Character Deaths

In honor of Halloween coming up, let’s talk about something I loved to do to my characters when I was a teenager.

Killing them off.

In the days before I bothered to finish my stories, I would often grow tired of characters and then invent ways for them to die. There was the ever-popular consumption, car accidents, death by war, drowning. One time, I wrote a story about a girl who had eight siblings, all of whom were killed one by one by their psycho estranged father. That one didn’t really go anywhere because I gave myself nightmares.

Sometimes killing characters can happen because they’ve served their purpose and you need a way to get them out of the way.

Sometimes, it’s because it’ll make a nice, shocking twist.

Other times, characters die because the way it affects the other characters is interesting and moving and keeps the story going.

The deaths can be heart-wrenching or expected (though no less moving). They can be high drama or tragic. They can be gruesome. They can tell us more about the character or about the people around them.

I seem to kill a lot of people, these days at least, off-screen, so to speak. In Last Request, I showed Eva’s mother dying, but it was remembered through flashback and memory–how much of it is true? In the same story, Brix’s father dies and Brix is severely affected by it, driving his behavior for much of the time afterwards.

Even in the current project, I already pre-plotted when certain characters would die. Miles, for instance, whose story I’m working on now, dies in 1814, which is why his daughters inherit a huge amount of money and then become victims of a fraud. Miles’s wife, Delphine, dies just before the story begins, causing Miles to want to move back to England with his daughters.

I’m trying to kill my characters a little more sparingly.

I don’t know that I have a favorite literary character death, necessarily. Though I did read a book not long ago in which a main character died and I was gobsmacked for a few days afterward because everything had come together and was happy and all of a sudden…

I’d say that Shakespeare is the master of character deaths. Who could forget the iconic image of Romeo and Juliet and the dagger and vial of poison? Or Julius Caesar croaking out, “Et tu Brute?” Or maybe that’s because Shakespeare was taught so much in high school, just as I was getting into that phase where I was killing my characters left and right.

But, for me, the TV show The Tudors will always take the cake in the gruesome/getting rid of characters/ at least they’re following history with the deaths/ way.

Anne Boleyn was beheaded. I love the dignity with which she dies.

Then there’s the really awful death of Thomas Cromwell.

Then there’s this. Culpepper, Katherine Howard’s lover gets his head chopped off. Dereham, the guy she had sex with before she was married to the King, gets hung, drawn and quartered. Don’t watch this if you’re squeamish. 

-Do you have a favorite literary character death? Do you have a favorite TV character death?
-If you write, have you ever killed your characters off? Why?

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