Coming as no surprise, I will be killing characters off in War of Nytefall: Eulogy. It is kind of surprising how that can be a selling point. Some people really don’t want to see characters survive even if their demise will curb stomp the plot into oblivion. This is why it’s very important to think about the fictional murders and try your best to have them stand out. If people are interested then you need to give them what they want and make the macabre excitement last.
- Have as many characters die in person as you can. It’s okay to have a few ‘their body has been found’ scenes, but an audience may want to see the killing in action. It can still be done with mystery if you use the right perspective. The victim may not know or see what is going on. You could even have it be a trap. Much of this depends on the genre too. A murder mystery can get away with more off-page deaths than an action adventure.
- Try to spread out the deaths to avoid a variety of problems. If you wipe out 3/4’s of the cast in one shot early on then you have fewer victims for later chapters. Readers may doubt that anyone else will die or you could keep murdering your way into a situation where the plot can’t continue. Having deaths occur too often can also desensitize your audience to the point where they don’t care.
- Ironic deaths are fun, but you need to set up the irony first. Having a character die from choking on a hotdog can’t be done the same time you reveal that they were a hotdog eating champion. You need to build up to the ironic death because it loses its punch if you have to explain it.
- Keep track of who you kill. If you go on a rampage and forget who you killed off, you might bring them back later on. This can be fixed with editing, but it saves you time by keeping a list of who you’ve eliminated. It can get very silly if you’ve found that killed the same character three times by accident.
- Don’t try to outdo yourself with every kill. Having a few graphic and surprising deaths is good, but you run into trouble if each one is progressively more complicated. It can put you in a position where the deaths are so cartoonish that you lose any seriousness of the adventure. It can even become a mockery of your previous books, which can hurt an entire series or library.
- If these are well-established characters being killed then aim for an emotional blow. These characters will have fans and you want to send them off right instead of making it a blatant plot device. Show respect for your heroes and villains because readers will get angry if you’re just tossing them into the trash without a second thought.
- Please . . . Please have other characters react to the deaths. As long as they know about the killings, they should have an emotional reaction. They just lost a friend, enemy, or acquaintance. They don’t have to collapse in grief, but survivors need to be changed by the loss. Only time this can be skipped is if the character is established as having no reaction to such things. Basically, they’re a sociopath.