The best books are the ones where well-loved characters die.
Ah! I know, I know! Unpopular opinion alert! I’ve read so many reviews where readers vow to defenestrate anyone who dares harm their precious cinnamon rolls… and I hear you. It’s heartbreaking when a character you love dies. But the best books kill their darlings.
As a reader, it’s fantastic to be surprised when you’re reading. It can be painful sometimes, but there’s nothing like being so angry you want to throw your book at a wall… but so glued to the story that you can’t put it down. One thing I’ve never had a problem with as a writer is killing my characters.
I’m as attached to my characters as (I hope) my readers are… but when I write I’m committed to telling my best version of the story. Sometimes that will mean rescuing the characters, of course! But I also want to keep my readers on their toes. I want them to fall in love with my characters and, yes, I do want to break their hearts by letting my characters suffer. Maybe even die.
It can be really difficult to kill a character you love, even if you know the story will be better for it. Honestly? A seasoned reader can tell when a writer reaches those crossroads and choses the character > plot path. There’s a moment when the book is getting so good… but then it loses momentum.
Killing characters is more than just blood in the book. And I’m not saying you should kill every character. Sometimes, it just makes sense… and I’m asking my fellow writers not to resist. Let the scene happen, however painful it may be.
The loss of a loved one is an excellent motivator in a story. There are so many orphans as protagonists, and many of them are driven by either vengeance or a desire to fit in that they would not have if their parents were around. Protagonists who lose their love interests are often driven by grief and rage. If nothing else, desperation becomes paramount as characters lose those around them.
My personal favorite the symbolic loss of the mentor figure. This has emotional ramifications, but it’s also a transition. The death of the mentor is a trope common in fantasy in particular, and the book would not be as powerful without that event. It’s a graduation of sorts.
Mostly, though I recommend “killing your darlings” if it feels right and taking a chance as you’re writing. Something as permanent as a character death can be daunting, but I’ve never seen it done in a way that didn’t longterm benefit the story.
And remember, they’re not dead until you see the body. 😉
Do you think killing characters improves a book (when it fits in the story)? Would you rather no characters will killed in a book? Let me know your opinion in the comments!