Becoming a Murderer: The Four Step Guide to Killing Off Characters

I felt this topic was appropriate considering, in my own novel, I am currently having to kill of, not one, but two main characters.

I mean, granted, one of the characters is evil and you've been wanting him dead for a long time, but even with him it's a bittersweet thing, because, through my eyes, of course, he still had redeeming qualities and he had reason's for why he taunted and teased my main characters the way he did.

Alas, he's dead now, and next chapter I get to kill off a character that is actually likable.

Oh boy...

Killing off characters is really actually a hard thing. Not only in the sense that it's hard to say goodbye, but also because there is a certain balance with it that is very fragile and intimidating.

On the one hand you can't go killing off every single character in the book right and left. You need meaning and purpose--if a character has to die, make it have impact and emotion. And, on the other hand, you can't have an entire novel without someone getting hurt or dying or suffering, because then it would be a 'Disney Ending' where everyone is happy and healthy and blah blah blah.

Now, if you're writing a MG (Middle Grade) book, this might be acceptable, but still you have to have plenty of conflict and struggles for your characters, but right now I'm talking about when writing a YA (Young Adult) book.

The Four Steps to Killing Off Characters:

  • Step One: Create your character.
          Perhaps this character is kind and friendly or brave and caring or witty and obnoxious. Whatever the case may be--create the character, and make the readers feel something for this character. You need to fall in love with them yourself. Make a character that is so incredibly likable, not even you will want them to die!

  TIP: Don't create a character already knowing they're going to die! And, if you create this character and already have the plans drawn up for their death scene, don't treat them any differently than you do the characters you know are going to live. Being in the mindset of 'well, they're going to die anyway!' is a horrible thing to do, and you won't do them justice!

  • Step Two: Plan Properly
          This is the step were planning comes into play. You need to consider all of the options-- do you want a quiet, peaceful death, where the character has time to say goodbye, and all loose ends are already tied up? Or do you want an abrupt, violent death that leaves everything yet to be seen? There are about a million different reasons for death; For shock value, to bring another character in the story forwards (or backwards), a sacrifice for another, a suicide, an accident, an illness. I could go on and on!

    TIP: Of course, you also need to consider exactly HOW they are going to be killed of. With a sword? A gun? A car? Off a cliff? Killer Bunnies? Get creative with it! Another question you need to ask yourself is, if it's a purposeful death, who kills this character? Why? Figure out the motives behind the death, as well. Look at it from all angles.

  • Step Three: Fetch the Tissues
          If you've done steps One and Two correctly, you're going to need them.

This is the part in the process where you actually KILL the character.

I've written MANY deaths scenes, all completely their own, but one thing they all had in common?

Each and every one broke my heart in some way.

Even if it's a villain you're killing, if you've rounded him/her out properly, there should still be some sadness in you when they die, because you know the secrets deep in their souls, and you know that they have a cause, a reason, no matter what terrible things they'd done.

One of my death scenes that I finished up yesterday consisted of someone getting stabbed in the stomach by a dagger. And, as odd as it sounds, I nearly cried writing it even though some part of me hated the guy. And, the death scene I will HOPEFULLY be writing tonight, consists of someone being shot in the chest.

Now, look at them closer.

One of the deaths is up close with the character who stabbed the boy--he can see the life in his eyes fading and his pale face and watches him crumple to the floor, blood around him. This scene is very emotional for the character who stabbed him, and rightly so, to. (But, shh, spoilers!)

Then we have the other death, which is from afar. The character is running to catch up to the others, and a bullet hits her from behind. The other characters, rather than running to her and dragging her out as they would have liked, are forced to leave her body behind because if they stayed there's a risk they, too, would be shot.

So one is up close and personal, and the other is from a distance, and each one gives off a different feel. One is real and rough and heart breaking, while the other one could be perceived as a dream, where the remaining characters are shocked at the abrupt bullet hitting their friend.

Figure out the tone of your death scene--It can be emotionally crushing, victorious, feeble, or even humorous! 

  • Step Four: The Aftermath
          This is the most vital step, right after the character actually dying.

As you read above, there needs to be a reason for this characters death. They need to be important to someone in the story, and that someone (or multiple someone's), needs to feel whatever emotion that is proper, and you need to make sure to touch on that. The emotional part of every death, real or not real, is mostly in those surrounding the dying person, and not within the dying person themselves. Now, there are some cases where that is different, but the majority that I've seen are more tragic within those who knew them.

It's like Funerals. Funerals are not meant for the person who is dead (Because they're already dead.), but instead for those loved ones and family and friends who knew the person, and come to grieve over their lose. I've always believed that Funerals are pretty selfish things, meant for the people left behind and not as much for the person leaving.

Not that there's anything wrong with this--characters feel things just as real people do, and they need to be effected by the death of their friend, sibling, parent, ect.

Make it messy or clean, sweet or tragic, bloody or peaceful--make it however you want, make it your own, but the single golden rule is:

Make it have impact.

Impact on the story, on the surrounding cast of characters, on the reader, on you. Write something so sad and so touching you make yourself cry, or write something to horrible and shocking that even you have to gasp.

Surprise yourself and let what happens happens. Killing off characters is a very hard thing to do, but sometimes it simply must be done, and you are the only one brave enough to follow through.

Have YOU ever killed off a character? How did you make it carry impact? Do you have any strategies you'd like to share? 

Thank you for reading, and good luck on becoming a murderer!