Listen, dear reader: if you had qualms about this kind of thing, you wouldn’t be a writer. You are the author of the story you’re writing (shocker, I know), and you can do as you please. And if you please to kill off a very likable character, than so be it. You can literally do whatever you want.
You probably take great glee in doling out deaths that are very much deserved (or you should), but you might have a misgiving or two about killing characters that deserve their just reward, or that you might need later, or might not inspire feelings in the reader, and et cetera. Characters have quite a few uses; it’s understandable why you might not want to lay down your cards too soon.
Picking a character to kill or put in danger is a…surgical operation. Delicate. Easy to mess up. Fortunately, there are a few pretty simple steps that ensure that you pick the right one. Unfortunately, you are going to need to channel your inner malignity in order to do so.
Here’s the thing you need to know about human beings: no matter how virtuous, kind, and good an individual may be, we all possess the potential for great evil…as well as good. No one is immune to the force of malignity. To deny it is false–and dangerous. You need to acknowledge how evil we can be–so we can do good to our fellow man instead. So don’t be (too) shy about determining what characters to kill or put in danger. Try to view it more objectively, more logically.
With that, let’s get to the most important tip: Find your readers’ pain point. If you do this, the only thing left to do is apply pressure. Take a scope around your story. As the author, you should know the most about it. Identify characters whom the reader is attached to.
This will probably be the hardest decision, because you’re a reader of your own story as well as the writer thereof. You don’t want to kill your favorite characters. But, in a way, you do: you enjoy the pleasure of the villain as he kills Mr. X, and you relish Y’s anger to make amends. You take delight in the great scheme that you have concocted. After all, who wouldn’t?
How to identify pain points? Ask questions: what is Mr. X’s network? Who would cry if he died? Many? Few? Maybe no one except the reader? Judge by who would miss the dead person. Judge by quality of mourners, not by the quantity. If a thousand faceless people mourn the death of this one person, the reader is inclined to be detached. If one or two well-known characters mourn the death of their dear friend, however–suddenly, grief confronts the reader. Personally. Unavoidably. Again, the writer delights in their scheme.
There’s another reason why you might want to kill characters: weeding. You’re culling the cast of characters, selecting those who are weaker or more useless and killing them. This is a mistake I like to refer to as the Diana Dilemma (Subtle Anne of Green Gables reference, understandable by only the devoted), and is better solved by making the characters disassociated with the story. Write them out subtly. Don’t kill characters whose death does not benefit you in some way. Don’t be sloppy. Kill with purpose.
Okay, put down the phone. There’s no need to inform the cops. I swear I’m not a homicidal maniac.
It’s the same principle for putting people in danger. Who cares if Mrs. So-and-So’s life is being threatened? We hardly care. However, if the hero or heroine’s husband or wife was taken hostage, then we have something to play off of. Identify pain points and push them.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!
One thought on “Selecting a Character(s) to Kill or Put in Danger”
An insightful read. Killing characters with purpose does makes an impact. Do it too often and your just making a head count for bragging rights or something. I learned this recently when editing my current WIP.
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