this in a novel. Either I’ve never read a book that has a similar scenario in it, or I blocked that part out of my memory after I finished. Or, it just doesn’t exist in written form, and is an unfortunate phenomena restricted to movies, anime, manga, etc. If, however, anyone reading this knows of a book example, let me know. I’m a little curious. Also, bonus points to anyone who can figure out where my examples came from based on what I already wrote…