When Should You Say Goodbye To Your Fiction Characters?

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Yes, this blog post has a grim title, but I’ve wanted to address this issue for a while. I hope that this does not translate as too much of a grisly subject!

In most good fiction novels, we can expect that at least one character will die. Some authors focus mainly on getting rid of non-central characters who we don’t form a connection with, but others understand the need to exploit reader emotion by hitting the more central characters or those that we grow to love the most.

Taking a look at various different books and genres, I’ve thought about the purpose that a character death should achieve. I’ve listed below factors to consider when thinking about a) whether or not to end a character’s life & b) when that character should be cut from the plot & c) justifications for bringing a character back to life (primarily applicable for fantasy novels). If you can think of any more to contribute, please do feel free to comment below.

  • Character finally achieves a romantic goal. Alright, admittedly, it’s a little cruel to remove a character at this point. However, if they have striven through hard times to be with their loved one, and the reader is sat hoping for a happy ending, it can evoke emotion for something to happen to this character just when they’ve achieved what they want. In certain fantasy novels, once this happens the remaining person in the relationship then becomes mad with grief and attempts to remove the barrier of death by bringing the partner back to life, and the reader remains hopeful of that elusive happy ending.
  • Character is killed at a time that the reader least expects. Writing a book that is easily anticipated by the reader provides no fun. Readers like to be thrilled by surprises and plot twists that they did not see coming. So by adding a character death at a time and place that is shocking, you will create more tension and drama. Also, it’s more true to life. Game of Thrones provides excellent examples of killing characters in locations and at times that are least expected.
  • After an alternative facet of character personality is revealed. You know the character you thought was awful and did bad things all along? What if you find out that the character did those terrible acts for a reason – to protect someone, or for a greater cause? At the moment sympathy and understanding is evoked from the reader, the fictional being may die with few other characters recognising their good side.
  • Character’s death serves part of the bigger plot line. Perhaps one of your fictional beings needs to be killed in order to instigate another magical event. This is applicable in such genres as fantasy, where there may be sacrificial victims or the balance of exchanging one life for another.
  • When your fictional individual holds the key to fate. Perhaps this individual who dies knows how to cure another character, or is the only person able to stop an apocalypse or war. At this point in the book, the reader starts to worry about the bad things that may happen as a consequence. Can anything else be done to stop the unwinding fate? Where will the plot lead now?

Thanks for reading – I hope this might provide some insights. I welcome any comments of additional reasons for character deaths. Let’s share some inspiration! #amwriting #writerslife

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