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My Answer: The hero and heroine should be heroic. This doesn't mean that the hero / heroine shouldn't kill the villain, but it does mean that they shouldn't allow themselves to stoop to the villain's tactics and values - this is what sets them apart and makes them the main characters. This is why you root for them.
So, is killing the villain out of the question? No, I don't think so. In historicals, some eras were bloodier – so would it make sense for your warrior hero (or heroine) to step back and let the courts (such as they were) take care of justice? Maybe, maybe not. Or, in a paranormal, does it make sense for your warrior vampire to step back and let the villain get away alive? Probably not.
So, here are some parameters I've come up with:
- The hero or heroine (or ideally both) must deal with the threat. The actions they take, their skills, their wits, and their confrontation with the bad guy come together to either eliminate or contain the threat. In a paranormal, the main character's special skills or paranormal gifts must be used to achieve the outcome.
- The hero / heroine must be heroic (I know I've said that already, but it is really important). I do not want to the hero / heroine to be vindictive. He / She may be vindictive when the story starts, but by the end of the story their lover's faith and love will have the hero re-evaluate their priorities. Revenge is not heroic. As a reader, I do not want the hero / heroine's actions to make me feel uncomfortable with their decisions. I want to respect the people I've been supporting.
- The hero and heroine can protect one another... but only killing the bad guy when there is absolutely no other choice. The writer needs to build the expectation of a possible / impending deadly outcome early, so that the death of the villain is justifiable and understandable. I want to know that this was the only solution. The author needs to prepare me for that outcome and show me why the death is necessary or inevitable.
- Some other force, whether nature or another person, should never sweep into the story at the climax and deal with the threat. The hero or heroine need to have things under control, then if nature or someone else comes in after that... well, so be it. But, the reader needs to know that the good guys won by their own smarts, actions and skills.
Do you have other ideas or opinions?