This Isn’t the End: Killing Characters with Purpose

RIP (1)Every reader has a fictional death they will never get over, from books to movies to television shows. If you have ever mourned a character who was close to your heart, whether it was because of his/her personality, skills, or hotness, I feel your pain. Let us have a moment of silence for our fallen.

And…moment is over, because, if current writing trends have proven anything, it’s that he/she probably isn’t so dead after all. Look at shows like Supernatural, Doctor Who, or Arrow. Characters are continuously killed off and then resurrected by popular demand. Because of this, fictional death has lost its punch.Why worry if the writer has a history of reviving his characters? (I’m looking at you Joss Whedon, you beautiful devil.) Why care about the character’s life if it isn’t finite?

I think the mainstream writing community, television or otherwise, needs to put weight back into the concept of death. If the audience knows there is a good chance a character might come back then, more likely than not, they won’t care if the character dies. After the initial two second shock the emotional tether is broken. Strange as it may seem, I would rather be heartbroken over a character’s death than apathetic about his existence.

So how can we as writers make death more meaningful?

The Wow Factor

It can be fun to kill off characters for the sheer purpose of shocking readers. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. A character’s death should have purpose, whether it’s to advance the plot or motivate another’s actions. That’s what makes it meaningful. If a writer kills off a character simply for the “wow” factor, or because the character no longer has a purpose, it’s probably a good time to reflect–does that character belong in that story?

Don’t Hesitate

As many a warrior has said, “Kill, or be killed.” Reluctance to kill off a character because they are likable can create a significant stumbling block. If a writer knows his character is going to die, he should think it through, but shouldn’t hesitate because of personal preference. If the character is really that loved and still relevant to the story then it makes sense to keep him on. If not, a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do. Be strong, my friend.

We’re almost There

So your character is dead, and you know you’ve made the right decision for the good of the story. Now all that’s left is to fight the temptation to bring that sucker back to the land of the fictional living. The more a writer loves her character the more tempting it is to resurrect him, especially in genres like fantasy and sci-fi, which make it easier to do so. To be clear, reviving characters is NOT a bad thing. Becoming predictable is. It’s important for writers to think carefully before bringing a character back to life.

Well, here we are at the end of another post. I hope you find it helpful. Thank you for reading, and as always…

Happy Writing!

Question of the Week: Whose fictional death will YOU never get over? Comments welcome!



Filed under Girl Meets Fiction

2 responses to “This Isn’t the End: Killing Characters with Purpose

  1. There are so many😪 One fictional death that I personally felt cheated by (mostly because I feel she shouldn’t have died – I think it was done for the ‘wow’) was Tris’ death in Allegiant. I wish I could unread that book😫


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