One of the more daunting parts of writing a story is when it comes to killing off characters. Characters who you’ve grown attached to, the main or supporting cast, sometimes even the villains.
So is it actually necessary to kill off characters?
Well, that depends on the type of story, what kind of mood you want to go for. A work doesn’t have to be gloomy and dark to be worthwhile. But in other stories, it is appropriate and sometimes even advisable to kill someone off.
What reasons may there be for killing a character?
For one thing, it provides development for other characters, if done correctly. Someone died, possibly someone close to them, it will affect the survivors. It may motivate them to behave a certain way later on. It doesn’t sound very nice, when I write it down, ‘kill off a character to motivate another one’, but that’s how it sometimes is with writing.
Similarly, the death of a character may in some way impact the plot. If they’re a person who had some important knowledge, something they can do that the others can’t, or if it’s just that a certain number of people are needed to complete a task, then the survivors would have a greater struggle achieving whatever they’re trying to, they may have to change their plans. You might get rid of a character to stop them achieving their goal too easily. Which wouldn’t necessarily mean killing them, there are other ways to get characters out of the way. But it’s one way.
Or maybe a death serves no apparent purpose. Maybe someone just dies because it’s a dangerous situation. This still serves a purpose; it tells the readers that characters can die. When you’re reading a story – or watching it or listening to it, the principles apply to any form of storytelling – then, if there’s any kind of seriousness to it, you know that there’s a chance the characters might die. But – and I understand this may just be me, but I don’t think it is – until it actually happens, people might not really believe it will happen. And the closer it comes to happening without actually happening, and the more often, the less people will believe it will happen. But if it does happen, then they will know it can, and that takes away a level of security. And even though it’s unpleasant when a character dies, stories are more enjoyable when you don’t know what’s going to happen. And when another character does survive a dangerous situation, that will elicit more relief if the reader actually thought they might die. So, if you’re creating a story which is supposed to have a lot of tense parts in, putting characters in dangerous situations quite a bit, then you don’t have to actually kill one – it’s your story, after all – but it could be a great help in creating the mood you’re going for.
So yes, killing characters can be daunting, it may make you feel like a bad person. But it can sometimes strengthen a story, so it is worth doing, sometimes.
However, I, personally – this is all just my opinion, I never claim it as anything else – am not a big fan of killing characters. I view it as something that is sometimes necessary, something that can sometimes help create tension or develop a character or in some way advance the plot. Something not to be scared of doing. But I don’t think it’s something that should be done gratuitously.
Again, completely my opinion. Some very dark works kill people off left right and centre, and some people like stories like that, where absolutely anyone could die at any moment. Fair enough. I don’t, as a rule. When one character dies, that makes me more concerned for the others, but if everyone is dying then I kind of stop caring. If there’s a real posibility they could die, that makes things more tense, but, personally, if I feel there’s a high probability they’re going to die then I find it difficult to let myself get invested. Not always. Sometimes I go into a work knowing somebody’s going to die (I have a bad weakness for spoilers) and I still can’t stop myself falling in love with the character. And I’m just speaking generally, even if opinions about stuff like this were all the same, there’s not a lot of things you definitely can’t make work in writing. I can’t say I would never get into a work where everyone keeps dying.
I also am kind of turned off when series kill off the main or a major character right at the end of the last book. I feel – and this is probably very unfair, but it is how I feel – like this is a sort of false bravery. Because killing off a major character is brave, the main character especially so, but I feel like doing it right at the end isn’t, because aside from maybe one last chapter with everyone else grieving, you don’t really have to deal with the consequences. And some don’t even have that, they just die, and the story’s over. I suppose this really depends on the genre and the specific context… although most things in stories depend on the specific context as to whether they work or not. I bear that in mind always when I’m writing these blog posts. But speaking generally… I just don’t personally like this. Killing off a major character when there’s still story to go, that’s brave. I suppose if it was the main character, and the story was very much following them it would make sense that the story would end if they died, but if you could keep it going, if you could pull that off, getting rid of your main character a decent amount before the end… in my opinion that could be pretty awesome.
I suppose another thing I can mention is making it seem like you’re going to kill someone, then not doing it. Or actually pretending to have done it, then have them show up again. I have no problem with works doing this, it’s usually a great moment. But it’s not something that should be done too often, and if you’re going to use it more than once, I would say that’s more of a reason to actually kill off someone else, for reasons I went into above.
I’m sure I have more to say on this subject, but I feel I’ve rambled on enough about it for now. Maybe I’ll do a follow up if I feel I have enough more things to write, maybe not. As always, this is all just my opinion, and thank you for reading.