Monday 6 March 2017

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Do I need to kill [Character]?

Do I need to kill [Character]?

So, you've gotten started on your novel. You have the scene set and your outline done, your characters doing whatever they're doing, and you're managing to get some writing done. Your plot is moving along, but if you're like me then you won't have every scene planned before you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. Everything is going smoothly and then you hit a bit of a pothole, and you realise that for the scene to make sense - either in your outline or in the moment of writing - someone has to die. And that's what today is about, asking yourself: Do I need to kill [character]?

In one of my current works in progress, I'm doing a lot of flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to planning. It's not the first time that this has happened to me and nor willl it be the last. I generally have a good idea of who I'd like to make it to the end of each book, and there are always characters who walk the edge between seeing the end of a scene or chapter to finally being alive still when the book itself ends. I have several of those characters right now. And since the book I'm talking about is a dystopian on the brink of a war, it kinda makes sense for some bloodshed.

However, one thing you have to be careful about is falling into the trap of killing just because you can. While there are many deaths I've been responsible for in my books, none of them have been killed just for shock value or because they don't serve a purpose. Every death in the Dying Thoughts series was done to serve a purpose. Either to aid Tara in solving the crime, or because it was a needed plot piece to move the story forward. That's the big thing you need to remember because just killing for the sake of killing, while possibly fun, doesn't really help the book and if anything puts the reader off.

So how do you know when it's time to kill your beloved character? I usually use two questions that help me decide whether or not the death is needed for the plot or if it's just something I'm doing because the story needs some angst. I'm gonna share them with you here.

#1. What does their death achieve?

If the answer to this isn't obvious, then you need to seriously think about whether or not it's a death that has to happen or if it's a death you're using to spice up the chapter. Ideally, a death should be part of the overreaching arc of the story. If it's not, then it might be that the death isn't needed for the story to stand. When I wrote the deaths in the Dying Thoughts series, while they weren't all personal deaths that would have an impact on Tara, they were needed to move the plot forward and they were necessary to the plot.

#2. Who does their death affect the most?
Normally when killing someone in fiction, their death will serve a purpose, as covered in point one. But sometimes it doesn't need to be a bloody murder, but just a death that happens off page and has an affect on one of the main characters. In the first book of the Lights Out series, I had to kill someone that I'd really grown attached to, but it was needed to drive the plot forward and to bring about the change for the protagonist. It was the driving point of why she took the path she did, and because of that I know that the character's death was a much needed plot point.

Both of these questions shouldn't be too hard to answer. If you find that you can't answer one or both of them, then it might be that you don't need to kill your character. Sometimes books will use a violent and unexpected death as a way to shock the reader, or to spice up the book itself. As I said, doing that can lead to the readers feeling a little off with the storyline. A death should only be used when it is moving the plot forward and even then, it doesn't have to be discussed in detail for it have the same affect on the protagonist and other characters.

So, I hope that helps you with working out when and where to kill a character. For me, killing them isn't hard, it's the aftermath that drives me forward. I've heard of writers who cry while killing certain beloved characters and while I've come close once I'm doing the editing, I'm usually fine with the death and other gruesome parts of being a crime writing. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

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