Developing our characters is what we do as writers, but they can also be trouble. Characters can be stubborn and refuse to do what the writer wants. They can become too powerful, take over the story, or be underdeveloped and lacking depth. Poorly-written characters can ruin an entire story, so it’s essential to take the time to develop them carefully.
Maybe you created a particular character to be so annoying that you never want to see them again. Perhaps they’re so crucial to your story that you can’t even think about killing them.
But what is the best way to deal with a character who won’t die?
You could kill them off, get rid of the complications, get rid of their jealousy, get rid of their significant other, or get rid of their nemesis.
The concept of killing your darlings doesn’t apply only to characters. It also applies to ideas and projects. You must recognize when an idea is no longer valuable to the project and let it go when it is no longer helpful. Otherwise, you risk getting stuck and wasting time and energy on something that will not bring you closer to your goal.
You kill your darlings when you decide to get rid of an unnecessary storyline, character, or sentences in a piece of creative writing—elements you may have worked hard to create but that must be removed for the sake of your overall story.MasterClass
One way to remove them is to replace them in the story with another character. Imagine in a story where you assassinate the villain in chapter one, and in chapter two, the hero is in their place.
It’s a simple trick used in many stories — but you can’t suddenly add a new character in chapter three, and suddenly they’re the hero. It should be natural.
Questions to ask before you kill a character off
Here are some things to consider when deciding to kill a character off or not.
- Do you do it in the first few pages?
- Do you do it in the last few pages?
- Do you do it in the middle of the book?
- Do you do it in the middle of the series?
- Do you do it in the middle of the story? Or somewhere else?
- What parts of the story should you kill off?
- How do you know when it’s the right time to kill your character?
This list will give you a starting point on considering developing their removal from the story’s movement.
Pros and cons of killing off a character
There are pros and cons to killing off a character, so let’s explore them in depth. On the one hand, killing off a central character can add drama and tension to a story. On the other hand, it can also alienate readers who have grown attached to the character. It must be done carefully, with thought and consideration.
- Plot development
- Fulfills the doomed character’s personal goal
- Motivates others
- Recompense for the character’s actions
- Emphasizes theme
- Creates realism
- Removes extraneous characters
- Shock value
- Removes extraneous characters
But wait, you ask yourself, you included “removes extraneous characters” twice. It’s because removing extraneous characters works for both!
Sometimes, you develop your cast of characters and realize a character has served their usefulness.
Or maybe they’re not, but they’ve become so integral to the plot that your readers will notice their absence.
You don’t have to kill your character by the end of the story. You can kill characters in many different ways, whether they are primary or minor characters.
That’s an easy way to force action.
You can kill them off or not bring them back at any point during the story. Or you can kill them off at the end without it being the story’s climax.
But whatever you do, don’t do it because you think you have to. Do it because it serves the audience’s expectations.