Killing Characters in Your Writing
Why you should, how to go about doing it, and some wicked examples...
Fred Weasly. Heathcliff.
Lelouch vi Britannia. L Lawliet.
Do any of these names trigger some sort of emotion in you? If they do, you know exactly how it feels when a good, lovable character dies.
Killing characters off is hard for almost all authors. (Almost. George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you.) Characters are projections from the mind of an author, almost like an extended trait that comes rising from within them. You breathe life into what is seemingly meaningless identity, and the identity gains new purpose.
Killing of that identity is hard. Trust me, I know.
But then, killing characters often is done with a reason with a mind. Many a times, authors are confused as to what path to take. To help you with that, let’s go over a basic overview of what all can be achieved by killing a character, as well as how to avoid meaninglessly getting rid of a character.
If you do plan to kill a character, do so if they achieve any of the following:
1. It helps further the story in terms of plot - Yeah, if your character acts as a barrier in terms of plot development, it is best if the character takes a dip into the other dimension. Some excellent examples of the following:
- Sense and Sensibility starts with the death of Mr. Dashwood, forcing his widow and daughters to move away from the family home and live in greatly reduced financial circumstances.
- Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer begins with the death of Lady Serena's father, leading to her discovery that he has named her ex-boyfriend as her guardian.
- Dragon Bones starts with the death of Ward's father, and Ward inheriting the title. As Ward has pretended to have brain damage from a beating his father gave him years ago, he is now considered unable to rule, and has to convince everyone that he is actually quite intelligent and has only feigned to be more affected than he was in order to avoid more violence.
2. It helps in letting the character who kicks the bucket achieve their personal goal - You’d be surprised about how many deaths take place this way. Look no further than Obi-Wan Kenobi. The old Jedi Master knew his time was close, and he died at the hands of his former student to revert to Spirit Ghost form.
3. It motivates the other characters - When someone dies, it’s hard to get over. But sometimes, it may just end up helping the protagonist get the motivation he or she needs to get the job done. Had Uncle Ben or Mr. and Mrs. Wayne not died, would there be a Spider-man or Batman?
4. It gives a sort of realistic effect to the story - Suppose a character messes up big time, gets into places and does stuff he isn’t supposed to. In a fantasy world, he could easily get away with it. But that’s when the physics of realism intervene, and a perfectly timed death could potentially boost a story’s impact on the reader.
Now that we’ve seen why it’s good, let’s also take a look at why, sometimes, it’s unadvisable to kill a character:
1. Shocking readers just for the sake of shocking them - Shock value isn’t without its, well, value, but not every author is Alfred Hitchcock and not every story is Psycho.
2. Making readers sad just for the sake of making them sad - An old saw says, “If they cry, they buy,” but readers never appreciate being tortured without good reason.
So there you have it. Whether you want to get on the keyboard and write off another character is totally up to you.
See you next time. Peace!
Thank you to 暗い戦士 for writing this blog and designing the banner!