Preparing to Kill Your Darlings: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

Well, it’s time to kill a character, you say.

Wait! Stop! First, identify your reasons. If you’re killing simply because you’re frantic for some impact or looking for a way to get your readers to respond to your story emotionally (just ’cause you do, usually doesn’t mean they will), or if you’ve hit writer’s block and you just need something to happen, then it’s time to step back for some reconsideration.

Killing Your Darlings_ 4 Things to Ask Yourself - Tea with Tumnus

These psychopathic symptoms are common of writers. If you find yourself wanting to kill off a character for really no good reason—or if you think you might sometime in the future—here are some ideas of things to keep in mind that may prove helpful and hopefully get you back on track. After all, you want this death to be meaningful, realistic, and oh, maybe even necessary! Right?

Assuming you agree, we can move on. And even if you don’t agree, we’re moving on anyways.

obviously snape

 

 

Before you kill anyone in your writing, remember this: Superficial impact and temporary emotions does not count as quality. The tension needs to be real. The reasons need to be reasonable. The death needs to fit in.

Moving on to 4 specific questions you should ask yourself:

1)“How will this death benefit the story as a whole?” Before you even consider killing a character, no matter the reason, this is the very first question you should be asking yourself. You need to ensure that the murder fits in. Whatever impact it has on the other characters and the consequences that result must help to move the story along. 

2) “Does this character have a relationship with the protagonist or the antagonist?” If he or she does, then you have lots of good content potential. When the dead-character-to-be has a relationship with another main character (whether it be best friend, mentor, frenemy, etc.), the stakes are immediately raised when that character dies. Suppose she was a spy and you didn’t know which side he belonged to until she died, and everything is suddenly revealed? What if it was an uncle who died, making the MC feel guilt-motivated into becoming, say, Spiderman (just so you know, that idea was taken long ago)? Just remember that when a character dies, things will happen as a result. If it’s an important character, big things will happen, and if it’s a very minor character, not a whole lot worth noting in the story will happen. Either way, deaths get the story moving. It can even be the main climax, depending on how main the character. But you see, when there are connections and interelationships when someone dies, the result is like a domino effect that effects everyone and everything close to them phsyically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

3) “Does this particular character need to die?” Remember again that consequences are what counts. Make a list of reasons why that particular person has to die, and think in terms of the future: If they die, what will happen realistically? Who and what will be effected by the death, and to what extent? Which character death will further my plot? Which character death will foil my plot? Be careful. Maybe write a list for each character in your story. If any (or all) answers to such questions sound reasonable and beneficial, go for it. Again: the consequences are what counts.

4) More specifically: “How will this death affect my main character’s arc?” Believe it or not, the arc of your main character is one of the most important things in your story. The arc defines everything that happens. If you want a character death to be meaningful and impactful, you should consider how it affects your main character’s arc. If a death changes the way your MC thinks, says, and acts, that will automatically change the story up a lot (depending on the extent), and booyah! You get a meaningful, impactful death of a character.

Man, I shouldn’t make it sound so easy. Moving on.

You can also check out this article that includes the complete checklist for killing off characters (good reasons vs. the bad reasons). One of the things that appeared in BOTH sections is “removing an extraneous character.” I actually think that this is a bad reason and I don’t totally agree that it’s ever a good one. Whenever I’ve read the death of an extraneous character, I get annoyed. Personally, I want to see the death of a good character that served good purpose to the story in life and death. Depending on how “extraneous” the character is, I see it as a cheap way to remove a character that you either should have left out of the story altogether or developed more in order to make his//her death one that will develop other characters, promote your theme/message, and promote the plot. That’s just my two cents you may also want to take into consideration.

Besides that, the post I’ve linked to is a great one, and I suggest you check out the rest of the website. Also, this article on MythCreants is worth your time.

When did you last kill a character, and was it a death that served you well? Or was something that either messed up the story or passed in the background unnoticed? On that note, do you think this post was helpful at all? Please do let me know. Thanks so much for reading, and have a great day. Cheers!

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