When is it Okay for an Author to Kill a Character?

 

Chana:

Okay, let’s start things off with a tiny little disclaimer. In this post I may or may not be ranting about certain canon character deaths. This means that there may or may not be spoilers. I’ll list right here any books whose spoilers I mention below, but if you don’t care about that good on ye! I like people who live dangerously. (If you haven’t read The Bridge Terabithia, first of shame on you, second off spoilers are mentioned below.)

So, when is it okay for an author to kill off a character? I’m sure there are a few of you out there who would like for me to write NEVER! and be done with it. But unfortunately, that is not the case for this post. Now, I’m not someone who gets too choked up over character deaths, in fact I love them. Kill that character, be brave, show us that you don’t just pander towards your readers and do in fact realize that we live in a world where things must die. Character deaths could be the best part of book, if and only if, they’re meaningful. What do I mean when I say meaningful? I mean that an author should not kill off a character merely because they have served their purpose. An author should also not kill off a character just because it seems like the reader-base doesn’t like that character anymore.

‘Why not?’ You might ask, ‘I liked it when author x killed off airhead mcfake feelings.’ Well, mystery blog reader voice, authors should try to avoid doing that because it’s lazy writing. Now I know that as someone who’s never written a book before I don’t really have the right to call people out on lazy writing, but as a dissatisfied reader who’s sick of getting played by the same old kill the character with no substance gag, I demand change! Using death as a ploy to give a character more depth is, as I said before, lazy. I know that as a species we tend to look more fondly upon things once they’ve died out, be it music tastes, fashion trends, or in this case book characters, but I personally feel like the author is just making me endure more time with the not-so-well-liked character.

Another time that an author should most definitely not kill off a character, is when they plan to bring them back again. Please don’t do that. Please. Death is not something to be trifled with! If you’re going to kill your character at the end of an epic battle (looking at you Rick Riordan and Eoin Colfer) try to make it stick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful when authors don’t technically kill the best characters in the series, but how am I supposed to trust them after that? It’s like, did they defeat that guy, or didn’t they? Are they dating, or aren’t they? How can I trust any plot changing device written in your book if I know that you can and will undo it in an instant? (Also, * cough cough* lazy writing).

 

Back to the main question, when is it okay for an author to kill off a character? When it furthers the plot. And by furthering the plot I mean the whole plot, not just a specific arc needed to make a character more relatable. Example of an acceptable death? Let’s go with one that most of you will know. Leslie Burke in Bridge to Terabithia, her death was a major plot point and served to fuel the rest of the story. Sure, it was sad as hell, but some things just need to be done.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this poorly disguised rant, is that please don’t kill characters in dumb unnecessary ways when it’s not important to the story. Also please don’t create minor characters for the sole purpose of killing them, it pains me to see you take the poor child that you’ve made me care for and then ruthlessly kill them in order to motivate some other dumb character like the protagonist. Lots of pleas here that will undoubtedly be ignored by authors everywhere.

 

So which character deaths did you guys hate? Which ones did you love? Which ones made you curl up into a ball and refuse to eat for three days? Let me know in a comment.

11 thoughts on “When is it Okay for an Author to Kill a Character?

  1. Ohh I have such a love/hate relationship with character deaths. 😭😂I mean, I WANT them, but I also throw utter tantrums if they happen haha. I’m still wailing at so many books that totally mashed my heart?! (HALF BAD, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT. *sobbing*) But at the same time, deaths can be powerful. They can be motivators. And they can also just be downright logic? Like getting through an epic fantasy series and no one dies is??? Eek. It’s kind of cheating. 😂 You can tell if an author loves their darlings a little too much haha.

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    1. I completely agree with you! Like on the one hand I have been known to say “I hope *insert main character name here* dies in the next book.”, because death is wonderful and it makes everything so much more exciting, but then if the author would actually kill them I would automatically shift into “hOW DaRe yOu??!!” 😂

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  2. The Bridge of Terabithia oh my god, I am still not over what happened in that story, why why why why why. This made me cry so hard, I was not ready for that AT ALL.
    I really, really am not a fan of characters’ deaths in my favorite books, but I have to say that sometimes, when they serve a purpose, it’s okay. I mean, Bridge of Terabithia was terrible, but like you said, it was also kind of needed. but my heart still breaks about that haha.

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  3. Well one’s death should never be gratuitous but serve a purpose! If it sends the story on another path and is a key of some developpment than I can stand it otherwise …not!

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    1. Agreed! I remember the first time I read the first book I read where a character that I loved was killed for no good reason…I was crushed, but also sort of awed at what the author did. Like who just kills their main character like that??

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  4. Allegiant chapter 50… it’s too soon. I was okay with the other deaths in that series though.

    I tend to like it when the main characters live happily ever after… or at least live in some way. If I’m rooting for a ship for the entire series, I will probably be upset if they don’t end up together. I suppose there could be some exceptions to this… maybe you kill them both off? I know it might not be reality but these are books… they don’t have to be reality.

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    1. Gah, killing off one character from a ship is absolutely brutal and heartless. But isn’t killing off both of them is sort of Romeo and Juliet like? Character death always sucks, and ideally they should all live happily ever after, but whenever a favorite character of mine dies when I didn’t want them to, I just live in eternal denial and pretend that they’re living happily ever after 😂.

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