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Killing off a character you really like

(11 Posts)
makemineabacardi Tue 28-Oct-14 10:32:29

I'm writing a sequel to my (as yet unpublished) novel and have hit a dilemma. I have a plan set out for all the major characters except one and I'm not sure what to do about him.

He's a supporting character, the 'comedy relief' and as a character I really like him. I don't know what direction to take him in so I've been thinking about whether or not to kill him off. But at the same time I'm not sure I want him to die. blush A major character will be dying also and I don't want it to be overshadowed but I'm not averse to killing off more than one.

So...has anyone else killed off a character they like? How do you justify it to yourself as well as a reader?

LurcioAgain Tue 28-Oct-14 10:44:26

What work is killing the character off doing in the plot/ characterisation of other members of the cast? Could the same work be done another way?

(In my case, I was writing a fantasy set in a Medieval-type world, and wanted to underline that one of my characters - an up and coming military commander - was flawed and capable of making bad decisions, partly through inexperience. One of the members of my writers' circle suggested killing a horse instead: I rejected this as too "Disney-esque", and I'm afraid my likeable minor character copped it. Shame, I liked him. But the same point couldn't, I think, have been made a different way without trivialising it).

makemineabacardi Tue 28-Oct-14 11:15:33

Well theres a turning point that involves a massacre - this is where the major character is killed and other major/supporting characters badly injured, so it would be simple enough to include my likeable guy in this event. The massacre is important to the plot so needs to stay.

In the first novel my likeable guy was the 'native' (Sci-fi theme) so did a lot of the explaining on how the world worked. By this second novel he isn't really needed for that. At the moment he doesn't have much of a story in this second one. Something needs to happen to him but I can't figure out what that is.

I think I might be talking myself into killing him... blush

LurcioAgain Tue 28-Oct-14 12:45:56

I heard a brilliant (and very funny) Radio 3 interval talk during the Proms performance of Tristran and Isolde - it was by a very famous novelist whose name now completely escapes me (to my shame blush).

It went roughly like this. "We all know what Tristran dies from. He dies from his wounds. But what does Isolde die from? Well, she dies from narrative necessity."

I grin every time I think of this. Sometimes things just have to be done for the requirement of the plot (or the genre in which we're operating).

makemineabacardi Tue 28-Oct-14 13:27:26

That's very true, I like that quote smile.

I know the major character I'm killing off has to die as its an important plot point, but this supporting character I'm not so sure. So maybe that's the answer - if he has nowhere else to go as a character he has to die. <gavel> wink

Brassrubbing Thu 30-Oct-14 12:54:32

I don't know, gratuitous killing off because you can't think what else to do with him won't necessarily work, I don't think - I mean, he can't just lurk around tokenistically to become cannon fodder (or the sci-fi equivalent) without it looking artificial. I'd stop asking 'What do I do with this guy?' and ask instead like a PP what fictional work his death would accomplish?

Will his death heighten the horror of the massacre? Or if you are also killing off a major character, will nice guy's death be irrelevant? Can you use him for some other purpose?

makemineabacardi Thu 30-Oct-14 13:21:36

Good points Brass and I'm still toying with what to do with him, I can't decide. Will ponder over it a little bit more I think and see what else I can do with him other than killing him off. smile

Brassrubbing Thu 30-Oct-14 13:57:05

I'm thinking about this stuff, because the novel I just finished is based on real events, so I can't decide who to kill off, and in fact the death of a sympathetic central character poses a real problem in the structure! At least you can choose who to kill!

makemineabacardi Thu 30-Oct-14 14:01:37

True! Although sometimes characters almost seem to choose death themselves wink

TunipTheUnconquerable Thu 30-Oct-14 14:28:26

I love that thing about Isolde dying from narrative necessity. Kind of the opposite of the term 'plot armour', where a character can't die even though realistically they might well have done, because they're needed for the plot.
Tyrion in Game of Thrones is widely believed to have plot armour.

I have been killing off loads of much-loved characters in mine because I write historical mostly set in times and places where life expectancy was low. I have a bout of plague coming and I'm pondering rolling a dice to see who gets it.

I agree about making sure the death has a narrative purpose. The other thing you can do if you're worried about it looking artificial is to go back through his appearances (or discussions related to him) and change things so the death appears to have a clear causation, due to events or his character or ideally a combination of both.

makemineabacardi Thu 30-Oct-14 14:39:38

I'm actually not sure that it's Tyrion who has plot armour or Peter Dinklage. grin

You're right about not wanting it to see artificial - what I might do at this stage is sit down and have a 'look' at his character as you suggest Tunip and see which way he needs to go.

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