I'm going to be discussing the story structure of Hitchcock's classic horror film, "Psycho", so if you haven't seen it, don't read any further. Go watch the movie! Enjoy it. Then come back and give this a read.
*** Spoiler Alert***
The film "Psycho" is based on a novel, and I'm curious to see how close to the book the movie turned out. I'm especially curious about the story structure. Does the novel follow Norman Bates, or does it follow Marion to her rendezvous at the Bates Motel, and then carry on with the other character's unraveling the mystery of her murder.
The reason this is so intriguing is that it was a daring move to have what is essentially the film's main character (Marion) die about 40 minutes in. The movie starts with Marion and we are with her so long, watching her every move (sometimes in great detail) that we fall into the comfortable idea that she is our lead, the damsel who will face darkness but come out on top. We don't see that she'll end up at the bottom of a bog sliced up and wrapped in plastic. Hitchcock pulls it off and still manages to keep the movie moving by passing the mystery of Marion onto the mystery of Norman Bates and his mother. It works great on film and in the hands of a skilled director.
Can this be pulled off in a book?
It's a tempting experiment to try, but I don't think that readers would enjoy the idea. If you spend roughly one third of a book getting to know a character only to have them brutally murdered, I think the reader is going to feel punished and cheated. It would be almost impossible to keep that momentum going, instead it will be like a brick wall in the story, one that will stop all but the most determined reader.
Now, I've read some series that use the death of a main character (usually around book three or so), and that's fine. A series usually has such a large cast that this kind of thing is expected. But in a one shot story, I'm not sure it can be done. (And killing your character off at the end is a different thing all together. That's makes the story a tragedy.)
What do you think, can story structure like "Psycho" only work on film?