Writing Advice: Plotting to Kill Your Characters

Do you have the strength to get through it?

If someone were to do a search on my Internet browsing history, they would likely not only be disturbed, they would probably call in men with nice white coats and place me in a comfy jacket that makes me hug myself.

On any given day, you would find things like, “How to bury someone and never be found,” or “how to destroy a body with acid.” (A very fascinating study, in fact!)

There’s always the classic, “How deep in water before a body implodes.”

I am willing to bet it’s the same way for most writers out there.

These things might be useful to know for when you need to kill off one of your “extras” in a story, but what about the times in a story line when, unfortunately, one of your main players must be killed off?

Killing off your main characters, especially the protagonist, can cause a huge amount of anxiety in a writer, but it is sometimes necessary for the story taking place (and, hey, George R.R. Martin has made a career out of it).

George R. R. Martin: “I wrote the script for 2016”

The question you should ask, always – this also applies to any choices you make in the story – is, “Will this drive my story forward?”

In the case of the decision of killing the protagonist, this might be driving forward to the conclusion or apex of the climax of the story you are telling. I would say, again, with the MC, if you are killing them, the decision should not be made lightly.

Your readers will have, by this point (hopefully), developed an affinity for the character in question.  They will be attached to them, emotionally, and the killing of such an important aspect of the story is going to cause a lot of different emotions in the reader. Some may hate you for it and never want to read something from you again, but, if it IS a necessary part of the story, don’t let that thought drive you to NOT doing it.


Were They Born For It?

If the intent was always for them to go the way of the dodo, then so be it. Just do it, knowing that was what they were “born” to do.

It’s easier with characters that are not the main one, since the emotional connection may be there, but to a lesser degree.  It won’t be the blow as it would be for the main character,

Personally, I’ve had to kill off my main characters in two different stories, and, honeslty, it hurt me to do so. I felt the blow when it happened.

However, I also knew ahead of time the end of the story would happen that way, so the build up to it was intriguing for me to bring out.

Again, it’s not something to take lightly, and should be decided upon carefully, but, if it’s needed for the story, go for it. It happens.


Practice It!

If you have trouble thinking of doing this type of thing in a story, I would suggest doing a few experiments with it.  Plan out a short story, one that you might be able to write in a night or so, under 5000 words, where you know the main character will be doomed in the end.

Write it out, practice with it.  Have fun with it.
Doing this will, perhaps, help ease the decision making process in the future and allow you to come to the conclusion that it is, indeed, okay to kill off the protagonist.

As to the other characters in your story, don’t worry about them. If they were born to die, let them. That’s what they were made for. Don’t leave them hanging in limbo. Just do it.

One final note

If the killing off of a character is hard, because you have become attached to them, think about your reader, and the experience they will have reading it, as well. If you are attached to them, it’s likely they will be too.

Use that to your advantage and write something spectacular.


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