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
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.
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.
|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.)
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.