Killing Off Characters; When You Should and Shouldn’t – Plotting, Part III

When I first saw this on Pinterest, I thought it was brilliant. I used a few of the tips and had great results. Then I used the first bit of advice: kill someone. Needless to say, some of my friends were horrified. The first time I did it, it ended up working. A character was murdered, and it provided motivation for the another character to go back to their live of war and death. The second time I used it, it didn’t even make it into the plotting stage. Why? Because the character’s death was pointless.

That’s my biggest beef with this post. Killing off characters all haphazard like is an absolute travesty to what would’ve otherwise been a good story.

A character’s death has to mean something, and highlighting how evil your villain is doesn’t always count. If you have your villain kill off a character no one knows, that could work. If you do it right. But if the villain captures the hero’s best friend/sibling/parent/etc and slowly starves and tortures and mocks them until they finally kill them and deliver the corpse to the hero- that counts.

Before you kill a character, you need to think, “What happens if they live? What would happen if someone else died?” If a death moves the plot forward, motivates the hero, cripples the hero, shows the villain’s human side or their darkest side, it’s meaningful.

But what if I have to kill someone the reader doesn’t know about? What if they come upon a village that’s been attacked? Well, slaughtering a village doesn’t mean much if you don’t go and focus on the little things. A dog pawing at their owner who won’t get up, a small child wandering around, lost, the empty gaze of a man who has lost everything who looks at you with hatred because you’re alive and his family isn’t.

Here’s another little bit of Tumblr writing wisdom:

For the most part, you shouldn’t suddenly decide to kill a character half way through a story. Yes, I know, sometimes writer’s have realizations in the middle of everything else on how to improve their story. But you have to think through killing a character.

Make it mean something, make it painful, make the reader weep.

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