A loved one is hurt, killed, maimed, assaulted, or otherwise traumatized in order to motivate another character or move their plot forward.
The term (sometimes referred to as "fridging") was popularized by comic book writer Gail Simone through her website "Women in Refrigerators." On that site, Simone compiled a list of instances of female comic book characters who were killed off as a plot device. It is named for a storyline in Green Lantern, in which the villain Major Force leaves the corpse of Kyle Rayner's girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, literally stuffed into a refrigerator for him to find. Years later, Major Force repeated the gimmick with Kyle's mother in an oven. (It was just a trick with a mannequin that time, though.)
The term came to be used more broadly, over time, to refer to any character who is targeted by an antagonist who has them killed off, raped and/or otherwise brutalized, incapacitated, depowered, or brainwashed for the sole purpose of affecting another character, motivating them to take action.
"Fridging" is often given a very negative connotation as it is all too often a hallmark of supremely lazy writing — quickly hurting or killing an established character as "cheap anger" for the protagonist, and devaluing the life of that character in the process, instead of giving the villain something actually interesting to do that can involve all three characters and more emotions than simple anger and angst.
It should be noted that while the term most commonly applies to a male character's female love interest, it can actually be used in numerous different scenarios of all genders and different relations from romantic, platonic and familial. The core part is that one character is killed (or at least, has something very bad happen to them) for the sake of causing emotional trauma for the target, with said victim often acting as a plot device more than a real character in the worst-case scenarios.
Not to be confused with being Put on a Bus as a Human Popsicle, or Girl in a Box where a living (usually) unconscious woman is stored inside a literal box. Also not related to Fridge Logic, Fridge Horror, or Fridge Brilliance. Also don't confuse with Locked in a Freezer or It Came from the Fridge. See Body in a Breadbox and Dead Man's Chest for literally storing a dead body in household furniture/appliances.
Please do not add examples to work pages, this merely defines the term. Put applicable examples in the following tropes instead:
- Collateral Angst: A person is hurt; the focus is on their loved one's reaction.
- Cynicism Catalyst: A loved one's death makes the hero a grimmer and more cynical person.
- Disposable Woman: A minor female loved one is killed early on to motivate the hero to go do heroic things; she has little relevance afterwards.
- Friendly Target: The hero's closest loved ones are most at risk for being targeted.
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: The hero feels responsible for a loved one's death.
- The Lost Lenore: A love interest dies prior to the story or very early on, and their death remains relevant to their lover and the story.
- Revenge by Proxy: Retaliating against someone by targeting someone close to them.