Killing off your Characters


Killing off your characters.

As a writer, I find this surprisingly easy to do. I write horrors and paranormal romance, so a few deaths here and there are kind of expected. The real heartache is when you kill off your main characters…

If you’ve gone to the trouble of really creating your character: they have a back story, they have links to other characters, they have plot devices and really intriguing personalities – well obliterating all that work in a final death scene can take nerves of steel and a heart of ice. Sometimes though, it has to happen. The reasons to kill off a character are many, but here are just a few to think about:

1)      To move the story on.

2)      To cement the antagonists’ presence

3)      To move the protagonist into action

4)      To generally shock or move the reader

5)      To get rid of a character you no longer need

6)      The death could be the cataylst of  the overall story

7)      It could be a death that brings two main characters closer together

8)      It incriminates another character – either justly or not

9)      It ramps up the tension

10)  It throws the safety of the other characters into question

11)  They’re the antagonist and have to die to finish the story

Recently, I even created a complete character who is dead from the beginning of the story, he’s just referred to quite a bit by the other characters and is the reason for one of them to be bitchy to the protagonist – as she took over from him.

How you kill them is pretty important – a good character deserves a decent death. I found the death of Rue in the Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games quite upsetting – when translated to film they changed her death scene somewhat (I presume to keep their 12 certificate) and I felt they robbed the character of her dramatic tear jerking final scene – which was far more graphic in the book.

Writing horror, the deaths are numerous but still must be honoured. Simply saying that ‘Bob was shot and died’ really degrades Bob’s existence as a character – even if there are a lot of death scenes in your piece, Bob should be allowed a decent farewell – ‘He fell back against Sharon, his hand feeling the new flesh rimmed hole that Todd’s bullet had created. Blood oozed between his fingers. He looked up, then slumped to the floor, dead.’ Poor Bob. Well, fortunately in my mind, Bob will come back as a zombie – but for characters that are staying dead – you really need to give them a good sending off.

 I found a really interesting diagram online by Benjamin Star:

This shows all the major themes and plot points for the books nominated for the 2011 Man Booker prize – unsurprisingly, killing off a main characters is the most popular theme in all the books – I was surprised at the one cannibalism theme one though!

So why not kill off a few of your characters off – just make sure it’s a worthy death and that there’s a decent reason behind it. Unless you’re writing Grindhouse – then have at it!


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