Kill ALL the Characters (well, most of them)

1:37 PM




Today's topic is death.

Cheery, aren't I?

Okay, so this is something a lot of people talk about. How to kill characters effectively, how to make people care when you kill off characters, when to kill characters and when to spare them even though that's weak, etc. (I've linked to some of my favorite articles on those topics.)

This is not one of those posts.

This is a post for how to go about being totally, absolutely bloodthirsty when that character needs to die.

I'm mean about it. Only about half my casts usually make it out alive, depending on the setting and the high stakes. And even then, I'll break the living ones and beat them to the snapping point. I kind of take pleasure in it. I'm sane, I promise. I don't have any qualms about killing and/or fatally injuring characters. But that's just me.

got animated GIF

Some people like to spare their babies, and that's totally okay! However, sometimes you need to crack down on those punks and show them who's boss. And sometimes, people just need to die. For plot, for other characters, whatever.

Here are some things I like to keep in mind:


Is this heart-shattering death necessary? 

Does some sacrifice need to go down? Does someone have to die to motivate the main character? Does someone need to die in order to unlock the secrets of the hidden temple and let the rest of the cast move forward? 

Now. Personally, I think there is a time and place for a death that is not strictly necessary. Not usually. But if you're writing about war, if you're writing about a brutal situation where some heads are going to fly, guess what? War isn't picky about who it kills. People in battles aren't thinking "Oh, look, this guy doesn't need to die, we shouldn't shoot him." When done right, at the right time, a death can be most tragic when it's not for something in particular. Not usually, though. 

If this death is necessary, please proceed. 

Yup. It is hard to kill characters, so here's a solution: create a character that you secretly hate because he/she has the same personality traits as a real person that you hate SO much, then make them kind of likable, then kill them off. Genius!
All credit to the ever-wonderful gingerhaze.
Does it need to be this person? 

Enough said. Why are you killing this character in particular? Could anyone else do this and create the same effect? 


If you've gotten this far...we can get to the fun stuff. 

How can I kill this character in such a way that the reader's hearts are ripped out with a spoon?

The point is to make people feel things/hate you for it, right? What's the best way to do that? Just shooting someone is sad, sure, but what if they leap in front of the character they're secretly in love with? What if they save a best friend? What if they save an innocent bystander? What if they spend the whole story not wanting to die and then they do? What if the anti-hero does something incredibly selfless and heroic beforehand? What if *insert heart-wrenching thing here*???? This is also a great way to show the character's nature, by the way. Are they the kind of person to jump in front of someone innocent to save their life? Would they only do it for a friend/lover? That says a lot in one soul-crushing action. 

MAKE THE READERS CARE. 

Do they have time for last words? 

Think realistically here, for the most part. Depending on where you shoot/stab/impale/whatever someone, they're not going to have a whole lot of time or ability to get out that horrible, heartbreaking last speech. Don't drag it out if it wouldn't happen -- sometimes the times where you wrench them away without giving them a chance to say goodbye are the worst. (Also, killing them off before a misunderstanding can be cleared or a promise can be made or a secret can be told. That's a killer, and I've seen so many books where it cheats and gives them a few last words to neatly tie that up. 

Just thought I'd mention this. 

I'm not even sorry.

What happens to the others after they die? 

I'll be honest, this tends to get me more than the actual death. How do the other characters react? (Again, another great opportunity for characterization.) Ideally, if you're killing someone major enough to hurt, the other characters are going to feel something about it. Toy with that. Does it leave them devastated? Does it majorly screw up a plan somehow? Does it emotionally cripple/break them? Figure it out and roll with it. 

Also: They're going to react somehow. I can't tell you how many times I've read a book where a major character dies and the characters get over it within a chapter or so, or don't really react at all. I mean sure, if it's a high-action situation they won't have time to sit around and mourn, but that can seriously affect everything you do. Don't forget the emotions. If the characters cared at all they'll feel it at one point or another. 

Play up the feels. But don't drag it out too long -- that can kind of take away the sadness. (way to be contradictory, me.) 

Oh, and... 

Don't be afraid to kill people. 

If you're writing fluffy romance or something, it's less appropriate to kill people left and write. Even contemporary has its limits on falling off cliffs/impaling/burning/shooting. However, if it fits the story, don't be afraid to kill your darlings. It hurts, but it doesn't kill you, I promise. Sometimes it's necessary. 


What about you? Are you as bloodthirsty as I am, or do you have a hard time killing off characters? What's the last tragic character death that ripped your soul to pieces? What are your opinions on killing off characters? Comment away. 

29 comments

  1. I totally agree with all of this. As for do I have a problem with killing people *looks at long list of dead characters* No, I don't have a hard time with that. Killing characters is great as long as it's not pointless. Pointless deaths annoy me.

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    1. Mwhahaha. And yes, exactly! I don't mind characters dying as long as there's some kind of reason or point to it, as with everything in writing. There's a lot I can tolerate in that case.

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  2. You always seem to post the right things at the right time for me. I'm actually gearing up to kill MC really soon in my book. And to to answer the question at the end there, I'm a terribly bloodthirsty person. (In writing only! I swear!). I'm constantly killing and torturing people. I do sometimes have a hard time killing off character's I've become super attached to, but it doesn't kill me. Maybe it steals another scrap of my sanity, but I doesn't kill anyone but the character. I agree with all of this.

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    1. I'm glad! I've done that a few times and it's always super sad. :/ So good luck with that xD *high fives for bloodthirstiness*

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  3. I have a terrible habit of killing my MC's brother. Always, without fail, I have this splendid, brave, annoying older brother who I kill because I can't do a love interest (no experience!) so brothers are the second best. And boy- it makes me hurt to think about.
    Fabulous points! You killed it! (ohhhh you see what I did there?) :D

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    1. Ahhhh I feel this. DESTROY THEM ALL. :)

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  4. *nods* I don't usually have any issues killing characters. However, I was unable to kill Nitri, and the plot may be more realistic and more heart wrenching if he did die, instead of just coming close to death.

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    1. Good, 'cause if you killed Nitri I might have to destroy you.

      I'm only partly joking.

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    2. MWAHAHAHA I'm tempted to do it now.

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  5. I used to be a mass murderer. I am now the somewhat ess extreme serial killer. I'm the type of writer who prefers suffering over death - if a character acts stupidly, they'll be roundly defeated and forced to admit it. I fulfill their wishes in the worst way possible.

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    1. This sounded like the beginning of some kind of support group speech, and for whatever reason that amused me. xD Suffering is good, too. I should post on that sometime because it's my favoriteeee.

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  6. I'm honestly not as bloodthirsty as you are, but I am starting to realize that it is a problem with my own writing. I need to work on it! Hopefully, with these questions in mind, of course, I'll be able to craft some gut-wrenching deaths. If I can handle it. We'll see what happens.

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  7. Yes, a cheery post title indeed! I tend to write stories about people who have died, so you know, I am totally a cold blooded person, ehe. But in terms of killing characters throughout the story, I don't really do that often I BECOME TOO ATTACHED, OKAY?

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    1. Haha! I've never been so attached that I couldn't kill someone, but eh. I get that. It definitely tears at your soul a little.

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  8. Do I have any issue killing characters? HA. Though I don't usually kill half the cast (I have a tiny cast, okay, and this is a five book series...I kinda have to have someone make it to the last book alive :P). My killing is more often dictated by my sense of "How could he do this and survive it? How will the story move forward unless he dies?" than my desire to give my readers all the feels (though that's nice, too }:D).
    This list was very helpful. I'll certainly keep it in mind the next time I kill a character.

    http://ichasedaisies.blogspot.com/

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    1. I'm glad it was helpful! :D Being bloodthirsty is fun, but you definitely have to think it through.

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  9. I kill off characters, but I do save my babies, I am swallowing that bullet, though because I am killing the main character off in one of my books.
    How Dare You, put The Doctor in this post, I was not mentally prepared. I am still not over that.

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    1. Killing off main characters is always fun/terrible, and interesting to juggle. Good luck with that!
      Mwhahaha. I'm not over it yet either, but I do love to mock my own pain.

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  10. This is great! I do kill off characters mostly just when necessary. But sometimes there's a battle, and when arrows fly someone's going to die.

    That part about last words. :) It reminded me of this World Lit class I took. We were reading The Iliad and our professor would stop and make fun of Homer because his dying characters would have pages of last words. But of course the whole thing leans towards the unrealistic side.

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    1. Battlesss. Oh yes. I do love writing death scenes in the middle of fight scenes, honestly, because I love all the action and pressure and emotions and it's just a heap of fun. *breathes*

      I just read the Iliad recently! I love that story, even if yeah, it's unrealistic in spots. But it's a very good example of character deaths. xD

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  11. I used to kill off all of my characters. It didn't take me very long to figure out that if I do that I don't have any characters to play with any more. I have since learned (hopefully) how to better reason out deaths. Good post!

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    1. Yeah, that is one downside, as fun as killing everyone is.

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  12. Ahh, I loved the Doctor Who reference!!!! I tend to kill off about half my cast by the end of the story, but sometimes, if my beta readers complain too much, I'll relent and unkill one or two, depending on the story. As you pointed out, it's unrealistic if all the main characters make it out of a terrible battle--that's what I like about the Lord of the Rings; Tolkien doesn't spare everyone just because they're special. And don't even get me started on Allegiant. And about last words--I don't know if you've read Cyrano de Bergerac or if you've read much Shakespeare, but seriously, these people get such long death speeches, I'm yawning by the end. And then I don't care anymore--I just want the character to be finished dying already.) My only qualm about character deaths is this--when my best friend died, I went through a phase where I wanted to kill off every character that mattered, because I wanted my readers to hurt just as much as I did. And while it's important to evoke feelings in the reader, I don't think it was healthy for me (or my readers) to take out my anger on my audience. That's why, I think, whenever I kill off a character, I want to give the readers something in return--something beautiful or something deep...just, something, so it doesn't feel completely meaningless. (I hope that makes sense.)

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  13. I don't mind killing off characters. I have an issue deciding if I should kill a character, and if I am, did she/he need to be there in the first place? Also, who should I kill off to keep the story going forward?

    The end of The Book Thief would have to be the worst character death I have ever had to go through. I still haven't recovered.

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  14. THAT DOCTOR WHO GIF, THOUGH.
    I normally have a hard time killing off characters. I'm okay with causing them pain and all that, but actually killing them is a step I won't take unless it's absolutely necessary. Even then, it is often agonizing. Well, depending on the character.


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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  15. I have a planned cast of ten emotionally significant characters. I think that... gee, maybe four make it out alive. I'm cruel. Also, I have a really cruel plot twist at the end of book two.

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