Whether it's my love of drama and emotion, or simply the resurgence of some repressed Viking axe-murderer from a past life, I can rarely plot a book without planning to kill off (or at least do something painful to) at least one major character. Disappointing character deaths in books I read are also a major pet peeve - there's just so much potential for major change and upheaval in the story, it's almost a crime to see it wasted!
So, today, in lieu of the most recent plot bunny that has invaded my head, I have decided to give you all a little list of the most effective characters to kill off if you want to destroy the sanity of your readership.
The specifics of how and why you kill the characters is up to you - writing the scene of the death is a whole different kettle of platypi to deciding who you're sending off to meet their maker. Work out what's best for your story, and if possible, avoid all the terrible cliches and cheesy lines of dialogue that can sometimes creep in if you don't lock their box closely enough.
I'm just here to hold out the carrots. You get to pick your own stick.
Victim One: The Romantic Interest.
Splitting up an adorable and reader-approved relationship is pretty much a surefire way to cause upset. The emotional trauma is immensely useful in providing massive character changes in the remaining half, and you're unlikely to find a better motive for wishing to splatter your villain all over the wall. Works best if the two weren't "officially" a couple yet, outside. The lost what-might-have-been will drive the readers loopier than a bowl of Cheerios.
Victim Two: The Comic Relief.
You know that character that's been keeping everyone's spirits up since this whole sucktacular adventure started? The one who never fails to find some brightness, no matter how dark a pit of vipers the villain has dropped you in? Their loss is going to kill your characters' morale, and make a very painful point to the readers: just because you believe it's going to work doesn't mean it will. And just because people love you doesn't mean you're any safer.
The tears will fall.
Victim Three: The Traitor.
Readers love characters with distinctly murky moral backgrounds and allegiances. Particularly if your lead character(s) have a past with them that affects their conduct around them. Killing these traitors off can be effective in more than one way, 1) They can be redeemed through their actions, and there are huge guilt trips all round, or 2) Make someone else kill the traitor out of neccessity, and then there are even MORE huge guilt trips all round! Potential to reveal whether or not your traitor really deserved the name through a series of revelations later on in the plot means this sob-fest can go on and on and on . . .
Victim Four: The Unlikely Hero.
Imagine if J. K. Rowling had Neville Longbottom die valiantly while duelling Voldemort's giant snake? Even the death of Fred Weasley would have been lost in the howling laments. Watching a character grow and develop and learn from a fairly useless bundle of words into someone we really come to respect and engage with can really draw a reader close to them. The sheer satisfaction of knowing that having them killed - either dramatically or ignominiously - will likely bring all the fans to crying fits is possibly the best feeling an evilly-inclined author can have.
Victim Five: The Main Character.
Unless you're working with multiple narrators, or have some other fiendishly cunning plan to account for the loss of your leading lad or lady, this one is probably the least likely to occur in a story. But hell and high water won't protect you from the anguished screams and shrieks of disbelief when the readers discover that, no, it's not a hoax, Sherlock Holmes really has hopped the twig. Ned Stark's head really did roll. Katniss really did fail to save her sister.
They never see it coming.
Here ends the indulgence of my inner evil overlord. Or does it?
How do you, dear readers, feel about killing off characters? Do you like to do it dramatically, or with that chilling lack of regard that makes us want to bash Suzanne Collins over the head with a damp flannel? Are there any particular types of character you like to kill off? Does killing them off upset you as much as you hope it does the reader?
~ Charley R