There are two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in reading how my characters pay their taxes. Although they most certainly do. To be fair, I have briefly covered the subject of taxes in other blogs. Anyway! We’re here to talk about the death of a character.
Who’s dying? And why?
I don’t believe in unnecessary character deaths. It has to serve a purpose. Whether it’s as motivation for the remaining heroes or as a sacrifice to allow the bad guy to carry out his evile plans, don’t have death for the sake of death. It’s a fine line to walk really. A character’s death can be an obstacle the hero of the story has to push through. A character can die suddenly and alone in the night, but the jarring reality of how frail life is can be the outcome, making the hero doubt herself and creating another hurdle to clear. Of course there’s also the old revenge on the death of a loved one cliche as well. I’m not saying everyone has to die in big explosions or for an obvious reason, but don’t do it for shock factor.
The how of a character dying is as important as the why. This must be calculated. This must be natural and fluid to the story. I’ve written stories where characters unexpectedly died. It threw me off. It jolted me. I can only imagine how it would jolt a reader. But that adds to the realism. I would think to myself, “How can they possibly survive this?” and then it would work out for the better. The story would somehow move on and improve and become more three dimensional. Speaking of which, be careful when putting your characters through impossible to survive situations. You want it to be believable. Speaking of making it believable…
Drama vs Realism
You have to ride that fine line in any story between drama and realism. You want the moment to be memorable, especially if it’s a main character, but not overdone. Things to keep in mind are that in real life not everyone dies in the arms of a loved one. Sometimes death is sudden and there are no last words. Last words are dramatic, but not always necessary or realistic. Sometimes it can take someone hours to die and sometimes it’s in an instant. And not everyone will die the same way. Your larger than life villain may poof unnoticed by the celebrating heroes. The old soothsayer who guided your party may die alone on the side of the road traveling to meet them.
Some other things to consider are the most common causes of death. Perhaps your hero’s father isn’t murdered by dragons, but dies of a heart attack in his sleep. Instead of the villain exploding from a sudden burst of magic, they have a stroke from all of the magic coursing through their veins. Of course in the realm of magic and mayhem people seem to be gifted with a higher constitution, but not everyone will be. There will be varying degrees of toughness just like there is in our own world.
Sometimes a character’s death isn’t the end, but you have to be careful. There are ongoing jokes about shows like Supernatural and Buffy where the main protagonists die and come back so many times that it’s an acknowledged thing by the productions themselves. Depending on the genre and feel you want for your story, you might want to avoid the soap opera style of dun dun DUN moments. When is it appropriate to bring back a character from the dead? When you have a plan. I would only bring someone back because I had a plan for them to before they died. I mean, don’t bring someone back just for the sake of convenience or drama. If you have a plan then you can tie in the means by which they return before they even die so that it makes sense and doesn’t come out of nowhere.
When Characters Refuse To Die
The Will. That’s what I like to call it. We all know it. When a character refuses to do what you want and goes about things their own way. When a character we planned a dramatic death scene for refuses to go quietly into the night. The Will is when we mutter to ourselves about the strong will of people who live only in our imaginations and those who don’t understand smile at us while considering phoning in to the local mental health facility on our behalf. Listen to that character. If they refuse to die, then it’s worth the consideration that they will serve a better purpose later on in the story.
Until Next Time…
I’m sure you noticed that I haven’t posted as regularly as normal. I’ve been very busy and to be honest I’m running out of topics with substance. I don’t want to put in “filler” blogs or something that wastes both of our time. Instead I’m planning to post less often and if I get any urges for filler it’ll be in the form of a book review. I’d rather have substance to my blogs over spam. When I think of a good topic to cover I’ll put up a blog. Whether that’s once or five times a month, that’s what I’m shooting for.