Character Deaths Have Meaning

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Author, Jason Bradshaw

 Character Deaths and its Painful Glory

A bullet wound to the head, massive body trauma, vehicle accident or even a deadly encounter with an alligator? Now, what am I going to do to get my character to meet with his maker? Why does this character need to go? Is it going to have meaning? These are some of the questions we face when writing about killing off our least, and sometimes most favorite of characters within our stories.



I will start by saying it amazes me how on one hand, there is much thinking I may put into it, while on the other it just comes so easily; “ahhh he’s just a guard so a quick bullet will do just fine,” or on the other end of the spectrum when I write a death scene and give it more thought I will think; “that character deserves to go out better than that; with more style, more finesse.”  When we write and create whole personas, we form attachments to certain players, whether an evil villain or the top-notch hero, so inherently we put the killing of characters into certain groups. We all label them differently, in my case they are; Given Deaths, Uncertain Deaths, and Necessary—yet painful Deaths. Once you know what category of death your character falls under, you can begin to explore whether it can be meaningful and how.

The thing is, killing off certain characters can change the whole feel of the book and change the outcome of any future books, especially if you are writing a series. In other instances the death of one character may really push the plot to a new level or open the door for other characters in the book that can make it more enticing, emotional and even personal.

There are aspects that all writers should take into consideration before pulling the plug on someone in their story. One of the biggest considerations is being meaningful. Does your bad guy, adversary or foe have it coming?  Is the reader actually thinking, “I hope someone kills this guy or girl off?”  Does your hero die because he was saving someone else or was it to serve a greater purpose?  I have read books in the past where they knock someone off just for shock value, and personally it’s a big turnoff for me, and makes me feel robbed.

Giving depth to a death is key to its value, and this can be represented in many ways. In forms of rising another to the occasion; this may create a huge objective for another character. Revenge and justice are deep drivers and motivators.

Think twice before choosing to kill someone, as it may not always be the best idea, simply to get rid of them from your writing. There are other options such as the character may have moved overseas, was thrown in jail or just disappeared. In the future you may see that it would really benefit your story when they show back up. Killing to later resurrect is by far one of the most overused plots, and unless done extremely well, it will drill holes of displeasure in your readers.

So as you go about your killing, just remember, it must mean something. Calculate why they must die and know that if you don’t, your readers will be more than happy to share their displeasure with you!

About Jason Bradshaw

Jason has had a passion for adventure, history and writing for most of his life; culminating in the writing of his first novel Beneath Creek Waters. Besides writing numerous articles for various newsletters and publications, Bradshaw is currently completing his second installment to his novel series, titled Beneath Gulf Waters, after which he will begin work on a new series, The Hobbyist, expected to be completed in 2015.



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2 thoughts on “Character Deaths Have Meaning

  • cam8510

    Good thoughts here about killing off characters. I’ll be more thoughtful in the future. My latest character fell into an open, already occupied grave while being chased by disembodied spirits. Just before the casket lid closed, the spirit-witch threw in a handful of flesh eating bugs. Flash fiction at its best, haha. Thanks for the food for thought.


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