Readers often say, “Please don’t kill my favorite character”! Sometimes it just has to be done. A character death is the simplest and most effective way to draw your readers closer to your story. But, only if you do it right.
Don’t try to write a ‘death scene’. Simply write a regular scene in which the character dies, portraying as accurately as you can the emotions and actions of those around them, especially anyone who loved them. If your reader cries in grief then you have succeeded in writing the scene.
As a writer, know that the loss has to be built up in the book. The death itself can be only a few lines, hitting your reader like a shot in the dark! Or it can be drawn out, with specific details. But remember to deliver it at the right time. Loss happens in real life, and fiction needs to emulate that.
In order for the reader to love and mourn the character’s death, give your reader good reason to do that – not on page one!
To write a death scene effectively, you must answer a few simple questions:
Who Is Your Character?
Before deciding to kill a character, you must consider the character himself.
- What effect does this character have on the plot? Consider how they’ve driven the plot forward; as a hindrance or have they played a proactive role in the story?
- What effect does this character have on other characters? This includes personal relationships they’ve had with other characters. What role did he/she play in the story?
- What will the story lose once this character is gone? What role has this character played in the story? How will the loss of this character affect the roles of the other characters in the story?
- How important is the character? The importance of the character in the story will determine how you will write their death.
Knowing these things determines the amount of detail you should put into the death scene.
How Do They Die?
How you write the actual death of a character depends on your style of writing. The dying can be written with excruciating detail. At other times the details surrounding the death need only to be vague.
- What did they die from?
- A murder gets a completely different reaction than a suicide or an illness.
- How long does it take for them to die?
- Slow death provides more closure for the other characters. With a quick death there is no chance for closure.
- Why did you choose your character to die this way rather than anything else?
- Choose the method which will provide the most impact on your story.
Must They Die?
- Has the character fulfilled their purpose?
- Is there no other reason to exist?
- Does the death emphasize the theme?
- A character’s death must become meaningful.
- Does it advance the plot?
- The character’s death must have purpose. Making the character death hard for the reader.
When Do They Die?
When a character dies affects how other characters react to their death.
- Is their death expected?
- Is their death convenient? Will the death of this character make it harder for the protagonist to reach his goals?
- Why must he/she die at that specific moment?
Where Do They Die?
The location of their death can be symbolically driven.
When creating a death scene, is the location itself symbolic?
- Places, like churches and libraries can represent morality and wisdom.
- Objects can add further depth. Roses symbolize love, gold – wealth, olive branches – peace.
- However, in the context of death, symbols become even more complex. Death near a rose garden could mean that love conquers death or that death is loveless. Dying near gold objects could symbolize corruption through wealth. An olive branch could represent peace through death, or the exact opposite.
The Character’s Legacy
When your character dies, their influence should not end. They must still have an impact on the other characters.
- They mourn.
- Grief is a huge part of creating an accurate death.
- People grieve in different ways, adding another layer of complexity when approaching death. Mourning can be slow or quick, making people angry or depressed, depending on the character. When killing a character, your story slows down for a moment to handle the loss.
- They adapt.
- Each character in your narrative has a role that they play. Letting a character die means that this role becomes vacant. The remaining characters must grapple with this concept, changing their dynamic to keep maintain stability.
- They are influenced.
- The living displays their own meaning from someone’s death; giving your characters confidence to move forward or set them back several steps.
Your living characters’ reaction’s makes your story real.
Bad Reasons to Kill a Character
- If your character’s death has no purpose, don’t kill the character.
- If you’ve stopped liking writing about the character, so you kill them.
Have a good reason for your characters to die.
Writing a good death scene can make your story much more meaningful.
“Linda has published fifteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”