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So You Want To / Kill A Character

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If you're reading this, you probably want to write, or are thinking of writing, a story with a death in it. There could be many reasons why: you might want to kill a Red Shirt to show how dangerous a situation is. You might want to have a death in the character's backstory, you might want a story about a murder or about how to deal with grief, or heaps of other reasons. This is how to properly write a story where someone dies.

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Could they really die from that?Remember this: if it can't break a coconut, it's not going to be able to break a human skull (human skulls are even harder than coconuts), and sometimes, even if the skull does break, the injury will likely make the victim brain-damaged rather than dead. Stabbing, unless it's done by an experienced person, likely will take a while to kill, and the same with poisoning, depending on the poison, and (for the most part) shooting. If there are people around who can and will help the character, there's a good chance the character won't die.

And that's assuming a character is human: sci-fi and fantasy species might be different. You can't Kill It with Fire if it's immune to fire, for instance. And if the universe your story is set in has technology and/or magic that could save the character, don't forget that it exists and if you really want someone to die, you have to explain why they couldn't use the magic/technology.

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How will people respond?Remember that people will likely be sadder or less sad depending on if they deal with death frequently, how sensitive they are, how well they knew the person, and how good or evil the dead person was. If someone's going to show no emotion at all towards the death of a good person they knew, and the non-emotion-show-er is not a psychopath, you need to have a good reason for it. Maybe, they're a Vulcan or something. And how they express their sadness will vary too. If someone's mourning a redshirt they didn't know, they could just look solemn for a few moments, but if it's their grandma, they might burst into Inelegant Blubbering. And again, it depends on the person and the exact scenario.

Does the Character Really Need to Die?Sometimes, people think that a death is too sad or even think that a character was killed by bad writing.

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Reasons why a character might need to die

  • There needs to be a murder mystery.
  • There's a creature that does something particular when it dies and you want to show that.
  • The story is meant to teach kids about death.
  • A character needs to avenge someone or fulfill a dying promise.
  • They need to be out of the way.
  • The villain needs to be defeated.

Reasons why a character might need to live

  • You don't want the story to be too sad.
  • That character might be needed in the future.
  • Fans of the character might get mad at you.
  • Having characters grieve might weigh down the story.
  • With the villain gone, there is no more conflict.

Possible Solutions

  • If death just needs to be present (for example, in a murder mystery), you can kill off someone nobody knows. This also helps if you don't want to deal with grieving characters.
  • If it's an important person, try giving them a near-death experience or have them pretend or appear to be dead.
  • If you need to get someone out of the way, they could retire, resign, get fired, move away, get captured (although they'll have to be saved), or plenty of other things depending on the story.
  • If you don't want the story to be too sad, avoid killing off kids, pets, wild animals (with the exception of bugs and possibly predators' prey if it's already dead), or people who are very benevolent, particularly in a cute way. Also, suicide is also pretty heavy, so you might want to avoid that if you don't want a sad story.
  • If there is no conflict due to no more antagonist, you could introduce a different antagonist, or have some other conflict.
  • If it's meant to teach kids about death, you could have the kid visit a cemetery or see a dead insect on the street or something.
  • You could resurrect the character, if plausible.
  • If you want something similar to the "dying promise" thing, you could have the character make a promise when they're in danger of dying.

How to Make Readers Take the Death Seriously

  • Don't have any jokes during mourning scenes.
  • Establish that the dead person won't be coming back (obviously not applicable if you plan on resurrecting them).
  • Don't make the death seem slap-sticky (for example, falling into a pot of something).
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