Reflection: Killing off Characters

So, should a character live or die?  That is a major question I’ve dealt with many times during my writing.  I’ve already talked about character death, and how the possibility of it builds tension, but I find it can be a very difficult decision about whether a character should live or die, as this can have a profound impact on the story.

I’ve previously reflected on how I can make a story where anybody can die, and the initial impact of a death here.

If a character is dead, this of course means they can no longer be involved in future parts of the story, at least not directly.  So if I think I might want to use them again, I let them live, or at the very least leave their fate ambiguous.

Mind you, it’s not always like that.  They can always return in dreams or flashbacks.  Plus, depending on the genre, the dead character may be resurrected.  It also may be possible that they faked their death, or were falsely believed to be dead.  Done correctly, this can be a great plot twist, but it’s one that shouldn’t be overused, or it cheapens death, weakening or destroying its powerful dramatic effect.

Aside from that, though, there is plenty that must be considered aside from whether the character can be reused.  The death of that character is going to have a great impact on the events in the story after the initial powerful moment of the death.

For example, if the character is to die, I have to consider the effects on the other characters.  How will they react, and will their reactions improve my story, or get in the way of the story I’m trying to tell?  I also should consider at least acknowledging their funeral arrangements, or a memorial service.  A scene at such an event could be good for character development.

However, there can also be consequences to the story in a character being left alive.  What would they do next, if they survive?  Could their very presence get in the way of the story?

In one story I wrote, I had this criminal character who I originally wanted to get arrested.  However, this criminal was also involved in a much larger conspiracy that was to be a plot twist later.  I quickly realized that if I had him arrested, the police would interrogate him, and learn about the conspiracy sooner than I wanted them to (he had plenty of reason to tell them).  But by killing him instead, he wouldn’t be able to give away this information.

One thing I always have to keep in mind, though, is that while I can always avoid killing a character by having them get seriously injured instead, this lacks the sense of finality and closure that death has.  If the character is still alive, there will always be a sense of hope that they will make a recovery.  This can still be powerful in its own way, though; it leaves the readers wondering if they’ll live or die.  Of course, the readers will eventually want an answer – I’ll still have to eventually decide whether to kill them or not.

Character death is something I always have to consider carefully.  Should he live or should he die is definitely one of the more common decisions I have to make in my stories (the longer ones, at least, it matters much less in short stories as they’re over before I can go too deeply into the effect of the death).  It’s something to be carefully considered.

Anyway, I have things to do.  White Rakogis is now signing off.

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One thought on “Reflection: Killing off Characters

  1. Pingback: Seven types of characters in a story that need to DIE!!!~by Skyerel | The Write Stuff

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