Writing is an Art, I Tell You!
Part 4: Oops, You’re Dead!
This post was going to be so large I had to break it into two, so next week we’ll discuss how a character moves from the drawing board into (semi) reality. I’m working backward, but I couldn’t resist when I found the perfect gifs to address the idea of dealing with a character once they’ve spent enough time in your story—also known as *cough* knowing when to kill them. When has a character reached their end? When is it useful to kill them off? The former is the most important question you can ask in regards to a character’s demise.
One frustrating thing I’ve encountered as a reader is the unnecessary death count just for the sake of having someone die. It’s like an author reached the end of their story, slapped a palm to their forehead, and remembered they were supposed to kill somebody off, so they choose some background character to avoid upsetting the plot. But was I attached to them? No. Did their death affect me in any way? Hardly. And if this is the case, then odds are the protagonist’s emotions over this character’s death won’t matter to you, which is exactly the opposite of what should happen. You should be emotional, justified, or outraged they died; their death is pointless if you aren’t wildly flipping through the pages to see if they’ll make it, or running like mad to stop the author from writing them out of your series.
As a writer, everything we do should have a purpose, especially when it concerns death. I read so many books where filler is everywhere (snooze), and while most understand that not every moment of a story can be action-packed or filled with romance, creating dialogue or descriptions for the sake of word count is just lazy writing; you should be able to engage your readers and give them information they’ll need later on without putting them to sleep.
The idea of lazy writing plays into that pesky issue of death-for-death’s-sake that I lamented above. Yes, Chasing Shadows has a . . . high-ish death toll, but every single character dies for a purpose. To avoid spoiling the story for those who have yet to read it (but, really, what’s stopping you? Get it here!), suffice it to say that these tragic passings either drove a protagonist into someone’s arms, explains a character’s actions, wedged a useful bridge between characters, or caused so much emotion in the heart of the reader (and writer) that it plays into the tone for the rest of the novel. Some of my favorite books were memorable because they made me feel like this:
And there is one particular death in Defying Shadows (add it on Goodreads) that even I was crying over, and while emotion is good, I’ve always made sure that every loss I have ever created has a purpose and causes a chain of events that lead to certain points in the story. One important thing is to remember that it is never okay to kill off a character for convenience’s sake, because someone has to die, or because they’ve simply outlived their usefulness. Make it count! A character’s death should be marked by one of two things: tears for a martyr or a sense of justice when an ultimate evil is vanquished. Let me tell you, few things are more satisfying than killing off a villain who has been tormenting your favorite characters.
I don’t like to make too many rules for writing, but I think this is something important to keep in mind—to have a purpose for a character’s demise and make sure that it is felt. And if you’re a reader like me, then you know how random character deaths get under your skin, so don’t make the same mistakes as a writer that have driven you up a wall in your favorite books. Remember that mantra: no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader!