7 Tips to Killing Off Characters in the Finale

Farquad from Shrek

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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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20 Responses to 7 Tips to Killing Off Characters in the Finale

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great tips. This subject has engendered controversy among fans, especially when a main character is killed off. In one series I read, this occurred. I won’t name the series in case someone chooses to read it, since that is a major spoiler. Many fans were so outraged, the author had to publish an article in a major news outlet explaining the reasoning behind the death.

    I’m all for killing off characters. I have done so. I take issue, however, when shock value is the sole motivation behind killing them off. I know. To each his own.

    George R.R. Martin seems to be a firm believer in killing off characters.

    Like

    • Martin seems to have set a high bar for shock deaths. It actually turned me off to the series because I don’t enjoy the device being overused. At least outside of a finale where storylines are closing up. Still, some people hate characters surviving, which is rather ghoulish to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some people, readers and authors alike, say authors must kill off major characters from time to time in order to ‘prove to readers that they’re serious and willing to kill their darlings like a Real Writer does.’ (*rolls eyes*) Character deaths that happen for no in-story reason are just bad writing, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. There should be a reason beyond shock and proving lethality of the world. You can do the latter without sacrificing established characters. It does get frustrating that so many people think you need a high death count for a story to be good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tips, Charles. I don’t have many deaths in my stories so maybe I need to step it up a notch.

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  4. Dan Antion says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your insight, Charles. This is helpful.

    Like

  5. Great tips once more. #5 brought flashbacks of “Zombie Kill of the Week” from Zombieland. I admit those weren’t main characters, but it worked for the genre.

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