Killing off a character in your novel is a dilemma for some authors. But if it is done correctly, advances the plot of your book, and makes your reader go, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming,” then you know you did it right. Read on to find out if killing a character is the right thing to do.
When I was writing my first novel, Behind The Eyes Of Dorian Gray, back in 2005, I had a sudden epiphany.
I would kill off a character awesomely.
It was one of those “aha” moments. I’m fairly sure everyone in Southeastern Ohio saw the small nuclear explosion that was my mind at the time. She wasn’t the first character I killed in a story. But her death made the book’s ending so much better.
Why Should I Kill Off My Character?
Authors may argue over the best reason to kill off a character. Some authors may never kill off a character in their careers. But there are excellent reasons for taking a character out. They include:
- Advancing the story – pick up any Agatha Christie novel and you have a corpse somewhere on the property. This death advances the story. It gives out Inspector Poirot and Miss Marple something to do throughout the book.
- Fulfilling the doomed character’s personal goal – take Fili and Kili in The Hobbit. They had to die to motivate Thorin Oakenshield into fulfilling his personal goal: killing Azog the defiler to save the line of Durin and in revenge for the death of his grandfather. Thorin’s death preserved the line of Durin for his cousin Dain Ironfoot, reclaimed Erebor, and fulfilled his personal goal as he killed Azog with his last dying breath. (Yes, I’m a Tolkien nut. Yes, I can talk about this book all day. No, I’m not crying, you are.)
- Character motivation – pick any character in the Harry Potter series that died before the last book and you have motivation enough for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to go up against Voldemort.
- The recompense of their action – Catherine’s death in Wuthering Heights is caused by Heathcliff and he never fixes their relationship.
- Removing an excess character – sometimes somebody just has to die to trim a cast of characters that is too large.
Why Shouldn’t I Kill Off My Character?
There are also reasons NOT to kill a character, such as:
- Killing them off just to shock the reader. Shock value works if you can write it correctly.
- Making the readers sad because you can. Good luck selling your next novel.
- Removing an excess character. Yes, it’s in both lists. Does this character belong in your story in the first place?
Let’s look at that last one. Some casts of characters become too big to handle. In order to manage it, an author will kill off a character. Every character has a reason to be in your book. They serve a purpose. If you cannot transfer that purpose to another character so that your story flows, you need to reevaluate why the character you want to kill off is there.
Instead of killing off the character, consider writing him or her out of the story. You won’t bog your readers down wondering why you killed them off. You will also save them from unnecessary heartache.
How Do I Know If I Should Kill This Character?
If you think killing off a character can satisfy the reasons above and not leave a vacant role in your book, see if you can check these off:
- You can justify killing the character off based on the reasons to do it above
- The reason to kill the character is present in your plot already
- You know which role and archetype the doomed character plays in your story
- Another character can fill that hole in the story
- Your story ends in such a way that the doomed character doesn’t need to be filled
Can you check off those items in the list above? If you can, then go for it. Kill off that character. Then sit back and watch the fun begin.
Ever kill off a character? Ever have a character death affect you? Tell us about them in the comments below.