Killing Characters Off

Photo of gravestones underneath big trees.
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Most novel writers have to kill off a character at one time or another. We don’t do this because we’re mean or deranged. We do it because it’s needed to enhance the plot.

The first time I killed a character off was in my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion. Jason Matthews, a minor character, was one of the villains. He meets an untimely end, but it happens off camera, meaning the readers don’t actually see it. His ex-wife, Gillian hears of his demise in a telephone conversation with a police detective. They say show, don’t tell. However, there are times when telling can be more compelling. Jason was a character who was often talked about but never actually seen. Therefore, revealing his death in the dialog kept it consistent with the story.

In my second contemporary romance novel, The Deception, I killed off another antagonist. It happens near the end of the story. The plot revolves around the character’s conflict with Carrie, one of the lead characters. Carrie has finally won battle. Her nemesis, however, soon figures out a way to get even. This left me with two options. Save it for a possible sequel, or kill the character off. In this case the second conflict was directly related to the first, making a sequel redundant. Therefore, rather than have the story repeat itself, I killed the character off, thus ending the conflict once and for all.

In my soon-to-be released contemporary romance novel, The Journey, I killed off someone who was a supporting character in The Reunion. I honestly liked her, and I really didn’t want to kill her off, so I wrote an alternate draft in which she survives. It wasn’t a bad storyline, but it lacked the drama, and the punch, of the original draft.  Her sudden and unexpected death was an intrical part of the plotline. It happens early in the novel, but she still maintains a presence in the rest of the story.

I’ve heard the joke among my author friends about how there are two kinds of people who know how to kill other people. Psychopaths and novel writers. This first one definitely, although I’m not so sure about novel writers. So far most of my characters have died in accidents. Or, like Jason in  The Reunion, they were their own undoing.

Marina Martindale

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