This is fairly tangential to my previously posted version of the Three Laws of Fanfiction, and I did not entirely realize it when I was writing them anyway.
It definitely deserves being stated, however.
Why the triangular heck does (what feels like) pretty much every single fanfic (and a good part of original fiction, for that matter) have several major good-side characters killed by the evil guys a few chapters before the ending?
I mean, I can actually kind of understand why – because a climactic fight needs to be climactic, to get the emotions flowing, stuff like that. And it also usually comes at the point (around 90% of the way in) where it’s a bit late to throw the book away in disgust (even metaphorically), and most readers prefer to just slog through to the end.
But it sure erases pretty much all of the enjoyment gained by the previous 90% of the text (and it is hard to get much of that enjoyment back in the remaining 10%) – because, unless the story was dark from the start (more common with original works than with fanfics), it means that the tone of the story changes significantly.
(If it was dark from the start, one at least expects something like that, and is less surprised by the sudden downer. But stories like that just tend to be thrown away in disgust earlier by anyone who isn’t that kind of reader.)
It’s kinda possible to deal with that by making it gradual – things very slowly get darker and darker. Harry Potter (the original, not the fanfics) is a good example. But, again, it requires a particular kind of reader, and it makes it even harder to make a non-obviously-sad ending if things have been sad for so long already (at least, other than actively reverting stuff to the good side – often including the above-mentioned killed characters going back to life – which just feels like a cop-out, and if not done very well can also give the impression that half the things that happened were all for nothing).
Why this is related to the Three Laws of Fanfiction at all? Because this is one of the biggest problems about having powerful, competent villains. Even if your hero is, in fact, powerful enough to beat them, it just makes sense for them to, say, abduct the hero’s favorite girl (oh, I forgot to mention, it’s usually a girl for some reason – can occasionally be a boy if the hero is female, but even then it’s often a girl) and kill her. (Or, as often happens, corrupt her so much that the hero is forced to kill her, which is, if anything, even worse for the reader.)
This is why Sauron is so acceptable despite the power disparity: he never tries to attack Sam’s girlfriend or something like that… actually, he, or Saruman for that matter, never really tried to attack anyone‘s friends directly. (To be fair, it is in part because of the power disparity, but still.)
I agree, that’s a bit of a problem. If you write about the villains abducting (or just normally murdering) the hero’s favorite girl, your readers will not enjoy the story; if you do not, you’ll keep wondering why they didn’t do that when it was the obvious and reasonable thing to do (as will many readers, even if they realize that it would’ve made the story much sadder).
So either don’t write about villains competent enough to realize that, or – that’s probably easier, because extremely dumb villains are almost impossible to write about without falling into bad humor – make both your main heroes and the sidekicks powerful enough that even if a villain tries to abduct one, they’d just get a facefull of sidekick fist (or, at worst, a really angry sidekick who managed to escape).
Or maybe just don’t have the hero keep major attachments; make it so that the protagonist’s side consists pretty much of the protagonist only. This is surprisingly easy to do in settings where the main character already has reasons not to trust people; in particular, many Worm fanfics end up going that way.
(On second thought, especially competent villains might realize that hurting the hero’s friends will only anger the hero further. But at this point, it’s hard to make the hero powerful enough to be anything but a slight nuisance to the villains’ brilliant master plan. And on some particular intelligence levels, they might just still do it anyway, to make the hero act irrationally.)
…Sorry for such an extended rant; I probably don’t even seriously believe in half the things I just said. But I really wanted to vent, after yet another fanfic I wanted to enjoy that had the hero’s (female) best friend killed two chapters before the end of the story.