So there’s this book series that everyone is going crazy about. You weren’t planning on reading it, but your best friend begs you to read, and after much pestering, you agree.
You get through the first book in one week. It was amazing, and you rush to get the second book. As you read, you meet this awesome character named Sam. He’s not made out to be super awesome, not focused on, not even a hero! But you can’t help but love him. There’s just something about him that makes him the most loveable character of the story.
You keep reading the series, and you love him more and more with each book. He’s just the best! There’s nothing about him that’s perfect, yet you can’t help but feel like that’s exactly what he is.
You get to the last book, and you’re pumped for a grand finale. There’s no way it won’t be awesome, because the entire series has just been so amazing and the author is the best writer ever!
You get to the last few chapters, and… Wait. What? What?!?!?
THE AUTHOR KILLED SAM!!!!!!!!!!!
Why You Should Kill Characters
Yes, I am condoning the killing of characters.
I know, I know! Based on the painfully relatable character death I just wrote out, you would think killing characters is a bad thing. Especially killing favorite characters.
However, think back to all those favorite characters who died in your favorite stories.
Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games series.
Rudy Steiner in The Book Thief.
Will in Divergent.
Newt in The Maze Runner.
Dobby in the Harry Potter series.
Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series.
Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series.
Fred Weasley in the Harry Potter series.
(By the way, you should have seen that one coming. Fred rhymes with dead. Good authors love stuff like that.)
Anyway, I do have a point to this post beyond making you hurt over all of these deaths yet again.
Note how much you loved all of these characters, and how they impacted you more than maybe even the main characer. Think about how their deaths made you feel, and how differently you would have felt if they had survived.
Those deaths might hurt, but they were the deaths that really made those books amazing.
Now, if you’re trying to become a top writer, you have to kill characters. It’s a necessity (not really, but I think it is). More importantly, you have to know how to choose which characters to kill, and how to kill them in a way that actually gives the death a point.
I’ll start with how to choose the right characters to kill. It’s actually a pretty basic process that includes exactly three steps:
- Before you start choosing, keep in mind that if you love a side character (not because they’re super-awesome-perfect, but because they’re them), your audience will likely love them as well. If you immediately love a character, don’t immediately decide to kill them. Develop the story a bit first. Either write a ways into it to see if their character remains the same, or outline a plot and specific scenes a bit. If you only find yourself loving them more, you can confirm that the audience will love them.
- Take a look at your other characters. If you kill one character, what will that do to your other characters? Will it force another character to take a role as a leader? Will it lead to a character feeling guilty? Will it lead to your main character feeling angry and running off to their downfall? All of these are good reasons to kill a character. Don’t just kill a character because they’re no longer necessary. Their death needs to have meaning.
- Have you chosen a character whose death could lead to conflict? Good. That’s who you’re going to kill.
So now you have the character you’re going to kill. Yes, their death will hurt you just as much as it will hurt the readers. This is a good thing. However much the death impacts you, it will impact the readers just as much (if you wrote the character well, that is).
The key thing to remember is, you want the character’s death to hurt.
I know it’s cruel, but to write a good character death that people won’t call stupid and pointless, it needs to hurt them and leave a mark.
Now to address the question, how do you write the perfect character death/death scene?
There’s just a few things you need to consider.
- What relationship does the character you’re killing have with the other characters? Is your character part of a group or a beloved leader of an organization? How will those that care about them react? Will it help the characters grow/change? And my personal favorite, can another character be blamed for the death?
- What flaws does your character have? Is your character apt to joking around? Do they have anger management issues? Are they naïve or innocent? Does your character act without thinking? Are they protective or loyal? All of these traits could be the cause of your characters death.
- Is ther any way to make the character’s death ironic? Are they a cab driver killed by a taxi? Do they hate technology and die while talking on the phone? Do they control fire then die in an inferno? I would suggest staying away from ironic deaths, as they’re difficult to get right and often take away from the impact of the death. Also, they’re terribly difficult to come up with.
- What sort of dramatic event/situation could lead to the death? At which point in your story will a dramatic battle occur where al of the characters you need are present, and all the characters you need to be gone aren’t? Is it far enough into the story that your readers would have had enought time to really love the character? Make sur the death doesn’t get in the way of the plot, but rather spurs it on.
Those are the main questions to ask yourself. If you answer them all accurately, you should easily be able to craft the perfect character death.
Coming to the point where you can craft the character death is probably the hardest part. There are two possible ways to go about the planning process:
- One, you can write a while until you get to a point where the character can die in an epically awesome way based on the above tips.
- Two, you can plan the plot of the story and decide where it would be best to kill the character and how. In this case, your plan may change as your story progresses.
Neither plan is better or worse than the other, so do whatever you please. Either way, make sure to use these tips in planning your character death, and definitely make sure to include a character death!
Happy fictional character killing!
P.S. Yes, I borrowed a quote from the Sherlock TV series. Deal with it.
Picture sources: The Writing Chimp