Killing Characters

I remember the first time I killed a character. I cried for a day and then resurrected him. I’ve since gotten better at killing them. One of my writer friends once said “I kill people for a living”. I don’t know if she was quoting someone else, but her words stuck with me. She meant to be funny, but characters die, sometimes through old age but often violently. Even certain sub-genres of romance are not immune to this – paranormal and romantic suspense come leaping to mind. And writers are responsible. But good writers are responsible killers, they don’t do this for no reason. A writer kills a character only for a good reason… or several reasons.

Français : Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire, Aude (11),...
Français : Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire, Aude (11), Sarcophage de Saint-Sernin face avant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Mortality:
    There is nothing like seeing a dead person or animal to remind the reader that the protagonist, too, is mortal and can die. The reader will worry for the character even though the reader knows (almost knows) that the main character will survive in the end.

  • Stakes:
    There are higher stakes than personal survival but the main
    character can’t face them if he or she is dead! The death of a
    character may raise the stakes because the protagonist can feel his
    or her own death approaching. Or the death means that one of those
    higher goals has been threatened temporarily defeated.

  • Isolation:
    The death of a character close to the protagonist weakens or
    destroys the protagonist’s support system. Maybe the other
    supporting characters are afraid of dying but more often the main
    character is afraid of placing them in danger and so pulls away. In
    this way, the protagonist is temporarily weakened (but can become
    stronger as a result), has something new to worry about, and must
    rely on him/herself to take on the bad guy. Killing a character
    close to the protagonist can be crucial to enabling that one-on-one
    final stand-off.

  • Character:
    It says a lot about a character (and the author) when he comes
    face-to-face with death. The initial reaction, the coping
    strategies, the conflict, and the resolution all reveal character
    and can be a catalyst for character change.

  • Reality:
    Any genre examines life. Death is an inescapable part of living so
    the inclusion of death in some form will make your WIP more
    complete, more faceted, more resonant with readers. Also, consider
    what you character is up against. If her life is on the line, a
    death or two along the way reminds the reader of this.

  • Dimensions:
    I realize it sounds like I am only talking about physical death
    here, but remember there are many types of death (physical, professional, psychological). Choose your deaths
    according to your genre, theme, stakes, and character fears.

One thought on “Killing Characters

  1. I am so glad you posted this. I have had many characters over the past five or six years, and their deaths, sometimes were not exactly planned. I role play, so there is always a chance that they come to harm by straying the wrong way. However, there was a villain I played, called Natasha Narishnakov, who after six months of winning the game, finally was pushed into a corner, and that is where she took on a life of her own, and her ending, left many shocked that I wrote with.

    NatashaNarishnakov: -Natasha suddenly found reason to smile, and it was the strangest look you could have pictured a woman looking at throwing her life away…or the life she had known. She rose up out of her chair and suddenly turned away from Sand and Cinder going out the door, opening and then without looking back she said-(Natasha)”Itz vaz vun, vellaz” -The door would close and she strutted down to the lift, getting in and as the doors slid shut, another blood tear rolled down her cheek, as the song, played through the speaker in the lift- (Craig David)”I’m….walking away, from the trouble of my life…I’m walking away…”-The doors would slide open as it hit the ground floor, and she began her march out the doors to be on the main street of Lorewall’s business district. Across the street, a patrol car, one cop was getting an order of donuts, and with a sick giggle, she walked out in front of a bus, that came to a screeching halt before her just stopping as she withdrew her walter PPK, and opened the door of the patrol car, placing the barrel of the gun to the head of the officer and before he could move, she fired a bullet straight into his skull, then ripped him out of the drivers seat, onto the road in broad daylight. The officer buying donuts, turned to see Natasha get in the patrol car, and as he dropped his bag of donuts and coffee, she planted her foot on the excelerator and floored it, The Police car taking off in a blaze of smoke and burning rubber filled the air, as people screamed at seeing the body of the police officer on the ground, a pool of blood flowing slowly into the drains. Behind the wheel, Natasha drove like a stunt driver, flying through red lights, attracting attention of all of Lorewall…(Natasha)”DHIS IZ MY DOWN….AND IT VATCH ME GOEZ DOWN!!!!…AAHAHAAHAHA!”-She turned on the sirens and the flashing lights as she continued to smile, licking the blood that was now pouring from her eyes, tears of blood, the creature was now the slave of the insanity that was to come from losing everything. News choppers got wind of the chase, and soon, a stream of police cars were after her as she raced to the Pier-

    NatashaNarishnakov: -Finally reaching the pier, the police car would drive at high speeds, knocking over fish stalls and produce carts, people were diving into the water as she turned the car on a hard lock, sliding to a sudden stop, as she leapt out of the car and ran as fast as she could. Up ahead she could see the boat. It was a rum runner, and with a “V” shaped racing hull and large twin engines, she knew this had to be the fastest ship on the pier. Leaping from the dock she landed onto the deck, rolling over and jumping to standing as the dozens of police cars were now parked one hundred meters down the pier. Not seeing a crew, and the keys in the ignition, she pulled up anchor, as a news helicopter flew overhead. She turned round laughing and crying at the same time. She started the boat and then pulled back the throttle, great volumes of water spray were flying up from behind the vessel as it left the pier at great speed, heading out into open water. The cops fired their guns, making pinging sounds against the ship’s sides, and as she looked back at the pier, the flashing lights of the police cars, the shouts from the crowd, she knew she had gotten away. It was then that a black hawk helicopter rose up from behind the mountains behind the seaside town and flew downwards, releasing two rockets….both heat seeking….Natasha turned around , her hair flowing about her face, as the boat would be blown apart, her body being thrown high into the air, before hitting the water……and started to sink. The shocked onlookers on the pier fell silent, as the black mushroom cloud could be seen over the blue of the bay. The Black hawk helicopter turned and then flew back to where it came…..


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