I rewrote Elend’s death scene a number of times. In the first draft, it happened much more quickly. He and Marsh met, Elend’s atium ran out, and Marsh cut him down. Elend always got his “we’ve won” line, but Human wasn’t getting viewpoints, so we didn’t cut there. Nor did we have Vin fuel Elend’s metals or have him burn duralumin and atium at the same time.
I just felt he needed more. Part of this was due to the reactions of alpha readers, and part of it was due to my own desire to make his last scene more dramatic. I wanted there to be a closeness between him and Vin at the end, and I also had too many people asking what would happen if you burned duralumin and atium at the same time to ignore that possibility.
So, I rewrote several times, eventually landing at this version. As for why I killed him . . . well, for the same reason that I kill any character in one of my books. It just felt like the right thing to do. It’s hard to explain when we get down to specifics like this. On one hand, the rational side of me can explain that there need to be casualties to make victory worth something, and Vin needed to lose Elend so that she’d be willing to do what she had to in order to kill Ruin. Logic says that this book was about Vin and Elend defeating Ruin no matter what the cost to themselves, and allowing them to give their lives for the victory was noble and completed their character arcs.
Emotion, however, is what drove me—not logic. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was the right ending for the book. Now, I could have chosen a different ending. I know that I could have. It would have felt contrived to me, and would have lacked bite. Yet perhaps readers would have liked it better. I honestly don’t know what doing this (killing both of my main characters) will do to my readership and if people will still want to buy my books after this. The founder and president of Tor Books, I know, would have preferred that I didn’t kill my two main characters.
But in the end, I went with what I knew was the better ending. By doing this, at the very least I’ve earned something. From now on, readers will know that nobody is safe in my books—and that will create tension, will make the novels feel more real. (Note that I didn’t do this because I wanted to make readers feel that way. It’s just a side effect.)
Either way, this is where this book was pushing from the beginning. Vin and Elend followed in Kelsier’s footsteps. They were both ready to give their lives, and in doing so, saved those they love. In my opinion, that’s not a tragic or sad ending. It’s just an honest one.