I decided someone needed to make a little primer about how to, and how not to, kill your characters. This is an incredibly tricky thing to do as an author, because you will almost certainly upset part of your audience if you do it right, and all of your audience if you do it wrong. So, I am writing a handy little guide to that potentially sticky situation—and once you pull it off correctly, there’s very little that’s more affecting to the readers!
(Also, I’m sorry if this is annoying to anyone, but I will be using gender-neutral pronouns because saying him/her and he/she and him or her and he or she and them or just one of those is obnoxious and/or incorrect to me.)
First things first: ask yourself, does this character need to die?
Reasons for saying yes:
- This character’s death moves the overarching plot forward (inspires a main character to do something ze normally would not do, makes an important sacrifice, aggravates tensions between two parties, etc.).
- This character’s death is the conclusion of hir character arc.
- This character’s death achieves something that is not possible in life. This includes finding peace, reuniting with a loved one, preventing hirself from being used against said loved ones, ascending to a higher plane of existence (mainly in supernatural fiction), etcetera.
- This character’s death illustrates something about the theme of the work. In a work about the senselessness of war and violence, senseless killing is not only permissible, but necessary—the audience should feel the same pain as the characters, at having someone they care about ripped away for no good reason.
Reasons for saying no:
- This character’s death serves no purpose.
- You want to kill this character to make the audience sad. Good emotional manipulation comes from good storytelling. If you can’t hurt people’s feelings with genuine sincere emotions, this is an extremely cheap way to be “edgy.” What’s more, people can spot this, and it isn’t usually as affecting as the author wants it to be.
- You don’t know what to do with this character, so you kill them off. That’s lazy.Ways to fuck up a character’s death:
- Bring them back immediately for no good reason. Yes, it’s sad that Little Billy had to die—so surely, people will be thrilled he’s back! No. No, they won’t. If you’ve pulled off a death correctly, your audience is literally grieving. You know this—we’ve all been affected by the deaths of fictional characters, sometimes more profoundly than we are by the deaths of people we know. In good fiction, the characters are real to us. Having that emotional process derailed for the sake of “making everything better” is dishonest and feels very emotionally unsatisfying.
- Misuse your genre. “But the character’s death moves the plot forward!” Yes, but you’re writing a zany comedy—and trying to make this death moving. Alternatively, trying to make a death amusing in a serious work—death is the ultimate pinnacle of human experience, and it resonates very, very strongly with people. Don’t cheapen the experience. It makes the audience uncomfortable with their own emotions.
- Kill an underdeveloped character—and expect the audience to respond strongly to it. Killing a character is not a way to make an audience love hir. It’s a way to make the audience realize how much they already did love hir.
- My actual pet peeve, which I personally believe is the worst one of all: Bring hir back—and have hir contribute nothing new to the plot.
When to (and when not to) bring a character back from the dead (clarification: this includes characters who never actually died, but were only suspected dead):
Bringing a character back is a very controversial decision. However, it’s done all the time, and done well. The response you want from your readers upon the reveal is:
"Oh my god, I am so happy ze is back, now ze can do all these amazing things I always wanted hir to and—OH MY GOD THAT IS EVEN BETTER THAN I WAS EXPECTING!" You want people to have been wondering—how would X Dead Character react to the new situations in the overarching plot? How would ze have gotten along with the new characters you introduced? What would ze think about the way the characters ze knew have changed and developed?
Answer these questions! More importantly, continue the character’s story arc from before ze died. I cannot stress this enough. If the character stagnates or does nothing new, LEAVE THIS CHARACTER DEAD. If you are going to send your audience through the emotional upheaval of a death, respect their journey. Don’t make them feel like they wasted their feelings.
Rule of thumb: Unless you are doing it for comedy, absolutely limit yourself to two deaths absolute maximum per character. I don’t care if it’s a cop thriller, a fantasy novel, a science-fiction screenplay, or yes, EVEN A COMIC BOOK, you cannot continue to fake out your audience. The first one is free. After that, the audience stops trusting you. So if you’re going to kill a character twice, make sure the second time ze stays dead. And be obvious about it, showing the body or making it absolutely clear that ze could NOT have survived whatever ze went through. Preferably, show the body (or part of it ala you-know-who from Game of Thrones).
I think that’s pretty much it! Have fun, and sharpen those scythes!
JESUS TAKE THE WHOLE CAR DEALERSHIP
[Note from suchfailure (feel free to delete it when reblogging): Removed a few comments for the sake of a shorter post. Not sure who made these edits, but if you know, by all means tell me and I’ll source them appropriately.]
Hey guys! Sorry its been so inactive around here. I’m slowly but surely getting finished with my finals.
Anyway, I found this and thought I had to share. The way body language can tell how a person is really feeling is something that I consider very interesting. I think it would be a great way to show, in a subtle way, how a character is really feeing.
Hope its useful! And good luck with finals! Hopefully, this place will be a bit more active once summer kicks in.
I’ve seem to be hitting writer’s block far too often now. My grade in my creative writing class is suffering because i don’t turn in anything because i’m never really satisfied with anything i do. all my good ideas seem to turn into bad ones once i write it down. How do you get pass writers block?
You turn off your inner critic. You do not listen to your inner police force. You ignore the little voices that tell you that it’s all stupid, and you keep going.
Your grade isn’t suffering because your writing is bad, it’s suffering because you aren’t finishing things and handing them in.
So, finish them and hand them in. Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.
You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.
If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.
Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.
Blaming “Writer’s Block” is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the “block”. It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy.
But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck. If you’re being lazy, don’t be. If you’re being a perfectionist, don’t be. And if you’re stuck, figure out where the story went off the rails, or what you got wrong, or where you need to go deeper, or what you need to add to make it work, and then start writing again.
My friend’s friend made a gif of me and JCKage’s (http://jckage.deviantart.com/)’s reenactment of the “water tribe” scene from Avatar the Last Airbender. It was fun!
Katara’s deviantart: http://xyaminogamex.deviantart.com/
July 3, 2012.
Gif made by http://lostyourway.tumblr.com/
I CAUGHT ONE THIS LONG DO YOU FUCKING HEAR ME SOKKA
is this where I start the conversation?
HA! I see you follow me!
I follow you,too!
maybe we should tal-
wow this is the most accurate post of how I try to make friends
Did anyone else read this in Mulan’s “manly voice”?
Pokemon X and Y Wondertrade Christmas!
Make kids starting their new games on Christmas happy by sending them some useful Pokemon or little items! You might get a Pokemon without use for you back, but someone somewhere will be really happy about the things you sent!
No one expects you to send your precious items. Please think back to when you were young and playing the games. How precious was a rare candy to a lot of us? Or how great would it be to get an Eevee that is holding a fire or water stone and can be evolved into Flareon or Vaporeon? Make them smile and reblog if you like this idea :)
This is perfect! :)
BEST XMAS EVER