Thursday, October 25, 2012

One Writer's Dilemma: The death of a main character

Have you ever wondered when is the perfect time to kill off one of your characters?

I had a plan to do it. I had an outline written. I had my second novel figured out until the very end. I had myself prepared, the actions of my characters prepared, a lovely fictional ceremony prepared, how everyone would feel, what they would say to each other...

Then something crazy happened.

I saw the perfect opportunity to add more depth to story, to twist the characters lives into another direction, to add more drama to their lives. Because we all know, the drama is what keeps readers interested, it keeps them reading.

And I killed off a different character. A character that I loved. 

Now, being an introvert with a highly sensitive personality I should have prepared myself better for this. I should have known what it would do to me. Especially since I've struggled with the death of fictional characters before, for example: when I finished reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, it sent me into a book hangover for about a week. Okay, let's not lie... it was really about a month.

I couldn't cope with what had happened to all those characters who I had grown to love, and how their lives were forever changed.   

It's true. I've had this problem with television shows too:

So, after 3 rum and cokes, I moped around my house last night, mumbling to my husband that I killed a person, I killed them dead (FYI: I would never actually kill a person in real life. I do have morals). 

I think he laughed at me, maybe said something about getting over it. (It was a character he never liked in the first place). But I couldn't. I kept reading that scene over and over, thinking about how it would affect the other characters lives, how they would react, how readers might react.

 I tend to do this with books that I become absolutely absorbed in:

Then something amazing happened... 

I was propelled into an inspirational brainstorming session. I could barely write down ideas fast enough. Just when I was thinking I might have to stop this series at the second book!

So, what have I learned from this experience?
Death makes people think. It causes us to re-evaluate, change our life path, reconsider our goals, hope for a better future. 

Death is easy on no one, but like fear, death is an inspiration.

Or, maybe it was the rum...


  1. Great post!

    In my work, I haven't killed off a main character... though I did kill off a number of supporting characters, a whole lot of people all at once (I write spy thrillers, and this one involves a terrorist attack) and in the end, most of my villains.

    Writing is the only way you can plot bloody murder and get away with it....

  2. I'm sure your husband was way more compassionate than that...

  3. Okay, seriously, I can BARELY read this!
    The font is dark green, and I had to highlight it just to see the words. Is this a formatting issue?

    It's sad because after I read it, I really enjoyed it. Because I haven't killed off main characters before, but I do plan to. And two come to mind. But now that I think about it, one of them is a MAJOR spoiler, so I'll mention just one.

    In one story I'm working on, about half-way through there is a scene on a train. In my mind I knew that it was the perfect moment for a character to be killed off, to show how drastic the situation was. And I was fine with it. Until I tried to plot it out. When I tried to work out which one to kill, I couldn't.
    I realized that it would hinder the story, and it would upset the audience. But at the same time, I HAD to kill off a character [this was set post-apocalypse. It was ridiculous that they had all survived this long, and I needed them to wake up to the severity of the situation.]
    But after a while, I realized I needed all of the characters. So, I went back, and I added an extra character for the purposes of killing off.

    This may seem cheap, but I think it helps the story. These were all likeable kids, so I added one that was a little annoying, so that the audience wouldn't miss her. But at the same time, I think it adds to the drama.
    Not only does it mean that I could build up to her death, but making her annoying means the other characters feel guilty for never getting the chance to know her properly, they just ignored her.

    But this was, admittedly, just a small piece of drama. The other example (that I won't spoil) was of me killing a VERY main character in a story. When I came up with the idea, I immediately dismissed it.
    "No, that's [CENSORED], I cant' get rid of her/him! I love that character!"
    But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I couldn't really fight it, and I knew it was the only way their story could end.
    I was very upset, but it had to happen.
    I think that's how you can tell when, dramatically, you have hit the sweet spot. If you are being affected by the loss of a character, you have done a good job, and the audience will hate you . . . then eventually love you for it, for making a character they could love so much.

    1. I see, a pr-meditated character killing... hmmm... I might have to try that. Oh, I changed the font, this post was on my old blog design which was brighter.