Since when did killing off characters become some kind of indicator of quality writing?
I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to kill off any character in order to write a good story. Yes, even an “adult” story. I feel a lot of authors have forgotten this.
Am I saying you should never kill your characters? Of course not! I kill characters all the time. There are plenty of instances where a character death makes the most sense to the story, the themes it is presenting, and/or an individual character’s development.
But it is a major decision that should not be made lightly, especially with main characters. Remember these things before deciding it’s time to off someone in your story:
- Once a character is dead, that’s it. You can no longer use them later in the narrative (well, in most cases) and their arc is at an end. Make sure there is nothing else your character can contribute to the story and nothing else you want their story to say.
- Do not kill a character just because you’ve run out of things for them to do. This isn’t good writing. Analyze the problem instead and try to discover why this character serves no further purpose to the story. Perhaps take them out of the story entirely, or consider other ways their presence can influence the narrative later. You may come up with some good ideas you would have squandered otherwise.
- Do not kill a character for shock value or because you don’t know where to go with the story. This is also not good writing and often comes across as cheap, like a jump scare. Look at the bigger picture of your plot and try to determine why you’re stuck so you can most effectively fix it.
- Try not to kill off female characters to further the development of male characters. Please. It’s called the Women in Refrigerators trope, it is cliché, is it demeaning to women. Please try and avoid this one. The same is true for the Bury Your Gays trope, especially if you only have one LGBTQ character/couple in your story.
- Consider other ways to show sacrifice. I understand that Christian beliefs are very prevalent in Western society, but it’s starting to feel like the “Jesus parallel” sacrificial deaths are overdone. You can show sacrifice in different and more creative ways, such as having a character suffer permanent injuries, giving up something dear to them, or forcing them to make a decision that forever changes them and how others see them.
Basically, I think it’s important to remember that you are the author and that everything that happens in your story is a deliberate choice. Weigh character death choices carefully so they will have the greatest impact.
Your turn! When do you think character deaths are and are not appropriate? Any tips I missed? Let me know in the comments!