How to Kill Main Characters
Welcome back to Writing Wednesdays.
Today I’m talking about death…
Specifically, killing people…
In your book.
You know how when you watch a tv show, especially an action show, and miraculously no matter what adversity, all the main characters survive every single thing thrown at them? For most people, that can make an otherwise awesome show get boring after a while because it’s predictable. The characters will get out of their predicament and live happily ever after no matter what.
Now think about shows like Game of Thrones and Grey’s Anatomy, both of them have been on for many seasons and both are still going strong with their fan base. That’s because it never drones out into a rut. Both shows are not afraid of killing off main characters. Main characters that we’ve come to love and connect with, making their deaths that much more impactful to the audience.
The same thing goes for books. You gotta throw some death in there to not only make it less predictable but also more exciting and emotional.
So in today’s Writing Wednesday, I’m going to teach you some important points to keep in mind when killing off a main character in your book.
Number 1: Is it a Main Character?
Some writers may be like, “Pft, I have tons of death in my book, so I’m good.”
But I ask you this?
Are any of those deaths a main character’s.
In horror and thriller books especially, you’ll see death galore, but a death isn’t that impactful unless that character has been built up over the course of the story. Minor, supporting characters typically aren’t given a huge backstory and rising action, and because of that, their death is kinda meaningless to the reader. A death of a minor character is predictable because that character was created to be expendable, but a death of a major character, one who you’ve built up throughout the story and made the reader fall in love with, that character’s death will have the most impact on the reader because they’re not expendable and therefore, their death is not predictable.
Number 2: No Random Deaths… Please!
Okay, so you’ve created your cast and your plot line, then halfway through, you randomly change your mind and say, “I think I’m gonna kill this guy off.”
So you kill him off and there was absolutely zero reason to. All you did was anger your reader and didn’t provide a message to them through his death. That message should be saying, this character’s death was a driving force for the plot line. But if there is no driving force that comes from it, what was the point?
Number 3: Strategic Ways of Dying
This ties in with number two and not making the deaths random.
Main character deaths should have an impact on the other characters and therefore be a driving force for the plot line. But the way they die should also be part of that impact.
If you’re writing an epic war between forces of good and evil, then the character better not randomly die of a heart attack or a car accident. Kill them off by allowing the evil forces to have a small victory, murdering them instead.
This will create a motivation for the other main characters to be stronger and fight off of the evil who took their friend away.
Number 4: Invoke Emotions
One of the main ways a main character death is impactful to both the other characters and the readers is the way it invokes different emotions. It can cause sadness, grief, frustration, anger, and confusion. You can describe the moments when the other main character’s hearts break from their friend or loved one being ripped away from them.
And when a death scene is done right, all those emotions the characters are feeling should also be felt by the readers. I still remember when I was ten and read Bridge to Terabithia and how I literally threw the book across the room and screamed and cried when Leslie died.
Number 5: Created to Die
Keeping in mind all the aforementioned points, the main character should be developed throughout the story in a way that makes their death impactful.
Many writers do an awesome job doing this and then when it’s time for them to die…
“I don’t wanna kill them anymore! I like them too much!”…
You created this character from page one for the purpose of dying at an integral part of the story. So kill them already! You’ll thank me later.
So are you going to remember these thoughts when you’re writing a death scene? Ya better!
I’d love to know what other tips you’ve figured out in your own writing journey about killing off main characters, so be sure to share those below and help out some other writers too, or Tweet me your ideas.