“I put a pair of stainless steel steak knives from my thirteen-piece cutlery set through their fucking hearts.”
Sales Rush by Brandon Scott
“Something intimate. Something I had to dig for, rip into and pry from her. I wanted to see her soul. And I wondered how red that ebony skin was going to get before I found it.”
Waking Nightmares by Brandon Scott
“He stops. Cerebral fluid draining on the rich mahogany wood.”
Piano Player by Brandon Scott
I kill characters. I murder them. Butcher them. I delight in the well set-up destruction of a fictional person I created.
I admit it readily: I am a killer of characters. As serial as they come.
And I am not alone. Among the great destroyers of protagonists and fictional people are the likes of Josh Whedon, George R. R. Martin, William Shakespeare and even—if you think about it—J.K. Rowling.
Death is, and always was, a massive part of fiction. Because there is no more basic, primal fear than death. And damn is it good to create drama.
And while there might be plenty of lists online talking about why you should kill a character, and why you shouldn’t sometimes, I am going to talk about something different. I am going to tell you about how you kill a character. What you should at least consider when you decide that Joe Protagonist needs a spike through his head.
- It’s the End.
Like THE END. As in, the character does not get to be around anymore. Exactly like you can never see a dead person again, you don’t get to write a character once he disappears. No matter how attached you might be to them, once you decide they are gone: THEY. ARE. GONE.
And please don’t cheat and bring someone back from the dead. It immediately cheapens the character’s efforts. It makes it so all the things they lost, or fought for, don’t matter as much. It makes the danger less, the drama less, when you know that they can undo a loss.
- Happy Endings and Character Deaths are not that different.
At least, not in execution. Like I said above, it is the end of the character. Everything they did, every choice they made, led them to this moment. So treat it as such. Even if it’s quick, brutal, or unexpected—still give them the honor of letting it be the end of their story. Let them die doing something they cared about, or getting in a line of dialogue. Even if the character just dies getting drunk and accidentally falls off a bridge, let them have some humanity. Some semblance of being alive before you cast them aside.
Death is the end of a character arc. However small.
- The body never left
I am not here to get into a religious debate—so I’m not even going to touch the concept of what happens to the identity of a person when they die. But I do know, without a doubt, that the corpse is still around. It’s still laying there after the head explodes from the accidental zombie-intended shotgun blast. And characters–people–still care about that body. However illogical, they will still treat it like their friend, like the person’s still there.
And don’t you dare forget that. What you do with the body of your character after you kill him is of vital importance. Does his body fall out of the helicopter after the sniper shot him? Does something eat him?
Burying the dead is a form of closure. It’s a way to say goodbye. And people naturally want that, or an equivalent. So, they will go back for the body if they can. And it’s often a more devastating scene if they can’t.
There’s a weight, and a smell, and a piece of matter to a dead character. Even after everything. Use it. Understand it. You are responsible for bringing this fake person to life. So have respect–however small–for his death. Even if the story itself doesn’t.
“I can’t look away from my arm. I can’t stop watching the encroaching sickness creep through my cells, rotting them, twisting them. I can’t stop looking even when the blood pool rises around me, engulfing my hair, filling up my throat, and turning my vision black.”
Plague Ground by Brandon Scott
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