Thursday, 27 September 2012

Top Five Characters to Kill Off in Your Story

I like killing characters.

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

27 comments:

  1. In my story, I don't have any characters who really scream, "Kill me!" Not that many actually do that. But you know. Some have just got to go. :) I do have a fellow who's going to be thought dead, until the second book, when he's actually alive (his purpose wasn't served yet--he couldn't really go.) :)

    We're all rather morbid all of a sudden, aren't we? Fun, isn't it? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahahahaha, plot twists involving death are lots of fun - I love them. Except most of the time I like to give false hope that the character might be dead, and then prove it all wrong to make my readers cry again.

      Being morbid is very good fun indeed xD

      Delete
  2. Mercutio. Macbeth. Romeo. Juliet. Tybalt. *sigh*
    It's always my favorites that die. Always.

    I've only killed off one character. She was the main character. And the villain. It surprisesd me when I took my hands from the keyboard - I hadn't seen it coming. But it was very fitting. Dramatic Irony, I love you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OH MY GOSH! You speak the truth, you wonderful person! Those scenes are so emotional . . . especially when you're trying to keep a straight face while enacting them!
      Have you seen my "Tragedy - a short story" post? I think you'd like that if you're into ranting over the deaths of Shakespearean characters. That, and I just enjoyed borrowing a lovely evil persona for it.

      Ahaha, lovely touch there! Wonderful twist on "defeating the villain", I have to say.
      Dramatic irony is the best.

      Delete
  3. I think that deaths make the books much more endearing for me. Especially if the death is heroic. I disapprove of killing the main character unless it's handled particularly well, though.

    Oh... **Picks up a round garbage can lid** I thought it was a mistake of Suzanne Collins to kill of Primrose. She shouldn't have ended the series by killing the person whose life was saved in the first book. :) That's just me though.

    But ooooh. I love a book with a tragic death.
    :)

    God bless!
    Treskie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could not agree more.

      And welcome to the blog! Pull up a spinny chair and make yourself at home! Always nice to see new faces here at the Tower :)

      Delete
  4. AHHH *tries to cover eyes* YOu Soil the plot! I haven't read the books yet *runs screaming and then comes back*

    Ah well, thus is life... Anyway...

    Killing characters.. As you know, Charley, I don't like to do it. I'm getting better. Especially since one charcter, whom might have survived in one revision, killed himself, rather on purpose. We've talked about this. The dear Prince who begged me to ensure he died. It was sort of weird, but I guess he knew himself better than I, for die he did...

    Still boggles my mind.

    I'm practice the art of killing characters off when I get to writing Alethia's Lament. Or maybe in Unearthing Magic. Actually I have at least one death, and perhaps two, of minor, but important characters - think Dumble's death to Harry Potter like - though my writing skill may not be quite enough to pull that off, I'll be trying - then again I won't have, what was it six books to build up the minor character with.

    *snort* and here I was complaining about Hugner Games spoilers, and I go and ruin Harry Potter for someone (though probably a lot less likely, given this crowd, lol).

    Toodles. :}

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoops . . . sorry. I tried to keep a can on the spoilerific content by not saying it directly, but evidently that didn't work . . . mah bad. Then again, I do like to think that they've been out long enough for me not to be murdered :P

      Delete
    2. Don't worry I won't... but now I'll never know if I saw it coming, or if I"m just rmemebering this. Of coruse I can just wait for the movie to come out and by then I might forget. :}

      Delete
    3. Ahahaha, "The Hunger Games" movie is already out, I think the sequel comes out next year . . .

      Delete
    4. I know, my hubby and I finally saw it - rented from Zune I think. SOmetimes it's a bummer not being able to go see a movie when you want to. Still, thankgoodness for the internet age and we don't even have to leave the house to rent it. :}

      Delete
  5. You know exactly how I feel about killing characters ...

    KILL ALL OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS!
    And most of the minor ones too.

    Ehehehehe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah about that... *grins*

      Oh and I keep trying to comment on your blog, but wordpress hates me - or at least it hates my work computer *sigh*

      Just so you know I'm listening. :}

      Delete
    2. @Miriam - I thought you might say that. HOORAY FOR CHARACTER MURDER!

      Delete
    3. You're gonna be the next George R R Martin, aren't you?

      Delete
  6. Haha...you're posts always make me laugh. But this one sounds familiar...!! Just better executed. xD I LOVE your victim list, though killing off the mainest main character is sooo tempting. Unfortunately, it's also hard when you're in first person. So I just abuse them to the point of extinction and then make them LIVE with it. Yes. Living is sometimes as cruel as dying. Ironic, eh?! :]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ehehehe, sorry, I didn't realise that . . . I'd just been writing a death scene, so I thought I'd drop by and post about my murderous tendencies.

      That is just about my favourite strategy too. Don't annihiliate them . . . just break them and watching them try to cope with it *cackles*

      Delete
  7. I love the traitor's death when he's just done something noble and the main character and readers just begin to like him. Any character's death makes me feel like an evil author, but that makes me feel more so.

    The problem with killing the main character is it's so disappointing to readers. The quest goes unfinished and it all leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And killing the love interest does almost the same thing-- I should know. The one thing my character was living for dies and what does he do? He just punishes people and has to live on because, well, he's immortal now. It kind of backfired.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah. That DID rather blow up in your face. But nevertheless, angry characters on the rampage out for revenge for something as deep at that can be awesomely good fun to show reform and / or eventual defeat if someone else decides they can't take it any more, and takes over themselves.

      Oh . . . I've just had a new idea for a plot . . . curse you, brain bunny!

      Delete
    2. Yeah... Unfortunately, to continue the story after that point would have been painful for both the writer and the nonexistent reader. Perhaps a sequel, though...

      Delete
    3. I set the book up for one. Not that anyone who'd read the ending to the first would come back for more. I pretty much killed everyone who wasn't immortal and planned for the sequel to be too far in the future for anyone mortal from the first book to be featured.

      Delete
    4. Eh, fair enough. Fresh cast of characters, fresh plot, fresh events . . . it could work out quite nicely, if you tie in some themes or whatever from the past book for continuity's sake.

      Delete
  8. Hehehe, in the novella I finished last month, two of the main characters ended up dead in a Hamlet-esque fashion.
    Also: FRED WEASLEY WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN! NEVEEEEEEEEEERR!!!! ~goes off to cry in a corner~

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahaha, good ol' Hamlet. Inspiration for some of the best death scenes ever, that play.

      I CONCUR! COME, LET US WEEP TOGETHER!

      Delete