The Reaper Visits Windemere: Character Deaths

Star Trek

Little did those red shirts know, they were standing in front of the airlock instead of the elevator.  Oops!

Seriously though, character deaths have been a phantom looming over my head since the beginning of Legends of Windemere.  Due to the plot that involves destiny and showing that previous champion groups were undone by death, I couldn’t really do anything to my main heroes.  So, I’ve been terrorizing the supporting cast with a few really big deaths scattered about.  Ritual of the Lost Lamb had the most, which was a tough book for me to get through.  This hesitation has been called a weakness by some because they feel fantasy needs a high body count with the main heroes always on the chopping block.  Needless to say, I disagree with this being the only way.  If it works for your story then reap away until you have to by a new scythe.  Just don’t expect everyone to write that kind of story.

My personal belief on character deaths is that they need to be memorable, but you can eliminate that if death is more common than using ‘the’ in a sentence.  People will stop connecting to your characters because they’re expecting them to die.  You create distance between the reader and story, which makes it more difficult to draw them along as events progress.  Think about how jump scares in horror movies work for a bit, but you will run into a point where the audience doesn’t react.  The music, camera angle, or something gives them a warning.  This can happen with character deaths too.  You see a character in trouble and you no longer wonder if they’ll survive.  You assume they’re as good as dead and already step away.  So, you do have to be careful with the killing.

Aside from it being memorable, there needs to be a purpose for the death instead of shock value.  Does their demise push another character to do better or hinder another’s chance to push ahead?  Was it a sacrifice or an accident?  How will the other characters handle the death?  All important questions that come back to purpose and importance.  If a hero dies and nobody cares then the reader won’t either.  If an ally sacrifices himself to open a plot door, which is immediately locked or ignored then it’s an obvious waste.  Killing for the sake of killing only makes the reader consider that the stakes are higher, but they might not consider the deaths memorable.  It can almost become part of the background.

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All this being said . . . *gets off soapbox* . . . I had to unleash the Reaper on this final book because it was the end. I saw no way to explain all of the champions pulling off a victory and remaining unscathed.  The Baron is scares the gods, which means he has the power to kill once he takes things seriously.  I already established in The Compass Key that at least one champion was slated to die in the battle.  There were plans that involved various combinations of deaths and injuries that I didn’t finalize until the final writing.  Was it hard to decide on who to kill off?  Of course, because I also had a future prepared for each one in case I decided to let them live.  Even the Baron has a living and dead path that I decided on since it’s always been a possibility to end on a downer.

Maybe I overthink this part of the story, but death is an important piece of life.  It’s the only certainty and we have very little control over it in reality, but we are the masters of it when we write fiction.  As weird as it sounds, I consider that I’m acting like a God of Death for my characters during this time.  Not the good or benevolent kind that simply harvests when it’s time, but the one that decides it’s time to go.  Yeah, that does sound a little egotistical.  Still, you can’t deny that death is typically the end for a character.  Their story is done and they have reached the end of their evolution.  Even if they show up as a ghost or vision, they won’t grow any more.  No more dreams to reach for either.  It’s a sad fate to place a character into, which is why I don’t take it lightly

For anyone thinking that resurrection is possible, you are right.  Only problem there is that making it easy to revive the dead means death has no impact.  It has to at least be something you work hard to achieve or come with so many risks that it isn’t any wonder people don’t do it all the time.  For example, resurrection in Windemere requires a powerful priest or priestess as well as a person with an extremely close connection to the deceased.  They have to know the dead in and out to bring their spirit over and help it bond to the body.  Any doubt or mistake will lead to an undead being born and a backlash that can kill the living involved, which is why it isn’t done very often.

So, those are my thoughts on character deaths.  I’m finally in a position where I’ve had to take out some of my heavy hitters.  What do you think about this topic?  How easily do you kill off your characters?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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32 Responses to The Reaper Visits Windemere: Character Deaths

  1. This is very useful information, Charles. Thank you for sharing.


  2. It bothers me that people seem so eager to kill off their characters as a rule in fantasy. I understand some deaths, but am personally one of those who would rather the deaths be few and far between. It makes them mean more.


  3. L. Marie says:

    Great post! I figured you thought long and hard about how to end this series. You’ve lived with these characters for so long. They’re like family. Who could kill them off lightly?

    I can’t help thinking of the Harry Potter series and how the deaths were so meaningful. And I also think of Game of Thrones. I read the first two books and interviews with George R. R. Martin. Characters seem to die a lot more frequently.

    I also think long and hard about the deaths of my characters. I’m working on two YA books in which prominent characters die. I cried at the deaths of these characters. Maybe that seems silly to cry over made up people. But I’ve lived with these characters and love them.

    I cry every time I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy because the world is so real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Took a long time to figure out what to do. It didn’t help that I would ask others for suggestions and that created confusion. Things became easier once I realized that multiple characters means multiple endings including the deaths.

      Plenty of people cry when they kill characters, which I think is a sign that it’s making an impact. Never really cried with LOTR, but Boromir is the only death that I can think of. Guess Gandalf counts even though he comes back.


  4. twixie13 says:

    There are times where I’ll cry over fictional characters, even with a world saturated with death (such as The Walking Dead…can pinpoint the two in particular that REALLY hit me). But in my own stuff, I don’t take it lightly with most characters, even though there are a LOT of them I’ve created for the sole purpose of killing them. One of my antagonists is a serial killer; she NEEDS victims, y’know? And then there are the three assassins I’ve created. They need targets. I’ve cried while killing a few of the victims, since I’d written a bit of how it’d happened and all. With my major characters, the thought of killing them makes me cry. The exception to that one is Travis, as he continually comes back from the dead and the monkey-boy is my favorite punching bag.


    • Are the two deaths both Glenn? 😜 Never thought of the characters designed to be victims of a bad guy. Guess it isn’t bad if that’s their purpose. Poor Travis.


      • twixie13 says:

        First one is, yes. I’d say both were, but since the method was the same in both the comic and show versions, it’s still one. Second was Shiva. Of course, any sort of animal gets bonus points in that department…but that one hurt. Now I’m trying to remember a few of the victim backstories. I know I sat down one day and gave them all names. Over time, they also all gained faces. I don’t cry over the assassins’ targets, though, since they choose some of the worst people they can find for that. In my defense, Travis has kinda brought it on himself at least once. He’s the one that kept calling the annoyed arms dealer that had a gun pointed at him a pirate.


      • I don’t really watch TWD, so I only know from the Facebook outbursts. Glenn got mentioned a lot. Did the victim backstories come into play within the story? I know I’ve made a few that don’t leave my notes.


      • twixie13 says:

        Not really. It was mainly for my own reference. Well, okay, so the designs for some of them came up in one of the comic sections, when the main characters open a closet and a bunch of severed heads come tumbling out. And a few of the victims survive, so I did sort of need them, as well.


      • Can just imagine how badly that head closet scene went for the characters.


  5. I have begun to seriously think about how characters are to die. The tricky part is the death must be as noble or ignoble as the character has been through the book. To give a character who has been noble an ending without some degree of recognition of reader reaction is playing with fire. Good topic, Charles.


  6. Killing characters for the sake of killing them seems to be popular right now, but it’s a real shame. I much prefer characters who live at least until the end of the story.
    That being said, didn’t you kill Luke off in the third or fourth book and have Nyx bring him back?


  7. I love the idea that you created a future for each character, even the bad ones. As humans we always have plans for tomorrow, the future, etc. Your characters would too. It makes death more poignant your way. I know some of this haunted you for a long time. You can always list the dead, then write a short story with them singing this song (Don’t publish it, of course. It would be too spoilery. Maybe you could include a link for a free copy at the very end of the last book. Would be a great way to build a mailing list if you’re into that.)


  8. I never set out to kill characters, but sometimes it’s the most logical outcome. No matter how heroic the characters are, they might get themselves into situations where death or disability are simply unavoidable. So when you talk about a group of heroes who set out to confront a mad god, it would be really shocking if no one was killed.


    • At the very least, somebody should get horribly injured in the fight. This is why I’ve had the death teaser in my books since volume 5. Knowing at least one champion will die added an interesting dimension to the characters. Nobody knows who it will be, so they all have a sense of doom going into the finale.


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