Kill Your Darlings

Fellow writers I hope you’re finding useful things on my blog to help with writing that story! I’m slowly building up an archive of writing posts to support you with your goals.

Now, if you are anything like me, most of your writing results in some deaths. I write Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Gothic, Horror, Historical and Adventure stories and so it’s rare if my entire cast survive. But it is important to clarify that – the deaths I write ARE necessary to my novel and plot. Without some deaths it could be unrealistic, lacking impact, lacking motive and lacking REAL human nature. The most important thing to me in a novel is how it covers the Human Condition – which is something I will go into detail about on another post.

Stories need to have that depth, the abyss that looks into human emotion and ambition. Why we are the way we are. And why people try to ignore it. One of the ways to do this, is to incorporate death into your story. People are cruel, people are ambitious, people can be ruthless. There is nothing more boring to me than people in stories who are completely black and white. What I mean by this is people who are either GOOD or EVIL. It’s never that simple. Humans are the grey area in between. Other species don’t even have ‘evil’, it’s a concept.

So onward into my steps that will ensure you are killing your darlings for the right reasons. And the right way to do it. As long as you are killing off a character for one or more of these reasons then it’s good.

  • A character death should enhance the plot in some way. A death should spark something to happen in your story. It should inspire an event. An example of this would be Sonja in Underworld Rise of the Lycans. Her death sparked the century long war between werewolves and vampires. It was meaningful, it was painful and it was all for forbidden love. Even though the audience already knew Sonja had died, having to watch the progression up to the climactic point was intense and extremely emotional.
  • A character death should motivate other characters either to complete a task, avenge their death, or survive like the other could not. This type of death should impact your readers and add much needed emotion to the death – make it resonate throughout the story and through the characters. It should be something for readers to cry over and get angry about; something for them to mourn and want closure from. An example of this would be James Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean. His death motivates Elizabeth to complete what they have been trying to achieve, because he sacrificed himself so that she could escape.
  • A character death can be chosen at random if it serves the purpose of creating realism in your story. Say for example you are writing a battle – it is simply unrealistic to assume all of your characters would survive. Some people are definitely going to die, that is what war is. An example of this could be Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin or Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter – they died as collateral in a war.
  • Another reason for character death is to emphasise theme within a story. Themes such as good vs evil, war etc. are all giving readers the expectation that someone will die. An example of this would be Spike’s death at the end of Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His death represented his redemption, and it was the final blow that meant ‘good’ would triumph over ‘evil’.

There are many ways you can go about killing off your characters to make it emotional and hard-hitting but here are some ideas to help you along the way:

  1. Kill your character off before they can complete their character growth or reconcile with a friend.
  2. Make them a fully fleshed out character with something to live for – people who die when they have nothing to lose is almost a blessing in disguise in the minds of some.
  3. Give them strong relationships with other characters – if your characters are hurting, your readers will too.
  4. Make your character fight for their life before they die. A death that the character struggles to fight against will give readers hope that they might make it, and give your character more life. Nobody would die without a fight would they?

Another thing to remember is that there are some DON’Ts.

  1. PLEASE avoid the cliched ‘resurrection’ moment in your story. People who die should stay dead. There are exceptions to this of course, but on the whole, bringing people back can cheapen the death of that character. Make your readers less trusting of future character deaths and won’t be as emotional engaged if a future character dies because they will believe that they will come back.
  2. Don’t kill off a character simply to make the audience sad. If a death is necessary by all means do it. But if it doesn’t feel right then it shouldn’t be put in. Some stories don’t suit death.
  3. Don’t kill off a character simply to shock the audience. It’s cheap and meaningless and will lose you some readers, in my opinion.
  4. And finally, don’t kill off a character simply to remove an extraneous character. If this character can be killed off so easily then they probably don’t even need to be in your story.

Drop me a comment down below to let me know if this was helpful! Do you have characters die in your story? How do they die?

3 thoughts on “Kill Your Darlings

  1. These are all great points! I have a tv show I love that kills off characters frequently – but brings them back just as frequently. Now, when someone dies I kind of wave it off, thinking they’ll be back.
    I fully agree that purely good or evil characters are unrealistic and BORING. There have been stories that when a purely good character dies it’s a blessing because I just can’t suffer them any longer…
    Thanks for this article! Lots of great information to keep in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This makes me think that Jaime Lannister should have turned Brienne down in Season 8, saying that his heart was with another (Game of Thrones fans all know who that is). Then the White Walkers are seen gathering, and Jaime decides, actually, he won’t return to his forever love just yet. He will defend people he has come to care for, like Brienne.

    And then he dies!

    He dies defending people in need, showing the best of his character. But he was going to reject good-hearted Brienne to return to Cersei and all that that entails, siding with the enemy of the protagonists – and also the worst aspects of his nature.

    But we would never know what he would have decided. We could leave an interesting character, disliked by some but loved by many, at a crossroads yet doing something noble.


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