Killing Your Nearest and Dearest: Letting Death into Your Stories

When is murder okay?


When those you’re killing are fictional, of course!

If you have never included Death (no, not the Terry Pratchett character) in one of your stories, now is the perfect time to practice!

Death is a fact of life, and arguably one of the reasons why people become motivated to live the life they want. This can be true for your characters, too! Here’s a few reasons to use the death of a character in your story:

It Will Move the Plot Along:

  1. Death will make your other characters evaluate the path they’re on, especially if the death of your character was caused by similar choices in their lives. For example, adventurers searching for treasure are being hunted down by pirates. They’ll need to decide if going forward is really worth risking it all.
  2. It will remind them that time is limited: someone who was mired in indecision could be jolted into making a move – taking over a country, starting a protest, calling for a change in business practices, setting down their weapons, calling for change.
  3. It will cause them to reflect on what that character meant to them. A valued mentor or grandparent may have left them with strong values or principles that they now realize need to be acted on, spurring them to a greater destiny. They might become inspired by the person who has passed, deciding to become a doctor/ policeman/ knife fighter/ teacher, etc. thanks to how that person influenced them.

Many people feel helpless in the face of death, and those feelings and energy have to be directed somewhere. How will you use the momentum of death to get your story moving?

It Will Deepen Their Emotional Journey:

Let’s be real: have you ever read a story where the heroine is exactly the same on the last page as she was on the first page? Was it a story that gripped you, and you go back to read every year? Doubtful. That’s because readers need an emotional journey to go along with the plot’s journey.

Forcing a character to encounter death, whether that of a stranger or of their best friend, is going to cause them to mature. It might be a bumpy path at first (searching for resources on writing grief will give you an idea of the multitude of responses people can have to death), but it will end with someone who has accepted it and made it part of them.

Or if you don’t want to go that route, the death of a character could be the lynchpin of your story: your character can’t move on, and makes every major decision influenced by the memory and trauma of that death. If you wanted to go extremely far in the direction of being traumatized by death – seeing someone or several people killed before your hero’s eyes – they could choose a violent path in reaction to what they’ve experienced.

It Will Set the Stage:

Setting a character’s response to grief aside for now (there’s killing to be done!), what kind of death has your character experienced?

Was it an ailing parent, who died slowly, with plenty of time for goodbyes and reconciliations? Or was it sudden and unexpected, sending shockwaves through your heroine’s social group?

Was your hero caught in the midst of a gang-war, or a terrorist attack? Were there any other survivors? Was the person a stranger, who jumped in front of the bullet/arrow/space weapon for your protagonist? Did that act inspire them to change their life plans? Or are they out for vengeance?

The kind of death your character has seen or encountered is going to influence how they react to it, though those reactions can also span the full gamut of emotions.


Practice Suggestions:

Take a character that’s influential or well-liked and write a scene after they have died. How have the other characters, including your protagonist, changed? What kind of atmosphere is there now that they’re gone? Practice writing the emotions of their family, their friends, and even their enemies.

Even if you don’t keep those scenes, it will open your mind up to the mortality of all your characters, lending your story and your fictional world a bit more authenticity.



Katie, signing off

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