Killing off a character can be a tough business. Though I don’t usually write traditional murder mysteries, at some point someone in my stories has to die. I feel bad about it, but it’s just the way I write. Lots of novels (not just mysteries) use the death of one character to raise the stakes of another. There’s an emotional investment there that doesn’t exist with most other events.
Death can also have a domino affect and cause new dimensions to emerge in the survivors. The impact is usually different from one novel to the next. Some are meant to make you cry, while others are more the point of the story and you don’t really feel that much for the victim.
This business is probably easier for some writers than for others. I often know my victim early on in the plotting process and make a point of not getting too close, which can be tough when writing a novel and investing a lot of time in getting to know the characters. Other times, however, it’s extremely important that the writer is as emotionally invested in the character as the reader. It all depends on the story.
So how do you choose a victim? A lot of times for me, the vic comes out of the story itself. The choice becomes obvious because of the events taking place. I don’t like to make the victim too obvious for readers though. I want to keep you guessing for as long as possible. However, sometimes I plot around the victim. Again, it all depends on the story.
In the Donald Maass book Writing the Breakout Novel, he suggests randomly picking a character who is expendable and killing him off. I did this for my current novel, and the results were intriguing. It led to the resurrection of one character and the end of another, which opened up an entire new set of exciting events. The stakes were raised for everyone left standing.
If you don’t normally kill any of your characters, it’s a tactic you might try and see what happens to the surviving cast members and the story. How do they react? What are the consequences?
If you do employ this in your writing, how have you found it helps your stories/characters? What are your methods for choosing a victim?
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