Story Laws – #1 Dead Man Walking

I’ve watched and read a lot of stories—perhaps not as much as others, but still a decent amount.

But almost anyone can identify a clichés or a trope Something you see over and over across novels and movies alike. The Damsel in Distress. The Hooker with the Heart of Gold. And, a recent one I learned, the Jerk with the Heart of Gold.

So what I’m about to say here has probably been identified already and explained in much greater detail and clarity than I’m going to right now.

I don’t care. This is something I’ve noticed and wanted to share. Free country and all.

*blows raspberry*

Anywho, here is the first of what I call Story Laws or Rules. Basically, it’s something that happens in a story that allows me to make a rather accurate prediction on the outcome of the plot. In other words, if A happens, B will almost certainly happen. I’ve seen it happen so many times it feel like it’s an unofficial rule or law for storytelling.

I’ll just say upfront that I hate these. It makes a story predictable and one of the things that almost all the stories I loved had in common is that I never knew what was going to happen next until the very end.

In any case, here is the first.

Story Law #1: If a character commits a heinous act that cannot be undone nor forgiven, that character will di, even if he is in actuality a good person or has redeemed himself later on. He or she will die regardless.

Examples! Be warned, I’m pretty much giving away the endings to these stories, so read on at your own risk.

 

The movie The Professional by director Luc Besson

The main character was an assassin and even though he had a “code” of never killing women and children and was overall a good person, taking care of that little girl who changed him forever, he still ended up dead…because he was killer.

 

The movie Daybreakers with Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe

This one is about vampires and one of the movie that proved I can officially tell when I’m about to be very disappointed. One of the characters I really liked was Ethan Hawke’s character’s brother.

Though he was an antagonist at first, it was obvious he was only doing what he thought was best and often struggled with figuring that out. He also cared about his brother and, like I said before, I had a soft spot for types like him. Of course, the minute he turned an innocent human girl into a vampire against her will, who was later killed—not by him—I knew he was gonna die.

It didn’t matter that he turned good in the end and saved his brother’s life. Apparently, the screenwriters felt he had to die.

And that pissed me off.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK.Rowling

Oh god, did I hate this one. But I knew it was gonna happen. It wasn’t even the clue that Rowling was killing off all the characters from James’ generation when Sirius died. Though that may be the true reason Rowling killed off my most beloved Harry Potter character, Severus Snape because the Law doesn’t fit perfectly here.

Snape was never evil. Well, okay, he did nothing evil in current events in the books. Everything he did was for honorable reasons. And yet that doesn’t matter. He did something that couldn’t be undone and could not be forgiven. It wasn’t just because he used to be a Death Eater and god knows how many he killed back then and those he was forced to kill after he went undercover.

I knew Snape was going to die the minute he killed Dumbledore.

Sure, it was genius. And I loved it.

But did Snape HAVE to die? I mean it’s not bad that he did, but it’s predictable.

(I also didn’t really like the WAY he died. It was too convenient. I think it would have been much better if Snape actually had to explain himself to Harry in person. It would have made a much more powerful scene…but perhaps an extremely tricky one to write).

 

In fact, in all these and other examples, the deaths were predictable and that’s the biggest reason this law sucks.

Even freaking Boromir’s death from LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring was foreseeable the instant he tried to get the Ring for himself—even if the crime wasn’t even so bad. It was still unforgivable. All those who wanted the stupid Ring were punished. Even Frodo lost his finger for giving in to it when he finally reached Mount Doom.

…I feel like I got off track.

Where was I? Ah yes.

Right now, as I explained in an earlier post, I’m currently worried for a certain beloved angel character in the show Supernatural.

For the entire series, Castiel has been the goodest of goody-two-shoes. He always wanted to do the right thing, but I know that doesn’t mean crap in storyland.

As good and evil became more and more unclear as the show went on, Castiel started to bend the rules a little.

In the last episode, Castiel killed his friend and one of his brothers, the angel Baltazar. I’m praying to God that this act doesn’t count as something that crosses the line into heinous and unforgivable. After all, Baltazar was sort of a jerk and he did betray Castiel.  But now that Castiel believes he’s God and there’s an entire season to go, he has plenty of time to do some real damage and earn his inevitable death.

I hope not. But if he does, you now know why.

I actually hate this “law” and love it whenever I see it broken. I am interested in true redemption and forgiveness, no matter what the person has done. In fact, the worse the person did, the greater the redemption and sacrifice, the more I want to see that character survive.

The only exception I’ve seen this law broken repeatedly are in horror movies. But of course, they have to let the killer live if they want to do a sequel. Sometimes, here I’d like to see the opposite happen…except in Saw. That was perfect. True, he still had to die in the end (to me Saw ended with the third movie. The rest are just fanfiction), so in a way the law was still in effect…but with a twist since he still won in the end.

So I guess, I just would like to see people break away from formulas or at the very least twist them and make them interesting.

Next Week: Story Law #2 – The Third Wheel Must Die.

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10 thoughts on “Story Laws – #1 Dead Man Walking

Add yours

  1. Hmm…

    Yeah I think I see what you mean, and I’m definitely most critical of JK Rowling. Hard not to be because she handled some things brilliantly, and fell flat on others IMO. I think some fantasy writers tend to lean to heavily on the magic in their worlds to get some of the difficult things across in a story. Not that I know how I would have written Snape telling Harry, but I do agree that would have been more powerful.

    As for the whole dead man walking thing…

    I’m hard-pressed to find an example of someone doing something bad and not getting killed for it. If this says anything the more recent book I’ve reread that I can speak to on that subject would be Long John Silver in Treasure Island, and I did enjoy how the author handled it, just because that’s the kind of character Silver was, devious but also clever.

    In my novel evil gets whats coming to it only if it suits the story. Because, in real life, isn’t it more likely evil people get away with what they do?

    1. Well, there is sort of a satisfaction when a character that is truly vile, that you truly hate, gets the axe.

      What I really mean though are the characters who have repented in some way. That despite what they did in the past, they’re truly good in heart.

      Like Dark Vader. Probably the most famous villain ever that everyone loves. In the end, he sort of repents and is, deep deep down the good guy he used to be. But nope, he had to die.

      (Actually in this case, I think it’s a good thing he died cause…he really had nothing to live for. But still…)

      It’s when a character like that, a repented and redeemed character dies, is when I get frustrated,

      1. No, right I gotcha. See that all the time. Just couldn’t think of a counter in that moment. Shows how big that trope really is. 🙂

  2. haha alright I give I think the closest I have is the fact that Draco Malfoy did not snuff it in the Potter series, in fact went on to have kids hehee.

    1. Because Draco never killed anyone or did anything that could be considered unforgivable. He never crossed that line. He also has age on his side, since he’s a kid. But the moment he couldn’t kill Dumbledore, he was saved from the axe the same way killing Dumbledore sealed Snape’s fate.

      1. Yup hehe.

        Definitely in agreement here. I think movies are more the format that give the “redeeemed” characters a break–not always but sometimes.

  3. I think Boromir was a bad example of your rule. He didn’t die because wanting the ring was unforgivable so much as to prove the corrupting and lethal power of the ring. Anyone who desired the ring died because the ring was evil, not because they were evil for desiring it. Boromir had good reason for wanting the ring. He wanted to save his city and the world in general.

    For counteraxamples, how about the Nightangel trilogy? Dorian’s still alive, just crazy. Durzo was given an extra life. Vi’s still kicking. If that line exists, those three definitely crossed it, but each has been redeemed in some way.

    1. Well, Boromir was easily corrupted. Though Aragorn and Gandalf desired the ring due to its evilness, they were able to resist it. Boromir wasn’t able to. And what I’m trying to say aren’t people who are evil always die. I’m saying people who have done unforgivable things, despite being good deep inside, die anyways. The fact he wanted the ring for good purposes just enforce what I’m saying. Despite how good he was, he still died.

      I hate this, but I see it often. But you’re right. Dorian was the exception and this is probably why I love him even more. He was almost killed and I think Weeks did good by not killing him (though unless he’s cured, he might as well be dead to the world so there’s still that. If he had gotten away with his sanity and life, THEN it would have been a true exception).

      I don’t see Durzo as having done something unforgivable. Not like Dorian unforgivable anyways. But then again, he was killed. He may have been revived, but he did die.

      Vi…god she should have died. In my opinion anyways.

      Also, Brent Weeks kind of went around the rule here by the fact that her unforgivable, heinous act was killing Jarl, but she was being controlled and never wanted to kill him (and there’s also Kylar’s immortality curse in affect here too). So she didn’t do a evil, heinous unforgivable thing on her own will.

      So I disagree that those still kind of kept to the rule.

      1. Kind of, but not quite. And I’d say that Durzo and Vi have both crossed that line many times, we were just never there to see it, so I guess it still kind of keeps to the rule.

        Boromir’s transgression was forgivable. He was weaker than two of the strongest willed people alive, and not even by a whole lot, and that was all there was to it. He died because he desired the ring, yes, but not for desiring the ring. He died because the ring brought disaster upon him.

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