Killing off Beloved Characters

killDo you ever read a book and one of the main characters, or a beloved character, dies? Do you get upset with the story itself or do you actually get upset at the writer? I was once on a business trip and the movie Message in a Bottle came on. It was really late, but I’d never seen the movie and really wanted to watch it. I ended up spending a few hours, well past midnight waiting for this awesome ending, (spoiler alert here) only to be incredibly disappointed. I couldn’t believe I actually “wasted” three hours of my time.

As an author, you have to grapple with the fact that sometimes characters need to die. Look at the most popular books, movies, and television shows out there. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones? They’ve made killing characters a normal occurrence, but for some reason, authors still get vilified for doing it.

The World of Karov

The World of Karov

I wrote a dark fantasy series and Book #1 is called THE WORLD OF KAROV and it is definitely not a pink princess fairy tale. There’s a lot of violence in this book, but come on! We’re dealing with war and a great evil spreading through the universe. My characters are not having tea parties. That said, one of my aunts actually called me up and yelled at me for ten minutes about what I did to one of my characters. In fact, she refuses to read the sequel thinking I’ll do the same thing, though I assure all of you I haven’t, and Book #2, THE RUBY AMULET, ties up everything nicely.

Sometimes characters need to die. As the author, it makes total sense, but sometimes readers get upset. And that’s a good thing. You want to elicit an emotional response and if the death makes sense in the context of the story, it’s a good thing. Looking back, occasionally I’ll second guess myself if I should have been more kind to my characters, but then I check my reviews. What mollifies me so far is the 15 five star and 10 four star reviews I’ve received. At least some people liked it and understood what I had to do.

So, for this post, I leave you with this… sometimes people have to die in your books. Don’t sacrifice the scene because you’re afraid of what readers might think. Unless you’re only writing for a reader and not to be true to your characters.

Have any of you experienced this? Love to hear.

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19 thoughts on “Killing off Beloved Characters

  1. Some characters need to die, some deserve to die and others can die for the sake of the story. I read a series and when one of the characters (a lead) died, I was upset. When another character died in another book, I actually welled-up tears at the loss. I had become so emotionally entwined with that character, I felt a hollowness at losing a friend. You’re right, books can’t be all happy-happy with rainbow endings. Even a good book must have some emotional letdowns to make it worth the read. That, btw, is the mark of a good writer — one who can tell a tale and give a reader the roller-coaster ride of their life. Oh, having read book 1 and knowing who died, I didn’t expect it but it made the story worth the read and piqued my interest for book 2 to see where the story would go.

    • I do second guess myself about this particular death, but the fact is, I made the decision and I have to live with it, but I won’t lie, it does make me think a bit in my next books.

  2. Death is a very real part of life, and we’d all be terrible liars if we didn’t acknowledge that grim reality in our writing. I do have a confession to make — I killed off a major character (I won’t say which one) in my Markhat series, and the publisher asked me to change that. I did, and I’m glad I did, but I’ll always be perversely proud that I could be so ruthless in my fiction.

    • I think as authors we can’t be too wedded to our words and our characters – especially when we’re working with a publisher who is making the decision to publish our works. Thanks so much for commenting Frank!

  3. While I was writing my book, ‘Nine Lives’, I never thought any of my characters would die. I didn’t plan on writing a thriller of that kind. But my characters thought otherwise and I ended up with a totally different story to the one I intended!

  4. This calls to mind Game of Thrones. Those books spent so much time endearing the readers to main characters and made a habit of killing every last one of them off. The show follows the same story line and it’s FANTASTIC. People appreciate what appears to be the cold, hard truth in fiction. 🙂

  5. It’s a decision I’m going to have to make in the next couple of chapters of my current book – to kill or not to kill? It *does* have to be what is right for the story though, so this was timely advice to keep focused!

  6. What I go through while writing a story and debating if a character should die is, will it move the story forward in logical way? If the answer is yes: they’re toast. If I’m doing it for shock value, I’ll question that need. Then in a series I need to ask the question, will I need the character later? Since I don’t plan my series out that is a tough question to answer.

    But from a readers standpoint, when a main character is given the vamoose, if it moves the story forward in a logical way, even though I might not have liked the character exiting stage left, and wasn’t done for shock value, I admire the writer for having the courage in yanking them out of the story.

    • I hear you – I need to think about “is the story going to have a sequel and will I need this character?” Because once it’s printed, you simply can’t take it back. Thanks so much for commenting!

  7. Great blog post, I chuckled about your Aunt yelling at you for 10 minutes!! lol. It is great that you are getting a strong reaction. Your aunt obviously fell in love with the character enough to be devastated at their death – sounds like bloody good writing to me!

  8. I usually don’t get upset at authors when characters die. I’m not sure why because I do get upset at writers and producers of TV shows when they kill characters. Not sure if I can ever completely forgive Joss Whedon, for example.

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