Bad Reasons to Kill a Character
Some less worthy reasons for doing our characters dirty include:*
Shocking readers just for the sake of shocking them.
(Shock value isn’twithout its, well, value, but not every author is Alfred Hitchcock and not everystory is
Making readers sad just for the sake of making them sad.
(An old saw says, “If they cry, they buy.” But readers never appreciate being tortured without goodreason.)*
Removing an extraneous character.
(I know, I know. I just said that was a
reason. But you have to double-check this one. If the character isextraneous, then you better verify he really belongs in this story in the firstplace.)
A Final Consideration Before You Kill a Character
Now that we have a grip on what makes a character's death work within astory—and what’s sure to make it fail—we next have to consider what could endup being a crucial reason
to kill your character.Every character in a story should be there for a specific reason. He’s there toenact a specific function (as we discussed in recent posts about archetypes androles). If he doesn’t enact that function, then you have to question his purposein the story. And if he
fill a role within your story, well, then ask yourself this: Who’s gonna fill that role if you kill him off?
authors Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley explain:Unless the functions represented by the discontinued player reappearin another player, however, part of the story’s argument willdisappear at the point the original drops out. In the attempt tosurprise an audience by killing off a major player, many an authorhas doomed an otherwise functional storyform.
How to Kill a Character: A Checklist
Lucky for our sadistic little souls, roles and archetypes can shift from characterto character or be shared by several characters. In short: when a character diesoff, his death doesn’t have to mean his role will be left vacant for the rest of thestory.With all this knowledge in mind, here’s a quickie checklist for figuring out if youcan get away with murder: