six tips on the art killing characters

When I first began writing, I was fourteen, very naive, very young, and figured that the best way to get a stunning (as in the reader is stunned) ending was to kill off an unsuspecting character and shock the reader. My logic was that if the principle is true that, “People live, people die, life goes on,” that should apply to books as well.

Then, I grew up a little, became a little more knowledgeable about the art of killing characters, but just as naive to death. (I am very fortunate in that I haven’t had anyone close to be die.)

Fact: There is truly an art to killing off characters in a book. And here are five tips to help you along.

1. You can’t kill characters just because. Character’s death need to have a purpose in the story, or the reader feels cheated. It’s like the idea of when they decided not to kill Hans Solo in the last Star Wars episode.

On that same note….

2. When the reader looks back, the reader has to [pretty much] agree that the death was for the best. The reader will again, feel cheated and think that the death was a waste.

3. Have a logical death. Saying that a character dies suddenly, unless that is part of the reason for the death, will not go well with the reader.

4. Don’t resurrect  too many characters. If you’ve seen Alias, you might know what I mean. Killing off a bunch of characters, and then constantly having them pop up throughout the whole story  is just… boring. That also applies to ghosts. Ghosts are not good.

5. Don’t be afraid to do it. Maybe you’re not like me and you like your characters and you can’t imagine killing any of them off. But you keep thinking that by having Bob die, it would solve three of your problems that you are having. But you don’t want to be dark and gloomy and sad and depressing. But, it really would help.

Do it. Sometimes killing a character is the hardest thing that you will never have to do, and the best for your story. Chances are that most people won’t think you’re dark just because you kill one (or two) characters. (And to be honest, if you really are extremely dark, you won’t care about it being too dark.)

6. Listen to the characters: Sometimes the characters themselves tell you that they need to die. In my first real novel, I knew the leader of the rebellion did not make it to the end. Now, when I began writing I thought he died in one place and he ended up dying later on. But I still did let him die. So don’t try to save the characters when they tell you that they will die. It makes your life easier for starters.

Slight announcement: Due to Passover starting tonight, I will not be posting a post tomorrow. Posts will resume on Wednesday as normal.

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About Abigail

I'm an elementary education major at a college in the Midwest. I might graduate as early as December '13 but more likely May '14. I write when I can. I also knit on occasion, draw, do homework and contradict teachers to make people think. :)

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