Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Redshirts. No sooner are they introduced than they are killed. The tension rises, there are beads of sweat on Kirk’s brow… now the audience knows the peril is real.
These stock, disposable characters exist in a story solely for the purpose of being disposed of – kidnapped or killed, etc, to push the protagonist into action or drive up the sense of tension without having real consequences for our heroes.
There are several kinds of disposable characters, falling into three main categories:
- Sacrificial lambs/’stuffed into the fridge’
- Cannon fodder
- Raise the stakes
Back from holiday, Megan leads a discussion on the concept of disposable characters in speculative fiction. Why are they problematic? Should we avoid using disposable characters at all costs or do they have their place? What steps can writers take to avoid these tropes? While Lucy almost audibly rolls her eyes at our mention of Star Trek, Charlotte relishes the opportunity to discuss the horror genre in more depth than she usually has a chance to.
If you enjoy our podcast, please support us by recommending to a friend or leaving a review on iTunes!
Texts and writers mentioned in this episode include:
- Star Trek: The Original Series
- Redshirts by John Scalzi
- Austin Powers
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
- Dead Snow
- Black Sheep
- The Grudge
- Mistborn: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
- Stephen King
- Gail Simone
- The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
- George RR Martin
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Battlestar Galactica
- Starship Troopers
- Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
- The Avengers (1960’s)
- Harry Potter by JK Rowling
- Game of Thrones
- The Walking Dead
- The Fifth Season by NK Jemison
- 84K by Claire North
- The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
- Implanted by Lauren C. Teffeau
- The Hunt by Tim Lebbon
I was just watching the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and there’s an interesting example of a disposable character in it. He does kind of have “kill me” written all over him: he’s a minor character with a beautiful wife and daughter; he’s kind, hardworking, trustworthy, and an aide to one of the protagonists. He is murdered pretty early on while trying to get vital information to his boss, and his death motivates other characters for most of the rest of the series.
Here’s the interesting part: we continue to see him in flashbacks, and there’s one fairly late in the series that explicitly brings up the cliche of the death of the minor sympathetic character. It’s a war scene a decade or more before his death, in which he’s going on about his girl back home who he wants to marry. Another character tells him to cut it out because in war movies the guy who talks about his sweetheart always gets killed. My guess is the creators wanted to remind viewers of the sadness of his death, or maybe just to admit that his death was a hoary cliche.