To kill or not to kill off a character

I admit I wasn’t planning on killing off any of the slayers in the last book of the series. I  made this decision for two reasons. One, I don’t like books or movies where characters I like die. I still haven’t forgiven George Lucas for killing off Qui-gon Jinn. We will not even discuss Han Solo. As far as I’m concerned, that death never happened. So I’m not one to just randomly kill off a character because death seems like an interesting plot twist. And number two, I want the book to end with mostly happy scenes. I have a scene where all of the slayers are together the day after the climax talking and laughing and feeling like normal teenagers again. That scene wouldn’t really work if they were simultaneously mourning the death of one of their own.

That said, one of my author friends (Randy Lindsey) reminded me that if no one dies during the journey, the journey doesn’t seem like it was that hard or that dangerous. Authors have to kill off someone to show that the struggle was hard. It’s kind of an author rule. (If you don’t like books where characters die, this is your notice that Randy’s books might not be your cup of tea. Just saying.)

Randy has a point. Even though I don’t like this point. I’m considering killing off Tori’s horse. Although people don’t really like books where animals die, and it’s not like she had that close of a relationship with her horse. True, they spent time together in the first book. But since the next books takes place during the school year and not at camp we don’t see Tori with her horse very much after book one.

Of course, this isn’t to say that I didn’t plan on killing anyone. One of the bad guys meets an unfortunate end in the last book. In the Team Jesse version of the book, *spoiler alert* I planned on killing Overdrake. Then in the Team Dirk version of the book, I had to unkill him because I didn’t think that Dirk would care about romance with Tori if he’d just seen his father killed.

So what do you guys think,? Do I need to kill off a good character to make the journey feel like the struggle was hard enough? I could kill off one of the minor slayers but then does that really count? And even though he/she was a minor character, again the slayers would seem heartless if they were laughing and joking around the day afterward.

Several cities in the nation get trashed in the last book is that enough?


Comments

To kill or not to kill off a character — 17 Comments

  1. Noooooo! I don’t want any of them to die. I think it has been sufficiently hard… but mostly I just really don’t want any of them to die.

  2. I don’t like them but I understand that they show the cost of war/ battle. Think Finnick in Mockingjay. Not happy about it but fine with it because it gives emotional impact. Sorry, you have to choose.

  3. I don’t think you need to kill anyone off. As readers, we should feel the journey was hard even without the death (if we don’t, then there’s something *else* wrong). If you have to rely on a death of a major character to make it feel like it was hard or worth it, then there’s probably tension or something missing elsewhere. It’s the threat, the sense of impending doom, that makes it seem hard. A death doesn’t make that happen. At the end of a book, especially a series, I want to feel happy, not bittersweet. I think you should only have a death if the story NEEDS it. But if you can write the story without it, then that should be the way to go. I hate seeing characters die. Of course, you’re the author, so you have to do what is right for you and the story. And only you can decide that.

  4. This might seem stupid, but go watch the Disney movie the Incredibles. The directors commentary version. In it they also debate the need for that ultimate cost and how they finally found their right solution. It might give you some ideas (the only section you really need to watch is just before the FAM flies to the island and the flight itself.

    Also, if you must kill some one Please give us time to grieve. I have yet to forgive JK Rowling for not giving us more time to process the twin’s death.

    Good luck!

  5. I think it could go either way. But I don’t think that death negates hanging our together with relief or being interested in love (unless Tori just killed Overdrake.) When my mom died suddenly we were all in shock and mourning, but there were also times we would laugh and joke both in reminiscing and in rejoicing in the comfort of still having each other.

    • Exactly. Although when I had a character in Son of War, Daughter of Chaos want to flirt with a guy months after her mother’s death, my agent thought she was heartless. I had to tweak it so she was trying to live life fully because of her mother’s death. One more difference between real life and fiction, I suppose.

  6. I haven’t forgiven Joss Whedon for killing off TWO characters in the film Serenity, just because he knew he wouldn’t be revisiting Firefly. Writers who do this just to up the stakes really annoy me – it’s as if they aren’t happy with writing entertainment, they hanker after significance.

    It’s even worse when authors bring a character back from the dead, thus having the penny and the bun.

    • I thought the same thing about Serenity! I was like, Whaaat?? And although I think Hollywood brings more people back to life than it should, I’m hopeful that Han Solo will be escape death, because it was just wrong to kill him off.

  7. Good point. And sometimes I feel like the deaths in books are just random additions and not really needed. Some in the Harry Potter series felt that way to me. Like after a few books she’d decided to kill off at least one character per book.

  8. I think it all comes down to the purpose of the character’s death. In mysteries, death is a call to action and a demand for justice. At the end, if the murderer dies, it can be a way justice is served, or it can seem like justice has been escaped. Or with a paranormal slant, death can still be served or escaped in the afterlife, depending on the world-building.

    Death as motivation? “You killed my buddy, now you’re going down!”
    Death as inspiration? “My friend faced death so bravely. I can be brave and do super hard things too.”

    Death is powerful, so character death is also powerful and has to be used carefully.

    Those are my thoughts, as a person who has never yet killed a character in fiction, nor published any fiction…

  9. I agree with MStephens, but I also feel like death is an easy way out for fiction. The characters should lose something more personal to them than letting another character die. I know that this would go against the whole 2 team endings, but what if Tori’s decision means that she ends up losing one of the guys (not death, but that he can’t love her anymore). She’s been kind of wishy-washy in what she wants for the dragons so I feel like this would be a good and satisfying way to get her to think for herself. The ultimate sacrifice should leave her feeling confident in her decision, but also sad since she lost Jesse or Dirk as a friend/boyfriend.

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