How To Kill A Character

By on April 9, 2017
How To Kill A Character - Writer's Life.org

Killing off characters in your story can feel a little unnerving. Regardless of whether you have always known you were going to do it, or, as you started writing your book you realised you had no choice, you want to make sure you kill off your character in the right way.

Of course, the way your kill off a character will be decided by what purpose doing so has in your story. Is it a heartbreaking tragedy, or perhaps a huge relief to your reader, and your other characters alike when they finally go? Do you want your readers to react with horror, sadness, or even humour when they discover this character is dead?

Whatever the purpose, the important point to remember is that there must be a purpose. If your readers don’t react, or, in fact, care that your character has been killed off then there is little reason to do so in the first place and perhaps suggests that this character is not as significant as they should be, or perhaps written in a way that the reader hasn’t formed any kind of emotional attachment to them (good or bad) at all.

So when you come to kill a character here are some important things to remember:

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Does it advance the plot?

Killing a character needs to affect your story in some way. If there are no consequences or reactions then what is the point? A death in your story needs to motivate the other characters in your book to take action or to change.

Is it fitting that this character should die?

Killing a character needs to be done with care. You can use it as a way of shocking your readers, of throwing in an unexpected twist that they never imagined possible. However, doing so without really thinking about their reaction can be dangerous. If your reader feels as though you have killed this character just for the sake of shocking or upsetting them, they’ll feel betrayed by you. Don’t feel the need to make your book sad or shocking just for the sake of it. You want your readers to care, sure, but randomly killing off a character they love for no reason is not the way to do it.

What do you want your readers to feel?

Ensuring you evoke the correct reaction from your readers is crucial. If they are supposed to feel gut-wrenchingly sad make sure that you have dedicated enough time to making them care about that character before you do. If they are supposed to feel horrified and tense, make sure the build up to the death and the details about it are sufficiently disturbing. If they are meant to feel relieved and pleased that the world will be a better, safer, happier place now that this character has gone, make sure they felt dislike towards that character and that all their villainous ways have been revealed before they make their final exit!

Killing off characters in your book can actually be lots of fun, and if you get it right it can make your book a very powerful one.

How do you decide to kill off your characters? Let us know!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

About Bethany Cadman

Bethany Cadman is an author and freelance writer. Her highly anticipated debut novel 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers' is available on Amazon as both an eBook and a paperback. You can find it here - http://tinyurl.com/z47t8qf

4 Comments

  1. Russell MacClaren

    April 9, 2017 at 8:32 am

    This blurb should have been edited before being released. Suggest you pay more attention to “meaningless things such as correct spelling, proper grammar….”

  2. Don Falloon

    April 9, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    All good points. In my own debut novel ‘Hiding Behind Thunder’, the MC must deal with the death of his mentor and friend, race driver Fireball Roberts. It is a critical point in which the MC must become his own man. A few readers were disappointed by the death of the character, but history was on my side. With the story set in 1960s NASCAR, I incorporated many of the actual stars and races of that era throughout the story, which included the very real and tragic death of Roberts. Regardless, it can actually be a little painful to kill off a character you’d personally gotten close to in your story.

  3. David Heald

    January 9, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    In one of my stories, there’s a character who starts off as nothing more than a computer program who’s nearing her time of deletion. However, this program is sentient and fears her deletion, fears if there’s even anything afterwards for her in the afterlife. After having her program transferred into a human body, she truly gets to experience life and eventually saves humanity from a deadly threat, even at the cost of her own life. In her final moments, she speaks to the boy she’d fallen in love with about her acceptance of the inevitability of death, no longer being afraid of it. The few people that I’ve shown my story to had a great amount of praise for how well this death scene was handled, commenting that they didn’t see it coming but that it was handled with all the grace, tenderness, and dignity that a scene like that deserved. I like to think that what made that death scene as poignant as it was was the fact that the readers got to understand and root for the character over many chapters so that it was genuinely heartbreaking when this character did die.

    • Bethany Cadman

      January 30, 2019 at 5:17 am

      Sounds great and very original David! Good luck with it.

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