No matter what type of novel you are writing – thriller, mystery, romance – there may come a time when you need to kill off one or more of your characters.
This is challenging for some writers who grow attached to their characters. It can be equally hard for the readers when a favorite character dies.
I guess before I delve into this topic, I should divide these characters into two categories – minor characters and main characters.
It is quite easy to kill off minor character. Many times you and the reader are not as attached to them. I always think of a minor character as the first person killed in a horror movie. They are not usually well developed. No one has had a chance to really get to know and like this character before they die.
I write fantasy and in my stories are battles. It would be odd if no one ever died or was at least wounded. In the first book of my trilogy, Summoned, no one died until the battle at the end of the book. As the trilogy progressed I got much better at willingly killing off some characters but they were all minor characters. Now some of them were not bit players but they were not major players. And none of them were written into the book just to die.
Adding a character just to knock him off always reminds me of a scene from the movie Galaxy Quest. One of the characters, Guy, is sure he is going to die five minutes into their mission as he isn’t important enough to have a last name.
Now killing off a minor character might be easy but it is something entirely different to kill a main character. In my trilogy, no major character on the protagonist’s side died. But in my current WIP there are quite a few battles. It would be unrealistic that only extras or minor characters would die. So I decided a main character needed to die.
Now you shouldn’t kill someone just because you or someone else thinks you should. You should only kill off a character if it will advance the story. This could mean that this person’s death contributes to the development of another character. Take for example if a husband dies. His wife may have to step up in both his business and at home. Her character can go in a whole other direction than if her husband were still alive.
But don’t kill off a main character on a whim. You need to think of the consequence losing a main character will do to your story and the remaining characters.
If you are willing to kill off main characters, you can have your readers expecting the unexpected. They will know that everyone is at risk and that can add tension to your story.
So don’t be afraid to kill of a character but make sure you are doing it for the right reason – to advance your story.
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I don’t like when writers kill off characters just for the sake of it, as though it’s a needed thing to a book.
But when it’s done right, it really can tear me up 😀
There’s a strip on the cartoon WuMo for August 4th that addresses this issue (well worth the viewing if only for the casual way the Hound smashes Martin’s face into his desk).
And I still get roasted by a friend for killing off someone she really liked…