Killing characters. It’s something both reader and writer alike have a love/hate relationship with. Personally, I love it when a character dies—I revel in the sadness, the “what-just-happened,” the emotion more informally known as feels. But at the same time, it has to be done right, and since I just published Healing Scars, Warriors of Aralan #7, I thought now would be an opportune time to write about this subject, because Healing Scars opens almost immediately with a character’s death. (I won’t say who, though… you’ll have to find out by reading it yourself). *writer’s wink*
So, here’s a little list to think about as we move forward.
1.) First of all, is the death necessary? Killing characters just for the sake of it never helped anybody.
2.) This may sound a little macabre, but research the kind of death your character is going to experience. If you're not entirely sure what you're talking about, it'll show.
3.) And don’t forget to think about the aftermath of killing a character. In real life, people who lose loved ones don’t just pick up and move on right away—take time for the grieving process.
#1: Is the character’s death necessary?
Let’s go back—way back—to the very moment when this character was born in your imagination. Why? For a very simple reason. Create the character to die, and the death will be easier. This single thought was a breakthrough for me as a writer. Before I realized this, I thought I could write along, quite happily, until the time came for a death. Then I’d pick a character to die, and they’d be no more.
The problem with this mentality is that by the time I decided to kill a character, I had become too attached to the character in question, and couldn’t do it. Not to mention the fact that I had to figure out how to move forward without the skill set of the character that died. If you create them to die, you’ll be prepared. You’ll know it’s coming. The plot will move forward just fine without them, not to mention the fact that you’ll be able to provide any foreshadowing that’s necessary.
Also, whether or not the death is necessary depends greatly on what you’re writing. Fantasy writers like myself must almost certainly be prepared to kill a character or two from time to time, because fantasy often includes fighting. A romance? Maybe not so much, depending on the plot.
#2: Research the death your character dies.
Why? A lot of times we writers subconsciously refer back to what we’ve seen on TV, and sometimes the TV exaggerates the effect of injuries or diseases. (I know, shocker). Just take the time to research before you write, and later your readers will thank you.
#3: Don’t forget the aftermath of the death.
This encompasses everything from grief, to figuring out how to go on without what that character offers to the plot. If you’ve planned for all of this, it won’t be a problem. (Remember? Create them to die, and the death will be easier).
The idea of writing grief might be a daunting one,* but if anyone is left alive at the end of the story, there’s probably going to be at least one character that mourns the loss. (Provided we're not talking about the villain here—although there might be someone that cares there, too). Just be honest. Write with your whole heart. That’s all the reader can ask.
As for figuring out how to move forward with this gaping hole in your book’s cast, if you knew it was coming, this problem should resolve itself automatically.
And what about the "feels" aspect? I've heard it said that to make a character's death sadder, you need to write smaller. Don't write about what everyone else in the vicinity is feeling—write about what one character is feeling (the victim, the victim's best friend, etc). Focus on a tiny bit, and write it well. Did the dying character have unfulfilled goals? Mention them. It's even sadder if they're not ready to go—if they fight the end.
These are just some things I’ve learned while writing character deaths for the Warriors of Aralan series. An antagonist's death may not fit very well into what I've said here, but I hope these tips will help you as much as they’ve helped me!
* I understand that there are some of you for which the grief of losing a loved one is still too near, and that's okay. Wait as long as you need to before writing these scenes.
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people closer to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!