How should my character die?

guillotine

 

I see this kind of question all the time on writers’ groups.

Should I let this character fall in love? Should that love be requited? How should I defeat my villain? What kinds of magical abilities should my wizard have?

Now, leaving aside the fact that these are possibly ways to steal other people’s ideas without actually looking like a plagiarist and getting cease-and-desist letters sent to your inbox, there’s a deeper problem here that these kinds of pleas for help reveal.

A lack of depth in the storyteller.

That sounds harsh – because truths often are.

The thing about writing fiction is that it isn’t just stringing together a few semi-related events hung over a skeleton of a stereotype and throwing in some fireworks and snappy dialogue. Doing that is how bad books are born, and there are plenty of those out there.

How should this character die?

That’s not the question you need to ask.

Everything – absolutely EVERYTHING – in a novel has to do one of two things and preferably both. It either shows some facet of the character (or reinforces existing facets) or it furthers the plot. Even a description of the landscape or another character’s facial expression has to do one of those things, or else it doesn’t belong there.

How should this character die?

Think deeply about the character – and write deeply about them  – before you ask yourself this question.

Why is this character even in this book?

What purpose do they serve?

Every scene, every conversation, every action, and,  yes, every death: it all needs to further the reader’s understanding of the character(s) and/or (preferably and) advance the plot.

Just death for death’s sake might seem edgy and “real”, but from the reader’s perspective, it can feel like a cheat.

WHY do they die? That’s the important question here.

Are they the character that is making another character “friendzone” the person you think should be their One True Love?

Are they incredibly old and frail?

Are they “Patient Zero” and the key to unlocking the mystery, and if they stay alive, that might happen too soon or not at all?

Are they a dupe for the villain, and belatedly realizing they were on the wrong side, need to expiate their sins by self-sacrifice?

Is the death going to be a catalyst so the main character finally gets the gumption to act in some way?

Is the death the ONLY way to make this happen?

Is the death necessary at all?

Or are you just afraid the plot is kind of thin, and are hoping to distract the reader from noticing that by splashing a bucket of gore around?

Those are the questions that you need to answer.

That way, HOW they die will actually serve a purpose, as well as illustrating that.

 

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