When can you effectively kill a character?
I read a lot — both published books and manuscripts — and I watch a lot of movies. One of the things that I’ve learned is that if I take the time to off a character, I want it to mean something. What I don’t want to go is create a Rambo-style bloodbath with a high but pointless body count.
Here are three ways to make a character’s death matter.
Let us get to know the character first. This is especially meaningful if we love the character. When Rowling killed off Fred Weasely, I was seriously angry. Seriously Angry. Why? Because the Weasely Twins were by far my favorite characters. Realistically, someone was going to die in the big battle and Rowling made it count by offing a character we adored.
Let us see the impact that the death has on those left behind. Not all deaths take place on screen. You can make an off screen death matter by letting us share the impact on the remaining characters. This is one way to make it work when the character dies before the story begins. In Karen Healey’s The Shattering, the reader accompanies Keri as she attempts to find out if her brother was killed or committed suicide. His death matters to us because it matters to her.
Use it to prompt the actions of other characters. Whether we are discussing Keri in The Shattering or any character hell bent on revenge over the death of a loved one, we have all seen movies or read books where the death of one character pushes the others into action. My husband informs me that even whales get revenge — in the movie Orca the whale attacked the boat because they killed her baby.
It isn’t that you can’t kill a character but if you are going to do it, make it have impact. To read more on when to kill a character, check out K.M. Weiland’s post on How to Successfully Kill a Character.