When to Kill Your Darling Characters: A Guide

It can be difficult to build a relationship with your characters, then suddenly have to kill them. But do you really need to kill them? Check below for a guide on when to kill your darling characters:

Get Rid of Unnecessary Characters

You really shouldn’t have unnecessary characters to begin with. While reading Natasha Preston’s thriller novels, I felt like there are these huge groups of friends just so most of them could be killed. However, if you find that you’ve created an unnecessary character, you can kill them to get them out of your story.

Plot Can’t Advance Without It

You’ve been wracking your brain for weeks trying to come up with a way to advance the plot without killing your main character’s best friend. But you just can’t find a solution. It’s time to accept that you’ll need to say a (possibly teary) goodbye.

Realistic Within the Story

Some seasoned writers may remember a post that was circulating social media for a while about realistic death in fiction and where different writers land on that spectrum. I wish I could find it now. You want to make sure that the amount of death in your story is realistic. Here is a condensed version of the spectrum:

Too Little Death: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series

Meyer created a world of vampires in Forks, Washington, complete with a sort of governing body stationed in Italy, laws, and different “types” of vampires. This series had potential to break some hearts, but very few people even died. And those who did were mostly bad guys!

Just the Right Amount: JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

Most of the deaths in the Harry Potter universe killed me. I remember reading Deathly Hallows in the car on the way to my grandmother’s and crying because one of my favorite characters had been killed. This series was about war, so it was realistic to have so many people, even kids, die.

Too Much Death: George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read the Game of Thrones series. However, from my mother has and I’ve been subjected to endless rants about the unnecessary amount of character death. Killing characters just to kill them isn’t realistic!

Only if They STAY DEAD

Anyone who has seen the Supernatural television show knows that no one stays dead in that universe. It can be frustrating, because a death in fiction should be emotional. When you rip out your readers’ hearts with a character death, you shouldn’t spin around and bring them back to life.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but in general your dead characters should stay dead.

Increase Tension/Up the Stakes

Does your main character need a push to finally overcome their biggest obstacle? Is the tension in your book falling flat? Then play with the idea of a character death. But remember to keep it realistic!

What character death angered you the most? Do you think it was justified?

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