Killing Your (Darling) Characters

So, when it comes to killing off characters, nobody knows the struggle better than a writer. (Notice I said characters, not people. Please ensure that I mean FICTIONAL people of IMAGINARY worlds. Murder is a big no-no IRL!)

Writers search up these weird things all the time: how people act at funerals, what happens to the body, and can poison actually kill you 100% of the time. And, somehow, we stay semi-sane.

But there’s good and bad ways to kill off characters, and there’s good and bad reasons to do so too, but the moral part is another post.

If they’re dead, stay dead.

Now, not to point fingers at TV shows, but they’re fairly notorious for doing this. You’ll see a character get hit by a car or suffer some fatal accident, and in the next episode, they wake up in a hospital of some sort. Or there’s a magical resurrection stone that makes death irrelevant. (American Horror Story: Coven, I’m looking at you).

Killing off characters seems inevitable for writers. (The Red Wedding, anyone?) But do it for the right reasons. Don’t bow to peer pressure because all the other cool writer kids are doing it. Don’t do it to force a cheap emotional crying scene. This kinda leads into my next point.

Stop martyring all the women! Stop making grandma die in her bed and mothers die in childbirth just so Jimmy Jones can have a semblance of plot. Stop making the femme fatale sacrifice herself heroically so that she can “prove her true love” to the main character after backstabbing him. (Maybe Mr. Action Hero should make decisions with his rational brain instead!)

Let an LGBT+ character have a happy ending.

No, seriously. Stop killing them off, please. 🙁

If you want people to cry, do it right.

If you want people to cry about the minor character, you’re going to have to send them off correctly. Let us care about this character. Are they the funny trickster of the group, always getting into scrambles? Are they the grouchy asshole turned into a gentle giant? Are they notoriously a lover, and not a fighter until it’s too late.

(But, PLEASE, not the dog!)

We want good characters with good backstories, or characters with a future ahead of them that the readers want to see. In real life, we fear death because it’s a cut-off of potential for what a person could become. Why should that be any different in a book? Make the characters real. Maybe their dreams are cut short with them, or maybe they see this as the only option even when, heartbreakingly, there was another way.

But, whatever the story, whatever your plot, remember.

Death isn’t the final chapter of your story if you don’t want it to be. Because, ultimately, you’re the one writing it.

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