The best part about being a writer (with the exception of the numerous snacks,) is killing people. We writers are so consumed with what the readers will think of our books, it’s only natural we aim to write the most gut-wrenching, heart breaking, sob inducing death scene ever. Because readers love having their dreams crushed, right?
But how do you decide who lives and dies? Surely not by putting everyone’s name in a hat (which I strongly believe J.K Rowling did in book 7,) or throwing darts at your characters names. Believe it or not, the best deaths in novels are planned and thought out. There is a right way, and a wrong way to kill people.
You should kill a character to:
A. Advance the plot
Where would the Hunger Games be if no one dies once the kids got to the Arena? Absolutely nowhere. Sometimes, death in a novel is necessary. Sometimes, killing people we don’t care about is necessary, but it works best if those deaths push the plot forward. We may not care, but it advances the story.
B. Motivate your living characters.
There’s nothing better than the death of a loved one to motivate your characters. whether it’s to do better, or try harder, or defeat the bad guy. But it needs to be done right. It needs to help push their character arc.
(EG. Biana in Percy Jackson and the Titan’s curse.)
C: Add realism
If you have a war, you’re going to have deaths. Nothing is worse than a large group of characters, a massive battle AND NO ONE DIES! (Uncle Rick, looking at you.) Death in these cases are natural. And just like George R.R Martin does multiple times, the bigger the character, the bigger the impact, the bigger the readers emotional investment into the story. I’m still reeling over the Red wedding.
You should NOT kill a character to:
A: Get rid of them
Do you have a character you’re getting bored of writing, but can’t think of a decent plot-related way to get rid of them? Why, just kill them of course! Problem solved.
No, it’s not solved. Ask yourself if the character is needed at all in the novel. Cut them, don’t kill them.
B: To shock the readers
This is where you kill someone for no reason other than to have your readers go ‘whaaat?’ They are usually pointless deaths, which have no effect on the plot whatsoever. (EG Prim, from Mockingjay.)
C: To make the readers sad
As above. You’ve had some tense, climactic scenes. Some laughs and some fluff, but feel the reader needs to also be sad, so you kill someone. Because death makes people feel sad. Well, so does a cold cup of tea and stale cake. Doesn’t mea you should consume them.
What’s the worst (best) death you’ve ever read, and have you made the plunge and killed any of your characters?
Good thoughts and happy writing!