I can see why killing off a character is necessary in some cases. Feth, I can see why it’d be useful and even fun.
Imagine one of your favourite literary characters. Go on, I’ll wait. I’ll even make tea whilst I wait for you.
Got one? Good. They are now dead.
How does that feel?
When you kill off a character you’re giving the reader a plot point, and in extreme cases a literary life event; a moment of emotion that radiates from the death of a fan favourite is not something to be sneered at. I could list to you a few characters who’s deaths had troubled me so much that I had to put the book down, or just grab the nearest pillow and hide like a GRR Martin fan.
When a character dies and you feel so torn up about it, you’re giving the writer a massive compliment about their work. That character’s life which had just ended was a block of text written by somebody, and it made you grieve for the character. The writer who wrote that has managed to twist your mind to liking this particular character and has twisted your emotions to the point that you loved them. Now that they’re gone, they might not be back. They are dead.
It’s absolutely invigorating to be made to feel so much for a character and even moreso when they have died. You come to realise just how much you enjoyed their presence even though they’re just fictional characters.
I haven’t killed off any major characters yet, but I plan to. I can’t have them running about like someone in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, nigh invulnerable and heroic enough to be deserving of umpteen tropes. No, I want to have them act realistically in order to bring across just how humanly mortal they are. Yet I realise that, by having not done so so far, I have no idea if I can create a character who would be loved enough to be mourned for their loss. I think it’d take a certain level of literary skill in order to write such a character who is three dimensional enough to sit in your head long enough. I want to have a Colm Corbec, a Fred Weasley, and a Portgas D. Ace of my own that people will end up asking me why I killed off character x or character y and damning my name in all manner of internet chatrooms.
I hope I can pull it off, but you guys will have to tell me if I’ve succeeded when the time comes.
Killing someone off can come naturally in storytelling. It can also be something planned. In some cases it’ll be as simple as just having their name come out from your fingertips, or it’ll be calculated in order to provide leeway for plot.
If you’re killing off a character as part of some grand design there are so many reasons why that would happen. Looking at some examples, Aeris died in order for plot to advance. Portgas D. Ace died to provide the main character with the realisation that he can’t protect everyone he loves, as well as some other plot stuff. In each case of a planned death you’re providing the audience with what can potentially be a huge amount of emotional input (whilst reminding them that no characters in the story are truly safe – they are mortal, and they may not last forever) whilst giving some kind of plot point.
For another purpose, a character could even be killed off purely because the writer just can’t use them any longer – when there would be no surprise to the audience, or the character has become boring, or even if the writer has become so disenchanted with the character that they long for something new. I would contemplate killing a character just to throw it into the audience’s laps, but admittedly doing so would potentially lose me a lot of favour.
This can be achieved with a surprised death, but you potentially lose the structure to the story. Having said that, you’re just as likely to come across some new kind of plot to add to the tale. Then again, a spontaneaous death adds realism to the tale. Imagine if everybody but the antagonists died in The Siege of Hogwarts.
In any case, a character can die for all manner of reasons. I’ll be exploring these in all manner of ways in the future, but for now I’m going to have to keep my long term people alive in order to establish plot.
So somebody might end up dying soon. 😀
Live long and prosper,
Character Death Should Be Premeditated (www.writingishardwork.com)