Monday 27 November 2023

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Knowing Who To Kill


I have been writing crime for a number of years, I've been reading it for even longer, and I gotta say that while some writers will think that you can just kill anyone for no reason other than maybe trying to shock the reader, or make them sad for that loss, that it very much not the case. I'm sure you've heard it from other places, how you need to make sure that every death is done for a reason and means something, and you're gonna hear that a bit from me too.

The reasoning behind this advice is that killing anyone for no reason has no impact on the characters or the plot. If the death doesn't make sense, if it's just death for deaths sake, then readers are going to know about it. They're going to work out that you're after shock value rather than any plot related reason, and that does not have any kind of impact on the reader, if anything, it makes them question the plot more, and wonder if you even really know what you're doing, which is not what anyone wants.

So how do you decide who to kill? How do you weigh up that choice and make that death mean something? I'm glad you asked because I'm going to give you some of my tips when it comes to this topic. I've killed a lot of characters over the years, some had affected me as the writer more than others, and all of them have died to serve the plot and there has always been a meaning behind their deaths.

Ask yourself this. If the answer is, that there needs to be a death and they're not the main character or their not someone that adds much to the plot, then you're probably doing it wrong. I'm not someone who likes to say that someone is writing 'wrong' because my thinking is that there pretty much is no wrong way to do it, but in this case, killing someone because there needs to be a death and they're disposable, it's not going to have the same impact because if a character is disposable to you, they are also that to the reader.

Now if there's a plot based reason that someone needs to be sacrificed for reasons I can't think of right now, then yes, that is a necessary death, but you need to be making sure that whatever character you choose is someone that has, at least, had some other impact on the plot. If you have side characters that can be removed without it having any impact on the story, then that's a sign you've not developed them enough, which is a whole different problem.

So keep in mind, that if a character is disposable, or can be removed from the story completely and nothing changes, you need to be thinking about why, and working out the answer to how to either make them into a more fully fleshed out character, or remove them, and have someone else have that hard choice of being sacrificed to further the plot.

I know that a lot of the memes around writers are along the lines of making our readers cry by killing off their favourite character, but there are a whole ton of stories, crime and otherwise, that don't have any character deaths. You don't have to kill someone if the plot doesn't need it, and you don't need to kill just for killing sake. While yes, a good death can have a massive impact, just killing someone because you think you have to will not have that impact.

Sometimes death can not be avoided, but when that happens, it should always be the right character who dies. There are numerous ways to decide that and I do not have the time or energy to go into all of them, but for just a quick breakdown. The character should be someone who makes the biggest impact, it should make sense for them to be in that situation. They should be unable to, by whatever means, get out of it. The death should be pretty much unavoidable, and it should always, always, be someone that matters to the story itself.

So there you go, those are my two tips. I will just clarify that I am talking about main characters and side characters who mean something to the main. Obviously there are minor characters who die all the time, but that is the nature of the beast. When it comes to a death that your readers are going to really feel, it needs to mean something and not just be because you thought you had to.

Good luck with writing!

Any questions? Lemme know in the comments!

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