I was originally thinking of titling this: “Writing Advice From Someone You Should Definitely Not be Taking Advice From,” but that’s too long of a title. So I’ll just make it a new category, and hopefully it might become a thing.
But this really isn’t advice, it’s more of my opinion on deaths in literature. And I’m pro-death!
If I had said that last sentence fragment in any other circumstance, I would have been given a bunch of dirty looks, and possibly a rag-tag bunch of teenage hoodlums would gang up on me and beat me to death.
Because I’m the greatest person that ever lived, my death would be a tragedy to all my friends and family. But if all my friends and family did was grieve over my brutal death and nothing else, that would not make a good story. The death would seem pointless since all it did was make the story much sadder than it was in the beginning. It did not help the plot, nor the characters, nor the reader, who would probably have thrown the book away by this point, saying “It’s not worth reading now that Matt’s gone!” Pointless character deaths lead to a boring story.
Now, if my death had caused my heroin addicted but still highly intelligent brother to plot revenge on those teenage hoodlums, then the death wouldn’t seem pointless, because without it, the plot of the book would not have happened, and those stupid hoodlums would not have been taught a lesson (albeit in a very violent way). The book has improved because of my death.
(Yes, in this scenario, I am a dead side character in a hypothetical novel where my brother is a heroin addict for some reason. Just go with it.)
And that, my dear readers, is my opinion of stories, whether it be a book, movie, or TV show; killing off characters just for the sake of killing off characters is bad storytelling, and will lead to a lot of angry readers/viewers, (and possibly a bunch of dangerous teenage hoodlums with plans to kill you).
Killing off characters is also addictive. The moment you kill off a character “because I felt like it,” you won’t be able to stop. Your near-perfect manuscript will now turn into a sloppy, depressing mess, with dead characters with so much potential lying all over the place. And soon you’ll look over your manuscript and realize that you have actually just written the book Mockingjay without even realizing it. That happens sometimes.
One of my favorite novels is The Shining, by Stephen King. Why? Because despite being a horror novel, a surprisingly small amount of people actually die at the end. Despite the stunning lack of violent, gory deaths, the book is a million times scarier than any other horror movie I’ve ever watched, where characters are killed left and right. Why? Because 1.) You get to know the characters more, which leads to 2.) You actually care about the characters, and would prefer it if they didn’t die, and 3.) This 1, 2, 3… writing technique is cool. Thanks, John Green!
This post may surprise you, since I’ve often commented on people’s blogs saying how much fun it is to kill off my characters. I fibbed. Coming up with a good character death is fun, but actually killing off the character isn’t. Unless you’re a soulless monster who preys off the fear of orphaned children, you should feel at least a little bit of sadness when a character you created and watched develop dies. If you are a soulless monster, you probably shouldn’t be a writer to begin with.
That being said, here’s a list of cool ways to kill your characters:
- Have the gun he/she’s using malfunction and explode in his/her hand. It’s a horrible way to die. 🙂
- Have a boomerang do it. I’m not sure how you’ll pull this off in a believable way, but still. (Bonus points if it belongs to the character.)
- Have the character get shot by a random bullet and never spoken of again (they should have done this to Jar Jar Binks).
- Have the character get hit by a penny someone dropped off the Empire State Building, and then have another character, having witnessed the event, say to his friend, “See, I told you a penny dropped from the Empire State Building would kill you. You owe me a twenty bucks.” and then his friend would say, “Okay, fine,” and begrudgingly hand him the money. They both walk away like nothing happened.
- Have him/her die from a severe chronic nosebleed.
- Or from suffocating on a basketball (it’s possible).