I was on facebook the other day (okay, I'm on there EVERY day, but still...) when a group of fiction writers I follow started a long thread discussing the act of killing off characters in their novels. The person who started the thread had a bone to pick (paraphrasing here): "Why do authors insist on killing off their characters? Why do they do this? I believe in happily-ever-after and don't want to read these kinds of books. It's depressing. Just let the characters be!"
That got me thinking...really? No books with any character deaths? Again I say, really? That makes no sense to me. Many of those that responded made statements that most often times the death of a character is necessary to the progression of the story (which I agree with) but the original poster wouldn't have anything to do with that. She simply wanted NO death and believed that most authors do it for the shock value. And the kicker, there were other responders that agreed with her! Yes, they did! "They're doing it just because they can", "They're not taking into account their readers feelings!"
That got me thinking again...do I kill off characters to shock my readers? Am I not taking my readers feelings into account? Am I doing it just because I can?
OH, HECK NO! Whenever I choose death for one of my characters, I don't do it willy-nilly (yep, I like that word. It's awesome), especially when I've invested a lot of time developing those characters. I love my characters. I really do, so to put them (and myself) through something so devastating, there better be a good reason for it.
I write about zombies in The Wild West. Characters are bound to die. I can't have a trilogy and NOT have a character get eaten, that would be weird. Someone would call me out on that.
I would like to hope other authors think this same way. They're not out to kill of characters "because they can", but because it is necessary for the story. Do readers get mad about character deaths? Yep, they do. There have been cases where authors have had to go back and rewrite a book, bringing a character back from the dead, to please the masses who protested such a move (it has happened more often that you know).
Here's the thing: As a writer it is my job to get a reader invested in ALL the characters, so when that character dies, the reader will be emotional and saddened because of it. That's what a good writer does. Do we want you to be heartbroken? Yes. Do we want you to feel horrible for the other characters involved? Yes. Are we doing it to torture you? No, of course not.
1) Killing off a character has to have purpose. You don't want the reader to be numb to it.
2) Killing of a characters has to propel the plot or affect the arc of another character.
3) Too many deaths and the readers will no longer trust the writer and will refuse to bond with any of the characters for fear of them being chopped. (A big example of this is THE WALKING DEAD. I for one, no longer invest any emotions in the characters, especially any new ones. The writers kill them off left and right. Think about it: only Carol is left of the original females from season one. And what about Axel? I liked that prisoner. Shoot. Anyhoo...moving on).
4) Let there be an aftermath. Let the other characters explore their feelings over the death and give the reader a chance to understand its purpose.
5) The whole point is to get the reader to care about the characters so their death does have an impact on them. Throwaway characters are just that--throwaways. No reader will care about those deaths, but a main character...that has to mean something.
6) Keep in mind that when you kill of a beloved character there will be some aftermath. Readers will have favorite characters and will be heartbroken, but as long as there is a purpose and a reason, most readers will get through it and be understanding.
In DEAD PLAINS, two beloved characters will die. I knew at least one death would happen while I was writing book one. The other surprised even me, but needed to happen to show the growth process for one of my main characters who had never experienced such a loss.
I didn't write the deaths willy-nilly. I'd never write a characters death that way.
That's not the kind of writer I am. And even though I enjoy a good happily-ever-after, I know that life has it's ups and downs and so that's what I write.
So what do you think about character deaths? How does it make you feel? Do you steer clear of them? Does it make you angry when a beloved character dies in a novel? What say you? Leave a comment.