Monday, April 4, 2011

D is for... Death

Death is like the ultimate plot device. If you're ever stuck in a story, even if you don't intend to keep the death in there, kill off one of your characters and see what happens next. Death creates a series of complex and often conflicting emotions in people, and how your characters react to a death can change the direction your story goes.

I'm not suggesting killing of your protagonist of course. No, kill off a minor character. Or an important public figure. Or a pet. Or an elderly relative who has never been referenced up until this time because your MC isn't close to them.

In all my books the death of a character is important to the plot. Death leads to renewal, and it can also lead to change. In Assignment 9, the death of a character changes my MC's life completely and is instrumental in getting her to find a way to reach her goals. In Prayer and Prey there are several deaths, but they all happen toward the end of the book, as a part of the finale. Chasing the Tail Lights begins with death since the car crash is the inciting incident that sets the entire story in motion.

How does killing a character change your story? What journey does death send your characters on?


  1. This is a really good post! Making me think! I'll keep it in mind for my next wip.

  2. Good topic. I was going to say I have a hard time putting death in my stories, but realized it's a primary conflict for more than half my novels. It's such a permanent kind of conflict, and in one of my universes, even moreso since most of the characters are supposed to be gods and immortals.

    It's a good way to see what your characters are really made of.

  3. Great post. I've actually been told that the best way to get unstuck in the story is through death. I haven't gotten around to killing anyone off in my stories, but will need to in the book I'm writing at the moment (horror), but all death will be important to the plot.

  4. I have to admit, as a reader, I hate when the author kills off a character. Grandma's cat or starting off by killing the MC's parents to make the MC an orphan is fine. What I hate is when the main or minor characters die in the middle of the book and I CAN TELL it was done because the author couldn't think of anything better to do with the character. "I don't need him any more so I'm just going to kill him" does not fly with me. Sorry to disagree with your post.

    Now, to make myself sound like a total hypocrite, I did kill my villain's girlfriend, but I did it because A)I needed to piss him off for book 2, and B)His father's been wanting her dead the whole time.

    If you're going to kill off characters, my advice is to at least try to make it sound like you meant for them to die since the beginning.

  5. Oh, mine always die for a reason. I might kill someone to get unstuck, but if it doesn't work, I will always resurrect them once I've gotten past the sticking point.

    I had great fun in A9 bringing a dead character back to life. He's based on a friend who committed suicide a long time ago, and bringing him back to life was like being God.

  6. The conflicts in my story are all a result of a death in the family that occurred five years ago. I'm liking my exploration of the repercussions. Nice to meet a fellow writer and A to Z'er, and happy to follow you.

  7. You can also kill of a characters trusting nature. When a person's innocence dies, it feels like a death in and of itself. It's sad. And the character really feels it.

  8. Great post! Just popping in for the AZ challenge.
    I accidentally just killed a character last week. I'm usually a very big "plotter." I'm not much for discovery writing, because, well, as an author, I like to at least feel in control. Last week (sometime around 3am, which could explain it,) I got stuck. There was no way other way out. I had to kill the guy. I'm now 10k words past the incident, and the story still holds. Did it change things? Of course! It presented a whole new set of challenges to the characters that remained, but isn't conflict the core of good story?
    Thanks for the great post - I'll be following for more!