Writing Tips: Character Deaths

Hey guys!  I am SO excited because this will be my first writing tip!  Yay!  As you can see from the title, these tips will be about…dun, dun dun, death scenes in books!  And I’m talking major characters deaths here.  I have been writing for as long as I can remember, and I have killed off many, many characters.  However, it never gets easy for me.  I have problems with killing off characters that I created.  They’re like my children!  I’m certain that any writer can relate!  But of course, If it’s not emotional for you, it won’t be for the reader.  That the exact opposite of what I want.  If I kill of a character, I want my reader to feel sad about it.  It’s not that I’m mean (despite what others may say), that’s just what I feel like is supposed to happen.  What is a character death that no one cares about?  Below are some reasons to kill off a character, as well as some reasons to not.  Also some pretty good tips to make your death scene really make the readers cry.  (There may or may not be spoilers…read at your own risk…)

 

What Are Some Good Reasons To Kill Off A Character?

 

It Advances The Plot

One obvious thing to remember when writing a book is to not go all mass murderer on your characters.  No one likes that.  The best reason to kill off a character is because it moves the plot along.  It is meant to happen.  Remember the death of Kanan Jarrrus from Star Wars Rebels?  When Kanan died, not only did it heavily affect the other characters, but he also completed the rebels’ mission in destroying the TIE Defender factory.  (You can read my reviews for those episodes here on the blog!)  This moved the plot along very smoothly.  Other good examples of this are Noctis in Final Fantasy 15 and Obi-Wan-Kenobi in A New Hope.

For The Other Characters

I always say that in order to see what a character is really made of, you must break them.  I know it sounds horrible, but it’s the truth.  A death could really mess your character up, depending who it was that died.  In the Sci-Fi novel I’m writing I have been faced with killing off one of my favorite characters.  This will result in one of my main characters being completely devastated.  A broken character will reveal their deepest personalities, the ones that even other characters may not know about.  This can be both fun and horrifying to write.  Good example of this is Aerith in Final Fantasy 7 and Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spiderman 2

 

 

What Are Some Bad Reasons To Kill Of A Character?

 

Just To Shock Your Readers

Everyone loves a good plot twist…unless it’s an unnecessary character death.  Of course, the shock factor will be a good thing for a character death from time to time, you have to make sure that it works for the plot.  This was a lesson taught to myself when I was writing one of my Sci-Fi novels that I mentioned earlier.  Said character was to be killed off, and I was determined to do so.  I soon realized that this death was utterly unnecessary and even damaging to the plot.  It’s safe to say the plans were immediately dumped.

To Remove Characters That Don’t Belong

Okay, so this may be a good reason too, but I’m going to stick with it being a bad reason for now.  Whenever you put a character in your book, you HAVE to make sure that that character is important to the story in some way.  If they’re not, your gonna have to give them the boot.  In one of my Sci-Fi novels I’m currently writing, I had to kick soooo many characters out because they were just…there.  Not only can these deaths be boring, but the reader might not care, since extra characters could be hard to like as much as the other characters.  A really good example of this is Jurassic Park.

 

Tips To Make A Really Powerful Death Scene

A death scene that is powerful is a death scene that will be remembered.  To explain these points, I’ll be referencing the saddest death I have ever come across in fiction; Zack Fair from Final Fantasy: Crisis Core.  A little explanation if you have not played this game, (which, I don’t know why anyone would read this if they haven’t), Zack Fair and Cloud Strife, two Shinra SOLDIERS, were taken to be experimented on after being pronounced dead.  Of course, they survived and began their long trek back to Midgar.  However, Cloud was very, very sick with Mako poisoning, leaving Zack to fend for the both of them.  On their way to Midgar, they are attacked by a large army of Shinra infantrymen.  Zack fought all by himself, and this resulted in his demise.

 

Tip #1 – Use Details

Even the tiniest details work.  When I watched Zack Fair fight to the death, I noticed little things that made the death even worse.  If you played the game, you might remember the little slot machine thingy that gave you power-ups, special abilities, etc., depending on what characters you would get.  Three Angeals meant a special ability, Tseng meant an airstrike, you get the picture.  Well, that slot machine, known as the DMW, is actually Zack’s thoughts.  The characters that appear are the people he is thinking about.  Now, you might remember that as he is fighting those infantrymen, he got down to 1 HP, but the DMW was all broken with sparks and everything.  Did you happen to notice who the character the slots were about to line up to?  Aerith Gainsborough, Zack’s girlfriend.  Not only could Aerith heal him if the DMW was working, but she was the last person Zack thought about.  That is pure gold right there.   Two details in one!  This did not help me when I was already crushed about what was going on!

 

Tip #2 – What Does The Character Want?

This one kills me!  At the very beginning of Crisis Core, Zack Fair’s best friend, Angeal, asks Zack what his dream is.  Zack’s dream was to become a hero, and no one though he would.  But there at the end of the game, he got his wish.  He fought off an entire army of soldiers and protected Cloud with no second thought.  “Would you say…that I became a hero?”  He asked.  Yes, he did.  That is something that always gets to me.  The character got what they wanted through their death.  Of course, this could also work the opposite way as well if the character’s dream did not get fulfilled before their death.  Either way works, just remember to work with the plot!

 

Tip #3 – Use References

Another tear-jerker in Crisis Core was Angeal’s horrible death.  But did you notice how that death tied into Zack’s?  As Angeal dies, he gives Zack his Buster Sword and tells him to protect his dreams and honor.  When Zack dies, he hands the Buster Sword down to Cloud Strife and tells him that all of his dreams and honor are his now, and that Cloud must live for the both of them.  “You’ll be my living legacy,” he said.  When Zack was telling him about dreams and honor, he was, in my opinion, referencing Angeal.  There are many other ways you could do this.

 

Tip #4 – Actually Writing A Character Who Will Die

It can be hard to write a character who will die without making it seem obvious.  Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where you know right from the beginning, “Well! He’s gonna die!”  I’m betting that you have, and I bet you’re usually right!  Many things can give away a character’s fate.  It could be the way they talk, things they do.  If it’s a movie, it could even be the way the music sounds when they’re around.  I knew hands down that Zack was gonna die.  Why?  Besides being spoiled (I still would have known anyway) and the game being made by Square Enix, Zack claims he wants to be a hero.  Another thing that put the nail in his coffin was when he told Aerith that he “would be back” before leaving on his final mission.  We have this joke in my family that saying such things are “death sentences”.  If a character says the sentence “I promise”, they are doomed.  Trying to make a character’s fate a total surprise can be very hard, and maybe even impossible.  HOWEVER, it is good to foreshadow, because it brings an ominous air to the story.  At least, in my opinion it does.

 

So there you have it.  This is the best advice I could give, since I’m not a professional.  What do you think about it?  Do you have anymore good advise?  Let me know in the comments!  Also, let me know what the saddest death scene you have ever come across was!

 

 

 

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