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How to Kill a Character

Every story needs a protagonist, and every protagonist needs an antagonist. With most stories, the protagonist is a hero, but not all heroes are created equal. So how do you know when to kill off your protagonist?

The death of a character is one of the most powerful tools writers have at their disposal. Unlike death in real life, in fiction it has the power to make us laugh or cry with joy or sorrow for them, so it’s worth considering when to use this device and when not to.

The act of killing someone can have a huge impact on the reader's thoughts and feelings about the protagonist, antagonist, or even both. In order to create an interesting plot twist in your story, you need to understand how and when to kill someone.

It's difficult to do, but it's an important skill. The death of a character is what shapes the conflicts in a story. It can be cathartic for readers to witness the death of an antagonist, or it can lead to tragedy in the case of a beloved protagonist.

Killing off characters is also one way for authors to develop their own writing skills, exploring how death affects different people in various ways.

Killing a character is a common technique in fiction. It can be used to advance the plot, create suspense, or make the reader feel empathy for the protagonist.

The death of a character can be sudden and unexpected, such as in Gone With The Wind when Melanie dies from an illness. It can also be planned and drawn out, such as in Romeo and Juliet when Romeo kills himself after he finds out that Juliet has died.

Good reasons to kill a character:

  1. The killing motivates other characters in your storyline: The death of a character is a powerful tool for writers. It can be used to motivate other characters in the story, as well as to create a sense of tension and drama. There are many reasons why killing off a character can be an effective tool for writers. One reason is that it motivates other characters in the story, such as when Uncle Ben dies in Spiderman and Peter Parker becomes motivated to fight crime. Another reason is that it creates a sense of tension and drama, such as when the reader doesn't know who will die next or if they will make it out alive themselves.

  2. It emphasizes the theme in the story: There are many ways to kill a character in a story, but there are some that are more effective than others. A good reason for killing off a character is if it emphasizes the theme in the story. For example, everybody dies in The Flowers of War, which emphasizes that war is brutal and indiscriminate. It can be used to show the consequences of an action or to create empathy for the protagonist.

  3. It’s an acceptable recompese for the charachter’s action in the plot: It is an emotional, and often controversial, choice. But it can be an acceptable recompense for the character’s action in the plot. The death of a character can be used to show that actions have consequences. It can also be used as a way of showing how the protagonist has changed and matured over the course of the story. The death of a character should be an integral part of the story and not just used as a device to create suspense or drama.

  4. Removing an extraneous character: Even though as a writer you should always be careful to have useful and purposeful characters, sometimes extra characters are needed for a few pages to get the story going forward smoothly. However, be sure to kill off that character in a right way instead of neglecting their existence completely. Example: Danny in Pearl Harbor. I put it in the good reason section because sometimes it can be helpful if the author does the job masterfully; otherwise, it can be a very bad reason.

Bad reasons to kill off a character:

  1. Shocking the reader: shock the reader just for the sake of shocking them! The reader loses trust in the author if they see there is no reason behind the kill-off scene. Shocking the reader works only when you set your whole plot masterfully, but not everyone is Alfred Hitchcock, and not every story is Psycho. So be careful!

  2. Emotional Damage: Make the reader sad just to evoke their emotion! Readers wouldn't appreciate a death without a good reason. Don't listen to: "If the cry, they buy". That sentence works mostly with romance stories, and as you may know, there are tons of unsuccessful cheasy romance stories. So again, without having a proper storyline and a good plot, making readers cry wouldn’t bring you readers.

Consider everything before killing a character:

The next thing to think about is what can wind up being a vital reason not to kill your character. Now that we have a firm understanding of what makes a character's death work inside a story—and what will definitely make it fail—we can move on.

Every character in a narrative needs to be there for a purpose. He is present to carry out a certain task (as we discussed in recent posts about archetypes and roles). You have to wonder about his role in the narrative if he doesn't carry out that duty. And if he does play a part in your plot, then consider who would step in to play that part if he were to die.

A character's passing might occasionally transform a routine story into something spectacular. Go for it if you can explain a character's death!

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