Question 94: Killing off a character

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LilacLunaWrites asks: I'm writing a book where I have 4 main characters. I was planning to make one die. The question is, is it okay to kill off a main character, or will the readers hate me too much?

Killing off main characters can be controversial, but if the reasoning behind it is sound, then there shouldn't be much hate involved. Readers may still dislike that it happened, but they would understand why it had to happen.

Your first task, then, is to nail down the purpose of this character's death. Why do they need to die for the story to work better? Is it simply for more drama? That is usually not enough of a reason, unless it's a soap opera. Long, unending story lines often need a character death to shake things up before it gets stale.

For most stories, though, this is usually not the case. Here are some examples of character deaths serving a purpose:

1. It motivates others into action. This is the essence of martyrdom. Leaders do a lot of good, but sometimes their death makes them rise into the role of a martyr, immortal in people's minds. "Don't let his death be in vain!" is something you hear a lot in movies involving a revolution or other mass movement.

2. It gives someone purpose. A death of someone important could be the push that someone needs to get off the fence and do what they were meant to do. People often take the others in their lives for granted. They don't realize the important role they play until one of them dies, then they spend the rest of the story trying to make up for it.

3. It gets media attention. Sometimes the actions of a few aren't enough. Sometimes It takes a public death to get the media to notice and publish articles and news reports about it. New laws are often enacted after someone dies and it gets plastered all over the news.

What are some other motivations you writers have come up with for character deaths?

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