When to Kill Off a Character?

I’ve been working on one of my short stories lately, because I want to at least try to get something published this year…and I ran into a little snag. On Sunday, I finished a rough draft for it, but it didn’t seem complete.

I had alluded to the idea that one of the characters does pass away earlier in the story, but when I got to the end, there she was a live and well, and I was happy with that. She was so good, sweet, and compassionate and I wanted to keep her, was that such a bad thing?

But the story seems to lack a climax, a moment that resonates with the reader, that draws the story to the close, to some kind of satisfying end or resolution. It kind of struck me in that aw man, type of way, when I realized that the death of one of my favorite characters might just be the sacrifice that the story needs to make it complete, but I’m dragging my feet.

How do you know when a death in a story is really necessary?

I did a little research, and the overall idea, it seems, is to incite some reaction from your reader (which is what I need,) and it should advance the plot, (which this would.)

The fact of the matter is: I don’t want to kill her! I love this character and the idea of just offing her in some grand sacrifice, makes me feel kind of sick inside. But if it upsets me, surely it might be necessary to the story?

I guess I was wondering your take on the matter?

Do you guys know when it is the right time to kill off a character? And are you finding it as difficult as me?

I guess I’ve never given it much thought until now…and I can’t imagine what J.K. Rowling must have went through when she had to face the death of Dumbledore…(yeesh!)

Hope everyone is having a great night! Happy Writing!

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19 thoughts on “When to Kill Off a Character?

  1. I never know when to kill a character. Like actually kill them. My feelings are usually if I spent so much raising this character and making them the best they can be, why would I commit such an injustice?!

    But if there are times when killing a character helps the story overall then I guess that sacrifice needs to be made. If you love this character, chances are the audience will love them too. Killing a character makes the reader have a stake in what’s happening and draws them in. Do it if you must and make that death worth remembering. (But be gentle…)

    • Noted…will definitely be gentle. Its like us writers are our own worst enemies…we love our characters like children and then when it comes to saying goodbye, of course we don’t want them because we love them too much! Thanks so much for the comment and for stopping by!

  2. If the thought of killing this character really upsets you, then it is highly likely it will have a strong impact on the reader and throw your story forward in a dramatic way. Your check points are valid, and you are ticking the boxes πŸ˜‰ Nothing wrong with feeling reluctant and making absolutely sure before you do the deed.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and for the support! I will try my best. Maybe I’ll try working on it tonight, and see what happens. I will let you guys know how it turns out. πŸ™‚

  3. Pingback: When to Kill Off a Character? | The Writing Chimp

  4. It’s a tough one, isn’t it? I had a character who was brought in purely to die and that, among other things, was his raison d’etre in the story. However, when it came to killing him off, I felt very sad about the whole thing and even now I will get readers commenting that they miss him. This tells me it was the right thing to do as his death had a profound effect, as well as being necessary to the plot. Be brave – kill with gay abandon!

  5. Pingback: When to Kill Off a Character? | Green Dragon's Cave, Author and Artist

  6. If you need to kill this character to make that all-important impact, do it! ‘Murder your darlings’ is a well-worn quote among writers – I can’t even remember now who originally said it – but it generally holds good. Be ruthless!

  7. (Sorry if this posts twice–it didn’t show up and I didn’t get a notice that my comment was awaiting moderation.)

    I’m going to disagree here–somewhat. I think you only kill off a character if there is no other way for the story to be RIGHT. It’s not your reader you’re trying to hurt–it’s your protagonist. So, first, how does the death of this character impact the protagonist? Second, how does the death of this character impact the plot? If you’re killing off a character just to get an emotional reaction, the reader is going to know and most will feel emotionally manipulated. I’m not saying don’t kill off the character–I’m saying make sure you get the most out of it by having that character’s death significantly impact the protagonist somehow. Maybe she’s the protag’s best friend and only confidante and she dies at the moment the protag needs her most…forcing the protag to reach inside herself for the strength she would have previously gotten from the friend who died. (I don’t know your story or your characters so that may not be quite right for your story, but it was meant as an example anyway.)

    Happy writing!

    • Hey I definitely appreciate all points of view and thanks so much for stopping by! I’m not quite sure what I will do yet, but I am so grateful for all the suggestions. I see your point though, I don’t want to be that person that kills off a character for shock factor, that’s not the type of writer I want to be, so I definitely appreciate the insight. πŸ™‚

  8. Pingback: Well, I’ve Finally Killed My Darlings | The Writer's Hub

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