Killing off Characters in your Story or Novel

Death is often used in stories. It could be a murder, a suicide, or only the power of Mother Nature. However, there are critical pitfalls to avoid when using death to enhance the plot of your work.

Reasons You Shouldn’t use to eliminate a character:

Don’t do it if:

           This isn’t a tool to use to get rid of characters that aren’t needed. If you find you don’t need a character, remove them from your manuscript. If a particular person isn’t a vital part of the plot – they are extraneous and don’t even belong in the story.

           A second reason to NOT use killing a character out of the story is when you try to find something to move the story along (because your plot is weak). You are eliminating the character simply to upset your readers. You want your reader to ENJOY reading your book – giving your readers something to dislike isn’t a good move.

           Along with the second reason, you may find yourself killing off a character simply because you’ve written yourself into a corner. You find yourself with no way out, and you feel like you have no other choice. IF this character shouldn’t die, you need to STOP and go back and rewrite the story. NEVER sacrifice a character for the sake of your writing. It is a far better move to make your plot and storyline stronger – which will keep your reader happy. Always structure your writing to make sense – eliminating the words on the page is never a pleasant experience – but you can’t be so in love with what you’ve written that you sacrifice the enjoyability of the story.

           So, while you shouldn’t kill any of your characters for the wrong reasons, there are ways to kill your character that should be used. 

Meaningful Deaths to enhance your story:

Once you’ve decided you are killing off a character, here are some suggestions about how to create death. These five criteria will ensure your readers’ acceptance and continued reading.

The death should be sudden.

While death is never expected, even when a character has a fatal disease or has decided to take their own life, you need to make sure that the end happens when it would most benefit your antagonist AND the attainment of their goal. Your storyline and plot revolve around the destination of your Protagonist. Everything that happens must be working towards the climax of the story.

Remember: The greater the shock to your characters and readers, the better. If you can make an editor/beta reader shout ‘No! Not X!’, you have done well.

Death is a part of life, but in your story, it shouldn’t be expected. Everything that happens in the book needs to hold some excitement or emotion for the antagonist and your reader. Don’t use a death that is somewhat ‘normal.’

For instance, when a gladiator dies during the fight, it is a part of life. It is the expected outcome. However, a writer of fiction can use this moment to enhance the story. The warrior takes several minutes or even hours to die, and they reveal something meaningful on their deathbed. This enables for some fantastic dialogue and makes the character a hero. The goodbyes can be tearful and emote feelings that run deep.

Death needs to be meaningful and glorious. The reader must notice this death. It can’t be accepted as another piece of prose.

Perhaps the character dies while saving another character – someone close to the Protagonist or even your main character. Or the death could have the surviving characters reveal secrets that couldn’t be exposed while the dead character was alive.

Regardless of how you kill the character off, it should be pivotal in the story and not just something that quietly happens in the background.

It is essential that the death feels right. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, as the books move further and further into darkness, it was inevitable that characters would die. First, Harry’s beloved pet owl, Hedwig, dies. Next, he must deal with his Headmaster’s death, and then in the final book, there is a great deal of death. When some of the main characters die, the reader feels it to their core.

The killing of characters should be used sparingly but do kill. At least occasionally. It will keep your readers on their toes.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Published by Mustang Patty

I am finally a full-time author, who writes legal thrillers, how-to- books, short stories, flash fiction, a tiny bit of poetry, and Blog posts. My published works include 'Guilty until Proven Innocent,' 'Innocent for the Moment,' and 'Moment by Moment.' This is a trilogy called the Jill Adair Series. Additionally, I've written a collection of short stories about my dogs, Howie and Bernie - with a 2nd Collection coming in late 2021. I'm also coordinating an Anthology of Short Stories called, '2021 Indie Authors Short Story Anthology.' This book will be available on on August 1st of 2021. (The 2020 Indie Authors Short Story Anthology is currently available on - the collection includes 30 stories, written by 18 different Authors from three continents.) I am married to my wonderful hubby of over 37 years, and I have two grown children, named Heather and Gregory. I've been blessed with two beautiful grandbabies, Heather Rose and Logan Ernest.

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