How To Successfully Kill Off A Character In Your Book

I recently beta read a book that is set to be released this fall. In it, a character I'd grown to love dies. I seriously wanted to throw the book at the wall, through the window, etc. I'd grown attached to this character and though this wasn't one of the main characters, their death hurt me. This got me thinking about my upcoming novel and killing off characters in general. How do we, as authors, successfully kill off characters in our book?  When deciding to kill off a character in your novel, I think there are four things you should consider: Who are you killing? How will this person die? How does their death affect other characters or advance the plot? Does this character truly need to die? Let's consider these questions one at a time. 

-Who Are You Killing?

Oftentimes, the person you decide to kill will be the antagonist, but sometimes it can also be the protagonist, a best friend, a side-kick, or a love interest. Or, if you have multiple heroes, you may decide to have one of them die in battle or in a fight with the antagonist. The most important thing to consider here is to think about your why and the emotions you want to convey. It would be pointless to kill off a character no one else likes or a character you've only mentioned once or twice that readers haven't had a chance to bond with or care about. 

How Will Your Character Die?

Ask yourself the following questions: Does he or she sacrifice themselves for the greater good? For a friend or lover? Does a side-kick or best friend die to save the hero? Is the character dying of a terminal illness and decides to commit suicide? Does the villain murder the character? Is the character killed by accident? Does someone mercy-kill the character? Do they give up and die quietly, or fight to the end? Are they in a dangerous situation to begin with, or does the death come out of nowhere? Is the death messy or clean? Is there a chance of recovery? How long does the death take? What tool or weapon was used to kill the character? 

How Does Their Death Affect Others Or Advance The Plot?

Take some time to really think about how the character's death will affect each character. Will they move on quickly, slowly, or never at all? Does the character's death set you up for the climax as the main characters turn against the antagonist to seek revenge? Will some characters become introverted and shy away from interaction with others? Was the death accidental and now the villain has a twisted urge to kill? Did the death happen in a location that the characters used to frequent, but now shy away from approaching? Do other deaths occur because of this one? Could the death have been avoided? Was the death an accident and now another character is dealing with guilt?

Does This Character Truly Need To Die?

Your character's death needs to have a true purpose. For example, are you advancing the plot, emphasizing the theme, or motivating other characters? Does the character's death fulfill another character's goal or create realism? These are important questions to think about because you never want to kill a character just for the sake of killing them or to shock your readers. Every character in your story serves a purpose and when you kill off a character you need to have someone ready in the sidelines to step in and fulfill your deceased character's vacant role. 

Additional Key Takeaways:

-Make your readers care about the character before you kill them off. Otherwise, their death will be worthless and unnecessary. 

-Try killing off a minor character early on in your book so your characters know you're not above killing a character. From that point forward, they'll more than likely be on pins and needles everytime your main character gets in a difficult situation.

I want to hear from you! Was this blog post helpful? Do you have additional tips you would like to share? What's the best character death you've been affected by in a book?

Happy Writing!

-Jade