For as long as there has been literature, there have been character deaths. If that is to emulate the truths of life, in that it ends, or to advance the story, or simply to toy with our emotions, we may never know. But the thing is, it happens all the time; it’s normal, and it’s a great way to get readers to feel something. But it’s important that when trying to write in a character death, the feelings your readers are having are the right ones. There are ways that a character death can go south, quick. So if you want to write successful, heartbreaking deaths, here are some tips to get those characters in the ground the right way.
- Be strong enough to let your characters go
First and foremost, to kill off a character in any sort of piece of writing, you need to be brave enough to, well…do it. After spending so much time and effort creating this character and developing them, you’ve probably grown attached to them. But if the story demands it, and you’ve decided it’s what is best, then you just have to go for it, don’t second guess it; be brave. Whichever character you kill, they’ll be somebody’s favourite. They might even be yours, but you have to muster the courage to let it happen.
- The big dramatic monologue rarely works
Ah, the lengthy, dramatic, near-death speech; we see them all the time in books, plays, TV shows. The truth is, they get cheesy. Sometimes it works, if it’s consistent with the character, and the circumstances under which they are dying, but mostly, it feels forced and out of place, even if it’s an internal monologue. A few poignant words are usually more meaningful and touching than something lengthly that eventually just gets boring.
- Don’t kill the crowd favourite
Of course, people do kill off the favourite character all the time, but you should only do this if the plot truly demands the sacrifice. Yes, you want people liking the character you kill, so that they feel something, but you don’t want their feeling to be that of being cheated…at least, not too cheated. You don’t want to kill a character that will make people lose interest in the story.
- Don’t create a character with the sole intention of killing them
This is a big one; don’t insert a character in your story just to have someone to kill. A character’s death will only be truly heartfelt and biting if it’s a character that has multiple facets, and is fully developed. If you make a character simply to kill them off, you will probably keep yourself rather detached from them, and that will be apparent in the writing. Your character should be someone outside of their death.
- Reactions are important
The reactions towards a character’s death, both of characters around them, and their own reactions, are very important in showing what sort of people these characters are. Deathbeds are places where things come out: secrets, true feelings, or other types of confessions. As a character dies, they have their last chance to show their true colours, and those who still live and breathe have their last chance to admit things to the dying. Of course, you can’t use this as a gimmick too many times, but a character death is actually a great source of character development. Even if it’s for one character, it is the last bit of character development a character can have.
- Know when to stop
Anything in writing is about situation, so killing a lot of characters, in very quick succession, is something necessary on occasion. However, on the most part, it isn’t. It’s very important to know when to stop, to find the line where these character deaths stop bringing anything to the story, and it starts just being needless violence.
- Your character’s death should have a purpose
Your character’s death must have a purpose. This may be the only one of these tips that stands true for everything. If somebody dies in your story, it should most certainly bring something to the plot in some way. It can be anything from just affecting a more important character’s emotions and outlook or goals, or it can be a death that moves the story onwards and changes the direction the plot was taking. Either way, there has to be a point.
There you go, some tips to successfully kill off a character. But remember, writing is an individual art, and some of these tips are do not necessarily hold true in each and every character death. You are the judge of the situation, and of the needs of your own story. Just as there are innumerable ways people die in real life, writing deaths is much the same. So use these as guidelines, but remember: you make the final call.