Do I Kill a Supporting Character?

To kill, or not to kill? (That is the question.)

Okay, bad reference, but I’m still stuck with the dilemma.

I’ve been working on revising Love, Lies, & Clones for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and am torn if I kill off one of the supporting characters. It’s an action/suspense/science fiction piece, so a death could be justified. In my first draft, everyone lives, but I’m concerned this is too perfect.  I wonder if you can have an action/suspense novel where nobody dies.

As I’m revising the story, I see a lot of foreshadowing opportunities that would prepare the reader for a death and it seems like the grim reaper has sharpened his sickle and is knocking on a door.  Oh, I’m conflicted… Is killing someone off a lazy writer’s solution? Or is leaving someone live bad because I’m attached and don’t want them to die?

The internet has plenty of references on the topic:

So what to do… What are your thoughts?   What do you think when you read a novel where one of the main supporting characters die near the end? Disappointed or satisfied when the other characters pull through the experience? I’d love to hear some feedback.

–Joy

Photo from morguefile.com

file2681270483593http://www.wikihow.com/Kill-off-a-Hero-or-Other-Character

About Joynell Schultz

Writer & lover of all types of speculative fiction. I'm shivering in northern Wisconsin. Learn about my novels here: http://Author.to/JoynellSchultz
This entry was posted in Love, Lies, & Clones, My Writing Journey, Writing Tips & Resources and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Do I Kill a Supporting Character?

  1. Nam H Nguyen says:

    I think killing is far from the simple solution.The difficulty of killing characters stems from the time and effort we’ve spent building their voice and personality, and I think it’s wrong to consider it ‘the easy solution’.
    Rather, I’ve always thought of killing as the most difficult part as I struggle against my own biasses against.
    Personally, I think killing characters off creates a sense of loss, and a greater impact on the tone of the narrative.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. How about the character gets hurt and has to go to the hospital? That’s halfway between “no one dies” and killing one of the characters.
    You could have him/her not regain full use of one of his/her limbs or something. That way, s/he isn’t dead but “something very bad” happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oooh – that’s a tough one, isn’t it? My preference is to try and only kill characters that I created with that end in mind … I always think of R.A. Salvatore as a cautionary tale (though I loved his stuff as a teenager) because he had multiple characters that he seemed to kill off for no reason other than he had no further use for them (as in, their death served no useful purpose in terms of furthering plot, impacting on/developing the other characters or being relevant to the setting) that he would then find flimsy reasons to resurrect later because it turned out that was a short-sighted and premature decision (at least, that was my opinion as a reader of his books).

    I think, for me, the answer would be to determine a reason for one of the characters to die. Death should, in my opinion, be full of impact. If there’s no satisfactory reason to kill one of the existing characters, perhaps an additional character is needed – along with a suitable reason for their death.

    Timing is important too – I am personally not a fan of killing a character during a part of the story where the reader’s focus is too heavily on something else, as I feel like I am unable to refocus on the death and it therefore loses much of that all-important impact. That’s not to say that the death needs to happen in a dull moment in the story, or anything like that – rather, if my focus is on whether or not Character A is going to live/get away safely and Character B, who was safely out of the situation, randomly turns up and gets snotted, I’m more likely to be exasperated with that fact than upset over their death – even if Character B was someone I should have been bawling my eyes out over.

    Of course, it depends on the skill of the writer too – I have seen people make the above scenario work – others … not so much.

    Anyway, that’s my rant/ramble …. I hope some of it was at least a little helpful, if only as food for thought!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great thoughts here! Thanks! I think I have purpose and timing that both will be meaningful. I may go for it and it will be fun to see how the other characters react (oh, that sounds morbid, doesn’t it?).

      My biggest fear is the feeling of the reader that “What was even the purpose of the story,” so I need to be careful to have enough purpose that the death is meaningful. Don’t you love solving writing dilemmas?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. nathantudor says:

    Killing a character well can produce intense emotions in the reader as they watch a character they’ve come to love perish. Deaths are some of the most poignant moments in fiction for me because they carry so much weight. I say go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lana says:

    It may be kind of weird (and I may be kind of evil) but I like it when characters die. I mean, part of me hates it, because I generally liked the character, but the other writerly part of me appreciates how it twisted with my emotions and how it adds so much more depth to the story. Of course, I’m not a fan of killing characters left and right, but a well-placed death can make a story a lot…more than it was before.

    I do feel like if it is an action/adventure with several characters often getting into dangerous situations, it’s kind of unrealistic when none of them dies. However, I really don’t like it when the MC dies. It can be interesting in a short story or something like that, but in a novel I think it just leaves your readers unsatisfied, because they’ve spent so much time rooting for them and then they’re suddenly gone.

    Anyhow, I hope that made sense and helps a little bit. Good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Eliza David says:

    I killed a supporting character but, dear Lord, he had it coming for a couple of books. It was an oddly freeing feeling because even though I missed him as I continued writing, it really opened the door to a richer story and a more complex view of the MC.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Steve D says:

    Similar to what erinmunzenberger said above, I think killing off a character needs to have a clear impact on the story. What kind of emotional, physical, or power void does their death leave for the remaining characters? I also think it raises the stakes of the story, so it can be a useful plot device for an action/suspense story, or in my case, a political conflict. Being too trigger-happy makes each death less important, but having zero deaths can make characters feel too invincible, so I would say to use it with discretion.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Esther says:

    I usually appreciate a good character death, especially if it has a weighty emotional impact on the characters and readers. I agree with @Lana, that it is pretty unrealistic if none of them die while constantly getting into dangerous situations! I would say, just as long as there’s more to it than shock value or getting rid of a useless character, go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This might sound strange, but I love that you are struggling with this. All writers should. The only time killing a character seems lazy is when it seems as though the character only existed to be killed off. The fact that you gave this character a voice and a story arc means you are emotionally attached and that will probably come across to the reader. I can’t say whether you should or not, but I think you have some great advice to grapple with in these comments. Good Luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m probably spending too much time on tumblr where people cry and suffer loudly when their favorite characters die but — sometimes I feel that in today’s media letting a character die is the cheap solution to create impact. It’s an easy way to say “this is meaningful!”.
    Not to imply that you want to kill the character for that reason but I thought it is something to keep in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Okay, so I’m very late to the party…

    I hope everything is going well. This is as poignant an issue for writers as it is for readers, but to come straight to the point, it all depends upon how the death is written, when it happens in the story, and how it’s built up to. A well-written death scene can deliver emotional impact like nothing else (make sure it doesn’t overpower the climactic scene, if that’s a different scene), but a poorly-written death scene will almost always upset and alienate your readers. From the writer’s perspective, killing off characters is something of a gamble. It can pay off huge, or it can blow up in your face.

    I really like your approach to dealing with the dilemma, though. Writing the story both ways to see which one feels better. Will you post on which way you choose, or is it to be a secret?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m writing the death scene now and I think I’m going to stick with it for the time being (no secret). Once I have some beta readers give me feedback, I can always change it if they say “what was the point of the story”, but I don’t think they will. Thanks for chiming in!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. jlamborn3 says:

    Life isn’t all neat and pretty, full of Disney happy endings. The best Disney flicks, speaking of them, have death in them. I find it annoying, even when I can’t put my finger on why, that some stories are so neat and trim. I don’t think many of us can relate to that. I mean, sure, some folks can, but most of us have experienced loss of some sort. Loss invokes strong emotions. If you’ve developed your character well their death will impact readers. Maybe they’ll hate that they died. Maybe they’ll be glad? But you can bet it will make the story memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great feedback! I’m working on writing the story with the death (since I already wrote the Disney happy ending) and it’s amazing how much it changes things. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  13. Hi, I too struggle with this type of thing. I decided to learn from films and books already successful. They have sex and death, or near death at least once in each ‘episode’ or book. Go for it – kill a darling!

    Liked by 1 person

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