So You Want to Kill a Character...

Sometimes characters have to die. Because facing death makes people do crazy, vengeful, courageous things, and when we need our characters to be crazy, vengeful, or courageous (etc), sometimes killing their mom/best friend/cute guy they just met/dog is the best way to do it.

But it's really hard to kill a character. We love these fictional people that exist only in our heads. We don't want to kill them.

For me, this is just one more reason I plan. When I'm outlining, the characters are just pieces of a game to me. I don't really kill them, I just take them off the board. I'm like fricking George Martin, slaughtering characters left and right until there's hardly anyone left to denouement with.

But when I'm actually writing the draft, they're no longer game pieces. They're people, with feelings and hopes and dreams, all of which I'm about to crush with a single, over-written sentence. I could bring them back, sure, but I'd have to cheat. Some readers might be happy their favorite character didn't really die, but others would feel ripped off.

So I think, "Does this character really need to die? Can't I keep them a little longer?"

As it turns out, that's a good thing. It forces me to re-evaluate whether I was just going crazy in my outlining phase. It dials me back from George Martin to, maybe, Joss Whedon -- to killing one or two characters who really, truly have to die to serve the plot. (Though usually I do end up sticking with the outline.)

How about you? Do you kill characters? How hard is it for you?

18 comments:

lindsay said...

I kill characters - honestly I don't find it difficult to let go of them if they really need to die to serve the story, because if I'm in love with the character and am moved by their deaths, then I know my audience will be, and that's what makes me happy more than anything.

Though, I do end up doing the same thing, killing more characters in the outline than I do in the actual story, when I realize in the end that I need that character for something else in the denouement. Or, well, realize I can do more vicious things to them if I let them live :P

S. J. Pajonas said...

I just killed off a character and still feel really guilty for it because I made his death pretty senseless. I may have to change that, but I still feel like it was the right decision. A lot of deaths are completely senseless and it's in the process of dealing with those deaths that people shine or spiral.

Sigh. It's tough being an author.

MattyDub said...

That JKR/GRRM pic is priceless.
-Matt

Steph Sessa said...

I'm toying with this right now. I think I have too many characters and might just have to scrap some of them to tone it down. I'm going to be bummed when I do it, but I think it has to happen.

Matthew MacNish said...

It's not hard for me, but I usually only kill one or two per book, if that.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I don't kill a lot of characters, so when I do, it hurts. So I make darn sure I do it for a reason. Which, I think, serves the story well.

Jessica Silva said...

the first story I ever finished writing completely killed a total of twenty-one characters. it didn't bother me at all, even when I killed my favorite character (ugh, I miss him). but I also went into that story knowing I had to kill pretty much everyone, so it wasn't hard when I had to do it. and those characters knew death was a possibility for them, too. in my most recent story, it's totally different. I sort of realized I didn't kill hardly enough people in my last draft (how horrible does that sound?), so I created two new characters to kill :) somehow, between creating them and starting to write them, I totally forgot I as killing them. It was kind of a shock when I had to do it. my eyes may have watered a little bit. I guess it depends on the character and the story and what you've already prepared yourself to do.

jjdebenedictis said...

Ditto what MattyDub said! LOL

Angela Brown said...

I don't like to kill characters but I have two WiPs where I have a character die, uh, somewhat violently actually, now that I think about it. Wow. That just made me pause.

Anywho, GRRM did his death dealing in the first installment of the now famous GOT which has left me, well, wanting as a reader. I eventually lost interest when I reached book three.

Lindsay Kitson said...

Senseless within the story is not always senseless from the perspective of plot. Sometimes it just for the Wash Effect, and there's nothing wrong with that. :)

Anonymous said...

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and i already love you.

maine character said...

I haven't had to choose, but I do remember seeing the ending of "Stranger Than Fiction" (spoilers) and wondering what I would've done. I mean, there's only one choice there, but if it would make a better book, I'd almost be tempted.

Nancy Thompson said...

I killed 2 of the 4 major characters in my book. It's what makes it so heartbreaking. And memorable. But I didn't enjoy killing them. I loved them.

Victoria Dixon said...

Maine Character, I LOVE that movie. And if it were only a book, I would have killed him and so would Emma Thompson's character. LOL In my last book, I knew from the beginning that one character would die. The novel's based on historical events and Tong Zhang was doomed. Sorry, buddy. I did not know about the others, but that's in large part because I'm a bit of a pantser. I knew my "candy bar" scenes to work towards, but how I got there was sometimes in question. That said, how I got to some of those points was fun for me because I could feel how heartbreaking it would be. I had one reader leave me a note to stop making her cry. Sorry, D.V. That's what I'm there for. LOL

Ryshia Kennie said...

I don't usually plan for characters to die, it's just something that happens, usually an unexpected result of a plot twist. Often they're hurting characters. Has it bothered me that they died? Sometimes. But I have to admit I never think of it as me killing them, someone else killed them. So in that way it's kind of like watching a movie, it wasn't my fault. Even though - really, it was.

S. J. Pajonas said...

Aw thanks, Lindsay. That actually makes me feel a lot better :) Though I was crushed my that Wash Effect.

Daisy Carter said...

I've killed a few people, er, characters in my time. Once was intentional, the other was more of a hit-and-run situation. I saw him darting in front of my delete button, but I couldn't slow down or swerve to avoid hitting him.

I kind of like killing characters. Maybe because I really can't stand when characters get reprieves they shouldn't in books I read. Or maybe I'm a little nuts. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm working on my first book now and it was rolling really good at first. Now I'm positive I need to kill the main characters love interest (Not really kill, she dies due to an overdose.)and it's making the writing hard. I really like this fictitious woman!! So I've found myself writing a separate document where I can write other parts of the story and copy and paste them into the actual story when I've worked up the nerve to write off the character.