How to Successfully Kill a Character: The Checklist


This post was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.

I love killing people.

Or, rather, I love killing characters. I love it when a noble character—or perhaps an ignoble one on his way to redemption—gets his grit on and sacrifices himself for someone he loves or for the larger cause. I love pulling on my own heartstrings, never mind my readers’. I love the epicness a well-placed death can bring to an otherwise mundane story.

Authors are always being advised to be mean to their characters. Often, that meanness involves killing them off. And even as we may bawl over our beloved characters’ deaths, most of us get a strange sort of fulfillment out of it. We gotta play tough and do whatever best serves the story, right?

But that, of course, begs the question: Is killing off a character really the best way to serve your story?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at some reasons that may justify our decision to end a character’s life—along with some not-so-good reasons.

How to Kill a Character: The Checklist Infographic

(Featured in the Structuring Your Novel Workbook.)

Good Reasons to Kill a Character

We can find many good reasons for snuffing even important characters, including:

  • It advances the plot. (Melanie in Gone With the Wind.)
  • It fulfills the doomed character’s personal goal. (Obi-Wan in A New Hope.)
  • It motivates other characters. (Uncle Ben in Spider-Man.)
  • It’s a fitting recompense for the character’s actions up to this point. (Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.)
  • It emphasizes the theme. (Everybody in Flowers of War.)
  • It creates realism within the story world. (Everybody in Great Escape.)
  • It removes an extraneous character. (Danny in Pearl Harbor.)

Bad Reasons to Kill a Character

Some less worthy reasons for doing our characters dirty include:

  • Shocking readers just for the sake of shocking them. (Shock value isn’t without its, well, value, but not every author is Alfred Hitchcock and not every story is Psycho.)
  • Making readers sad just for the sake of making them sad. (An old saw says, “If they cry, they buy.” But readers never appreciate being tortured without good reason.)
  • Removing an extraneous character. (I know, I know. I just said that was a good reason. But you have to double-check this one. If the character is extraneous, then you better verify he really belongs in this story in the first place.)

A Final Consideration Before You Kill a Character

Now that we have a grip on what makes a character’s death work within a story—and what’s sure to make it fail—we next have to consider what could end up being a crucial reason not to kill your character.

Every character in a story should be there for a specific reason. He’s there to enact a specific function (as we discussed in recent posts about archetypes and roles). If he doesn’t enact that function, then you have to question his purpose in the story. And if he does fill a role within your story, well, then ask yourself this: Who’s gonna fill that role if you kill him off?

Dramatica authors Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley explain:

Unless the functions represented by the discontinued player reappear in another player, however, part of the story’s argument will disappear at the point the original drops out. In the attempt to surprise an audience by killing off a major player, many an author has doomed an otherwise functional storyform.

How to Kill a Character: A Checklist

Lucky for our sadistic little souls, roles and archetypes can shift from character to character or be shared by several characters. In short: when a character dies off, his death doesn’t have to mean his role will be left vacant for the rest of the story.

With all this knowledge in mind, here’s a quickie checklist for figuring out if you can get away with murder:

  • You have scrutinized the list of good reasons to kill off a character.
  • You have identified one of the reasons as being present in your plot (or come up with a new good reason).
  • You have identified what role and archetype your character fills in your story.
  • You have created and positioned another character(s) to fill the hole left in your story by the doomed character’s death.


  • Your story ends in a thematically satisfying way that doesn’t require the character’s role to be perpetuated.

Sometimes the death of a character can raise an ordinary story into something special. If you can justify a character’s death, then go for it! Special may be just around the corner.

Tell me your opinion: What good reason did you have for killing off your most recent doomed character?

how to successfully kill a character the checklist

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. There was a character I absolutely loved. She functioned as the “mentor” to the main character. Her death allowed him to eventually become what he fully needed to be and served as continued inspiration for him. Did NOT want to kill her off and TRIED TRIED TRIED to make the story work without killing her but it always felt contrived.

    • Mentors often work best when they get knocked off. Obi-Wan? Gandolf? It’s a long list.

    • Phil, you are pointing towards the only reliable guide that I know of with story telling or anything else for that matter: Feelings of authenticity.

      A story has its own life doesn’t it? It might seem like a good idea to kill somebody off here or keep somebody else alive over there but is this the story? Is this the story that is aching to be told?

      I am finishing my memoir at the moment and even though it is my story its amazing how contrived it can become if I am not watching myself.

    • I killed of one of my MC’s good friends. The friend is killed because an assasin mistakes her for the MC. It motivates the MC to find the assasin, so that none of her other friends (who’ve already been put in harm’s way because of her) get killed for her. The death also brings up new evidence that leads the MC to the killer and the organization they represent.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Sounds like a good example of moving the plot forward. If the friend filled a sidekick/supportive role, just make sure there’s someone else to step into those shoes once she’s gone.

    • I’m experiencing a minor crisis with killing off a few characters in one of my other stories. In the beginning of the story, the reader is supposed to believe that the MC is unfeeling and antisocial. She acts as if she is selfish and thinks only about herself; to put it simply, she’s a jerk. As the story progresses, though, you learn that she shuts herself off from others because she believes that she killed over twenty people when she was much younger, after she began having memory blackouts that perfectly coincided with several brutal murders. She can’t control her magical powers (she lives in a fantasy world where wizards are common) so she pulls away from other people, thinking that if she teaches herself not to care about others, she’ll be less affected if she kills again. My problem is that I can’t figure out a good way to bring up the murders; the one “flashback” that I have so far makes it seem like she killed her family. Would it be better for me to start the book with the murders, which happened a long time before the plot starts, or to just rework the flashbacks?

      • Aaron S. (@ashurtl96) says

        In my own, unprofessional opinion, I think you should have some sort of horrific event that triggers a flashback bringing the memories back up or something. But, that’s just me from a reader standpoint. to me, that would make a lot more sense than just having a random flashback. But don’t take my advice blindly, I am here on this blog for a reason lol. I am definitely interested in this story now too. I would love to read it if that is possible.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I’m going to back Aaron up on this one and say that your best choice is probably to sow the dramatization of the murders later in the story (perhaps via flashback), so that you can tease readers with the questions about them for as long as possible.

      • It might take some significant revising to do, but what if you wove her memories of the deaths/murders into her arc? She can see and experience events that remind her of the moments when the people die rather than having flashbacks, which I do think will lend the sense that she IS responsible, leaving you with the unpleasant task of digging her out of that hole for the reader later on.

        If you instead have her just remember the instances, the deaths will appears as ‘events from her past’ but the reader won’t be led into believing SHE was the guilty party. You can have her see the deaths through events in her current life, or as memories inspired by those events. She can question her own sanity (a believable reaction) or worry about being accused every time a certain authority figure/s interact with her. Build the sense of persecution around her, which will mirror what she feels about herself (very much a part of a YA story, which is what it sounds like you’re writing). The ultimate reveal about her innocence will then feel more powerful (and authentic).

    • Finishing up a book with a co-author right now where the bozo to be knocked off is one of those guys you love to hate. Cheer the hero, hiss the villain. We’ve added another dimension, since this is a humorous murder. No matter how carefully planned, attempts backfire. Even when the protagonists hire a hit man, it goes awry. So how to mete out just dues to this guy who deserves to leave this world. We’ve come up with a great poetic justice ending. The name of the book will be “Bumping Off Fat Vinny,” to be released later this year. I’ve written 12 books so far and my co-author has written 16. This has been a real fun project.

  2. I had a character who occupied the role the main character resisted. His death finally forced the main character accept his role and propelled the plot forward.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good example of killing the character “because the plot required it.”

      • I just finished reading a book where the MC was killed to advance the plot, but IMO was a Bad Case you haven’t mentioned – Killing as an easy way out.

        It was actually a pretty good story to read overall.

        However, the MC was originally separated from important characters due to complex personal problems. The story covered the emotional reunion with these characters.

        As I finished the book, it became clear that it was easier to write the “she died young, how heartbreaking, and everyone coped, etc” than it would have been to handle the development of the post-reunion life with the MC, actually dealing with the problems.

      • I’m writing a book where my stories main bad gets killed off by my main character. The entire story is basically, (if you ignore the more supernatural aspects) all about their twisted relationship with one another, and trust me, it’s twisted.

        My main character has been going slowly insane because of the actions of my antagonist. I’ve been slowly driving him to the point where the main character is just as bad as the antagonist, and with his death, my main character is going to become the villian himself.

  3. Major character death has always been a factor in my stories and I’m not above killing off the main character if the story dictates it. In my sci-fi novel Sorrow’s Fall (spoilers in case you care ^_~) Sorrow’s death is foreshadowed from the first chapter. His death fulfills three of the stated requirements; it fulfills the doomed character’s personal goal, it’s a fitting consequence of his actions up to that point and it emphasizes one of the themes.

  4. These comments contain spoilers so proceed at your own risk if you haven’t read any of these books.

    In my latest novel, On Unicorn Wish, the main character is recovering from a horrific accident that could have killed her, and she had setbacks, while at the same time reliving in memory (or is it real?) a magical time when she was ten. She was invited to Evernow, a place between time and no time where only those with a pure heart go when they die. On her return to her grannie after her adventure , as the child, she is having trouble remembering it. She is to meet someone from there she already knows who will help her forget, and it has been set up he visits her in that world as an adult to help her with her memory. At that point she, as the adult dies, because she was doomed from the beginning, but she returns to Evernow where she is a very special person, so her life goes on a little differently. Reviewers, so far, think the story okay for their children. I have recommended it only for older readers through adult, so the physical death of the main character doesn’t seem to be a big issue since she continues to live in the alternate reality
    In the first novella of Painted Tree: Two Novellas, one of the character’s dies. He has to in order to show his remorse – lack of will to live – from what he has done because of the vengeance he felt. His death affects all other characters since he was a charismatic character, and had his own story line. In the second story about the victim recovering she dies in the end, but as a old lady who found a way to fulfill her life in spite of her handicap from what happened to her.

    In Ariel’s Cottage/A Price for Love the main character was a victim of a horrible crime, and is dealing with the psychological demons resulting. But physical problems are hinted at, and another important character returns after many years to see her, only to find she has died from an injury created during her horrific experience. The character who cared for her during those years found he could not live without her and commits suicide. A reviewer remarked of the emotional roller coaster ride, but that it felt in the end like she’d read the story of a real person’s life.

    In my trilogy, Where the Horses Run, I have a character in Book I, connected to the main character and who plays a very small role, get murdered. The crime investigation, though mostly done by others out of scene in Book II, helps the main character and her companions make some discoveries. Also her grandparents deaths are spoken of and information left behind also helps. A major character dies in a car accident in Book III. It was a shock to me when I realized I’d have to kill him. I thought about it for a long time. But it’s his death that helps them learn some things they need to know, and spurs them on along their path of discovery even though a lot of time is spent learning to deal with his loss. His memory and what he had to offer is ever-present, so he’s not really out of the story.

    In one of the stories in TREE & SKY: The Secrets of Meshyah’s World the grandfather is remembered at one point, having died, though the death is never spoken of, only what the main character, being a child, feels for her grandfather and his memory. They had been very close and interactive in the prior stories. This is a children’s book and there have been no comments about how awful it might have been to read it. He was very old, and it happens.

    I have an anthology of short stories and poems where characters die, mostly when they are old. One is a story with a child as the main character, so I also published it separately as Miracle Belle, A Horse with a Secret. The main character grows up when, later on she and her horse go to a special place without dying. It’s a spin-off of my trilogy.

    My two children’s picture books are the only ones where no one dies. In fact, in both, someone/something is saved.

    I have a middle grade story, only as an ebook for the first part of a series that will become a book, where only one is expected to be killed, but eventually someone else will die. Even in Harry Potter, a children’s book, many good characters die.

    Of all the stories I have in the works I can think of only one where there is no death of an important character (so far), but rather a major life change, as is also the case in another middle grade children’s story. In another there are serial murders and a suicide; another with sword battles, and another adult spin-off of my trilogy where I don’t know yet if anyone dies. In that series it the “other place” they are seeking to go to for safety from an expected earthy catastrophe. It’s not a heaven, they don’t die, though those who you think of as having died are there. I just can’t tell more without spoiling it all entirely.

    I had someone say they couldn’t read any more of my books because they were tired of dealing with death. I find that it’s a rare book where a death isn’t at least mentioned, maybe one where the story only takes place within a few hours of a day and the character is focused on an issue that doesn’t involve death. But death is part of life and it does happen so it makes since to kill off characters, even if they are favored. It was a natural progression of the story and I didn’t worry about doing it so much as how to do it properly for the story.

    Unless I write the story spoken of in Ariel’s Cottage/A Price for Love (Murderous Intent) that involves her horrific experiences, I haven’t had a lot of mayhem involving the main character physically suffering. It’s mostly psychological, and dealing with memories of the pain and suffering that’s already happened.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honestly, I can’t think of any of my stories either than haven’t killed off several important characters. Sometimes high body counts are just plain necessary.

      • Steve Mathisen says

        High body counts remind me of Italian opera. 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I like Italian opera. 😉

          • I had no idea I’d written an Italian opera 😉

            Lots of bodies pile up in my first novel. Going through the list here, and somewhat off the top of my head, most fit into the “moves the plot” category. I’ve got a mystery, and the guys behind the bad business aim to keep their business secret – so if you’ve seen what they’re up to, you’re marked for it.

            A couple fit into “motivates other characters” as well. The protagonist in particular gets pushed into action by two deaths, but the two other POV characters have their motivation affected by loss as well.

            Then there are the two BIG deaths, which I can’t talk about because spoilers! 🙂 But they both feel necessary and fit the “good reasons”.

            Great post, Kim. Linked over from Elizabeth’s blog.

  5. I killed off a character I had half-leaning towards the right side of the book. He was young, impetuous and trying to prove himself to his adopted father (who had actually stolen himself and his ‘twin’ sister, but told them that he was ‘rescuing’ them from their mother.) I killed him because his sister is the vital one, but the death will create ripples…as will the injuries suffered by one of his mother’s ‘pack’ (think…super intelligent wolves, in the future, which can climb and run through trees). The humans will be impacted by it as well…as does the adopted father who, despite being dark, twisted and murderous…truly loved the pups.

  6. I love killing off characters too, but not in a George RR Martin ‘for kicks’ kind of way. I honestly think he gets bored/runs out of ideas and HAS to kill them off, but that’s just him I guess!

    I killed off every main character in one of my books. But the story took place AFTER they died, so it was 100% necessary, haha.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re slaughtering characters left and right, it’s probably a sign you should stop and evaluate whether your cast was too big to start with.

  7. Am I the only writer in the world who doesn’t like killing characters? Am I even a writer?
    I hate killing people off! And if I do, then they somehow didn’t die after all (which can be interesting and necessary for the plot too, but still). I hate it, I hate it, I hate. It’s too sad. I’m too soft – anyone else?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      At least, you’ll never have to worry about killing them off for the wrong reasons! (P.S. This probably just means you’re a nicer person than the rest of us. 😉 )

    • Don’t worry. I don’t kill characters off either.

      I’m not saying that I might not someday, but so far I have found that there are plenty of themes to cover in stories before you even get around to death.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Absolutely true. There was an interesting graph floating around a while back showing the percentage of bestselling books that dealt with death. It was a staggeringly high number. So blaze some new trails!

    • I have the hardest time too. Can’t kill anyone. 🙂
      I keep telling myself that “HE DOESN’T DIE IN VAIN!” but he almost does. All I have his death do is make my character GROW UP! She is so immature before then! She also then has a better attraction to one of the future characters (who happens to be the one who dies father) who is a mentoring figure to her.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        If that’s the only way she can conceivably grow up in the amount of time necessary for the story, then his death isn’t vain in the least.

    • I can’t stand the thought of killing characters either. I get (over) attached to fictional characters in general. Good luck with your writing:)

    • Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’m currently killing off a character I’ve grown attached to, and oh boy, is it painful…!

      While it’s not a necessity to kill characters, be careful with the abuse of “killing off but bringing back” trope. It might do harm to your story’s credibility or wound your readers in a bad way.

  8. how you kill a character can be as poignant as anything else. also, which character does the killing matters. still, your article is great, as always

  9. I like how you look at this subject from this angle. I haven’t written enough stories to get the hang of killing off characters. Don’t get me wrong: I like to kill characters, but when I kill characters, they’re my main characters and they turn into ghosts. 🙂

  10. Although it’s very upsetting when authors kill characters off for no good reason (or just kill them poorly) for the most part I tend to admire authors that are willing to kill off characters for a purpose even if they are ones that I love. Sometimes I’ll like a character but feel the story would be better if that character was killed off. I realize that’s kind of strange, but here are some examples.

    SPOILERS: I read and enjoyed The Hobbit and liked all of the dwarves, but I thought it was rather strange that none of them died (at least I don’t think any did). I thought at least a few should since there were so many of them and the main theme of the story was Bilbo getting caught up in a dangerous adventure that was much bigger and more troublesome than he could imagine, therefor making the dwarves contribute as consequences of things going wrong.

    I was proud of Ray Bradbury to kill off Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451 even though she was my favorite character in the book and was annoyed to find out that she was kept alive in the film/play/other versions just to satisfy some complainers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I always liked Brian Jacques anthropomorphic medieval animal tales for kids. The first book I read in the Redwall series, The Long Patrol, totally won me over with its fearless sacrificing of two important characters. But as I read more of the series, I grew less impressed: turns out Jacques *always* killed exactly two (count ’em two) lovable characters. The emotion loses some of its punch when it turns out to be formulaic.

      This is something I’m aware of in my own fiction. I don’t want readers to look at a character and say, “Yup, he’s doomed.”

      • Know exactly what you mean. It’s probably the main reason I don’t want to read/watch Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones since I’ve read that it’s notorious for senseless deaths.

      • I read the Redwall series too, and I know what you mean. The first few books that I read, the deaths were very sad for me, but after a while it just got boring. It got to the point where I felt as if he was killing them just to show the reader that he could.

    • Actually, in the Hobbit (SPOILER) 3 dwarves die. 1 because of his own greed, 2 in a wonderfully sacrificial way.

    • i am trying to end my story but have to kill the character that is telling the story. she is killed by a stonefish but i don’t know how she could be feeling before her death! she has just jumped off a ship into the ocean then the stonefish gets her.

  11. I don’t take character death lightly in my stories. I usually know from the start who isn’t going to make it to the end, so it’s rarely a surprise to me when it happens. When they die, it’s usually as a sacrifice to protect others, or a way to further other character/plot development. It has to be a really, really important reason, though!

    In fact, I have more trouble killing off characters, even when I plan it. Several times, in the course of writing, I get attached to a doomed character and end up finding better reasons to keep them alive! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You sound like me! I’ve never killed off a character without knowing, almost from the beginning, that that’s what I wanted to have happen. But I *have* salvaged a character or two from certain doom!

  12. Responding to an earlier comment (and spoiler here): but actually, in The Hobbit three of the dwarves do die: Thorin, Fili, and Kili. *sniff, sniff* 🙂

  13. I killed off the mother of my young protag toward the end of my story. Her mother was her ally, and in the next story, that role is filled by someone else. But killing off her mother served to throw her out of her childhood and innocence and make her more vulnerable to the influence of the antag–something needed for the next book. At least… that was my intention. I’ve just only finished the first draft and as many first drafts are, it needs a lot of work. 🙂

  14. Great tips, Katie! I’ve been mulling over whether to kill off my character’s bff. The tips here will help with that decision. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s never a decision to be made lightly, but a well-placed death can open up a lot of story possibilities.

  15. The story climaxes with the antagonist about to shoot the protagonist. It comes down to it’s him or me..

  16. My most recent doomed character was doomed from the beginning. He’s my main secondary character.
    My protagonist has attachment issues. In the beginning, she could never let go of him–he was the only thing that had remained steadfast through her entire unstable, foster-care life–even though certain circumstances called her to. In the end of the second book, though, he sacrifices himself for a cause and she has grown enough to be alright with that. It doesn’t help much that I love him to pieces. I cried when I wrote the scene.

  17. Kay Anderson says

    One of my character Wesley Jackson (Irene’s only son) commits suicide to get out of being arrested by police. So sad. 🙁 Police find him dead in his apartment. However, his death turns the tables on the whole situation between Robyn and Irene’s sister relationship as Robyn realizes that it’s better to have your son alive in the hospital than dead and gone.

  18. Since my novel employs ghosts, killing someone was required. Three right off the bat. But then another ended up moving on to help the protagonists new love (future) move in the right direction.

    Death in novels serves many purposes and our society is still engrossed/amazed/curious/fear dying. Which, I think, helps explain why it is so functional in literature.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As long as the character remains functional in the story (as he would if he’s a ghost), then his death takes on a different significance. He may be technically dead, but he’s not dead to the readers.

  19. Dawn Rodgers says

    In my first draft of ‘Everybodies’, I killed off the wrong character because her role was lost in it and the remaining characters had no idea what she was persuing through the first part of the novel. I allowed her to live, but took her out of the story for a while, left her figureatively hanging in limbo, until someone could find her. The poor lass fell, and it was a long fall, and it took a long time because there were things in the way. I found another character to kill off, and his suicide was more of a push than a fall, because something inside his head that had been programmed there, made him do it. Now all I have to do, is clear up all the mess of plots from the changes I have made.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes the only way to figure out where a story needs to go is to write on through the snarls. It makes for some tricky rewrites, but at least you know you’re on the right track!

  20. In my story I have plans to kill off one of the major characters because it actually advances both their own character development and the effect it has on the other characters.

  21. How would you define Wash’s death in Serenity? I hate that it happened, but watching the Directory Commentary (yes, I am a nerd) he cited that he killed the character for dramatic tension of…hey, I can kill off the characters. I think that is good because Hollywood often times kills everyone minus two characters who end up being lovers (The Core is a good example) or no one dies.

    I suppose this could be ’emphasizes the theme’. Or even ‘removes an extraneous character’ since Wash wouldn’t have contributed much to the next scene. But I think that it was to shock the viewers. Not for the sake of, I can shock you, but to build tension that you don’t know what can happen from here. I would see that as a positive.

    However, there is the ‘motivates other characters’. But that there seeing Zoe injured because she was reckless was to still add dramatic tension that she could die as well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although I think you could possibly make several arguments for why Wash’s death works, I have to admit that his death is way up there at the top of character deaths that *don’t* work for me personally. Shepherd Book’s death works to advance the plot, but Wash’s really doesn’t. One of Whedon’s few missteps, IMO.

      • I have very mixed feelings about Wash’s death myself. Even if there was purpose to kill him, I wonder if the execution could have been better. Even though I admire the subtlety and realism Joss was trying to go for, I still can’t help but feel it’s a little cold when I watch it.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          It seems “stuck in” instead of a natural progression. But I agree that Whedon was probably trying to mimic the way violent death is almost always without foreshadowing in real life.

          • I do agree that Book’s death was necessary for the plot. Wash’s death I would agree wasn’t crucial for the plot and it could have been written out and the movie still worked. Whedon did say that in the original script that Wash lived, but he felt himself that it was important.

  22. I feel like I’m in the minority here. I haven’t written any books yet, but from what I do have written (and in mind), some of my characters tend to die in order to finish off their respective arcs. And when they do die, it’s often done as a culmination to the everything that brought them to said point, whether they were self-inflicted or not. So, I figure I would fit more into the camp of

    “It’s a fitting recompense for the character’s actions up to this point.”


    “It emphasizes the theme.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sad stories or those with tragic arcs (or those in which a “bad” character is redeemed only at the end) usually have good reason to kill characters for just those reasons.

      • Well in that case, most of my characters are indeed tragic. xD

        I feel like that’s a bad thing and indicative of my not being able to write much else but I can.

        I… just… don’t always feel like it most of the time.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          That’s not a bad thing at all. Many of the most powerful stories are those with tragic arcs.

  23. just a girl says

    I have a second major character and his also a sidekick of another major character. I don’t know why I killed him. There’s this one minor character that I easily killed off and there’s another two minor characters whom I never thought I would kill them too. I really don’t want to kill the second major character but even if I tried to change the scene, revise and rewrite again not to kill him, I really did killed him at the end. 🙁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Try to identify which of the above reasons might qualify in the instances of your characters’ death. If none of them seem to apply, you might want to consider resurrecting the characters – or cutting them from the story to begin with.

      • just a girl says

        The minor character died because he protected the President before the President get shot. The second major character died from protecting his best friend’s fiance. The other two minor characters they just got hit from a sudden explosion.

      • just a girl says

        The second major character’s death is – Its advances the plot and It fulfills the doomed character’s personal goal.

        The minor character who protected the President might be – It removes an extraneous character.

        The other two minor characters – It emphasizes the theme. The theme of my story is about war and terrorism, It motivates other characters & It creates realism within the story world.

        • Along those lines… Would it also be considered “advancing the plot” to kill a somewhat minor character in order for other (currently) minor characters to escape a villain? My story currently has three separate arcs going and I decided to bring two together whole also introducing one of the main antagonists.

          Obviously, so early in the story, they wouldn’t be able to defeat her, so I decided to kill a character that I hadn’t planned very much development for. Would this be a *good* or *bad* time to kill him?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Strictly from a technical perspective, I don’t see a problem with that (so long as the character’s storyform function is carried on by another character). However, an early death does present its own problems, namely that readers may not be invested enough in him for it to carry any significant weight.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Sounds like you’ve got your answer then!

  24. I’ve gotten pretty good at killing of characters in my stories but this has brought it to a new level. I will definitely use these techniques in the future.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honing your assassination techniques, eh? 😉

      • Yup. In a lot of my early writing, I’d kill em of to often and I could never figure out why the story got to the point where it wasn’t any fun to write anymore. Nice to finally know why. Also a good tip for writers. If it’s gotten to the point where it isn’t fun to write the story after a character dies, it probably want time for him/her to die yet.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, if we’re not getting a sustained emotional resonance out of our character’s death, then it’s probably a pretty good bet that our readers won’t either.

  25. L. O. Fencer /simply Lora says

    Killing some of my characters are simply inevitable. Starting from the fact that usually my main has lost one or both parents, there is always someone who dies; for his principles, because of personality or for others… I could not do without it. But it always serves the plot, I’m not fond of killing them just for the fact they are dead, there must be some hidden or obvious reason. For example, one of my stories starts by the statement that the father of my main character died. It is a must to reveal unknown facts about the main character’s past and through the father’s diary, it explains a lot of things.

    By the way, it just happens that every time I feel inspired or simply know I should sit down and write, I come across your site and get strenght to do so. Your topics are awesome!

    And as I am starting a blog, can I add your site to the useful links??

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog! Congrats on starting up your own, and please feel free to link to whatever you’d like. And thank you!

  26. So… I’ve had a question for a while now. If there’s going to be a death early in the story (Like, practically the beginning,) is it better to tell it as background info, or is it better to put the death at the beginning of the story, even though there’s no time for the readers to become attached to that character? I’d think it’d be best as some sort of back story, but I don’t really know for sure. Does it depends on the writer or story?

    • Depends how integral the death is to the plot (versus just background motivation for the protagonist). If the death is the protag’s mother and it just sets up the protagonist’s orphaned state, it may not be necessary to dramatize the death. But if you’re writing a mystery, in which the death is the result of the central murder, you’re probably going to want to include it, in some form, in the story.

      • Aaron S. (@Ashurtl96) says

        Thanks! This blog has improved my writing, and knowledge of how to write more effectively, quite significantly. I appreciate the help, and will definitely return should I have more questions!

  27. It is a hard decision, but sometimes, it is the only way out :O


  28. The characters in my story just celebrated a minor victory against the “bad guys”. During the middle of it (Its like a celebration/reunion sort of thing.) one of the “good guys” gets shot. She wasn’t very important and I want to kill her off but I can’t bring myself to. I always want to bring them back one way or another, but I feel like it’s a typical “good guys beat the bad guys and everyone is happy” sorta thing. I really see a bleak future for all of her friends. Any ideas? I’m kinda new at writing and I’m just trying to make it good.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It really depends on the story. In the recent Red Dawn remake, most viewers are going to have seen Chris Hemsworth’s character’s death after the final battle coming from a mile off. It *does* set the tone, but it ultimately seems a bit manipulative, as if the filmmakers were just flexing their muscles to show viewers they were still in charge. If your character is minor enough, you can probably “casually” kill her without readers revolting. But if she’s an important character, her death is going to need to be properly set up, so it doesn’t feel like just an afterthought.

      • “Jade and Apryl walked over, saw Felix, and practically attacked him. Jade released him, all smiles. There was a small pop. Her smile slowly faded to distress. She clutched her stomach. Crimson blood seeped through her hands. She began breathing heavily. Luke ran forward and caught her. He yelled something. I couldn’t make out what he said. My mind was dull, my heart was tearing itself apart.
        Blood ran out the corner of her mouth. Tears were streaming down her face as her skin began to turn a ghostly white. She reached up and Felix grabbed onto her hand. Apryl screamed. It wasn’t a half-hearted scream. It was a full-hearted lament. “

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          It’s a good passage! But it’s hard for me to comment on the actual effectiveness of the death without the overall context of the story. If you can, get a couple of beta readers to go over it and report on their feelings about it.

  29. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    @Jon: You might find this post helpful: Is Your Story About to Be Stolen?.

  30. Anonymous Writer says

    My character dies at the end of my story to begin a revolution. Throughout the story, all he wants to do is save his sickly sister and when she passes away his motivation is sealed. At seventeen, he wasn’t ready to die but when the moment came, he knew it was meant to be. It also set the end of the story for the book to be ended with his best friend to fight for him, to get a group of fighters and overthrow the government that has tied them down. But the book ends a chapter after he dies, leaving the reader to decide whether or not, the rebellion succeeded or not.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is the formula for many great stories. If the protagonist dies in the end, then the only measuring rod for whether or not it’s a success is whether the final emotional note strikes a chord with readers.

  31. I actually killed off my main character in the very first novel I tried to write… It was for NaNoWriMo at the time. It really did pain my heart but she died, thinking that it was the only way to save everyone but in truth it was the opposite. Once the other character realize that, they try to make sure that her death was not in vain. Not sure if that was the right way to go about it but I didn’t have any writing experience at that time…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Many great stories end by featuring the death of the protagonist. Gladiator is one of my favorite examples.

  32. So far into my story, the main characters, as of right now, are Vada and Rani. They’re children, 12 and 14 years old. The story is set into the future and from the outside of the world, looks and sounds Utopian. However, from the inside and characters who will experience, realize they’re living in a Dystopian world. My entire story deals with death, children used for manipulation from adults and how children view death from their experiences. In a scene, Vada (deaf), Rani and a bunch of kids (7-16 years of age) are lined up in a line and they are forced to kill one another. The adults in the scene are soldiers who work for the Voice (you never see the face or the physical body of this voice). Since this scene is the view from Rani’s perspective he sees the kids kill one another, one by one. The killings are to brutal for him to watch as he’ll turn his head away for a bit and then sees the horror on a kid’s face who killed. Vada closes and plugs her ears, she can’t handle it and frightening for her to watch. As for the rest of the kids, some cried, looked away, body shakes and just something they never really seen before. The killings are new to them. This is just the beginning of how Vada and Rani view and feel about death. As well starting the loss of their childhood and their innocence. I know not everyone kid will become cold blooded killers in my story. It’s the matter of how death effected them and how they’ll handle death within their grasp. During the scene, a 19-year old kid who is a Sargent and he’s the one who pressures and taunts all the kids to kill. Sooner or later, Rani might become similarly like him, (if my character wants to go that way) a cycle I see further into the story. Vada i believe will probably be tempted to kill people, but yet have remorse in her. Meaning she might have some of the child innocence in her. I’m not sure yet, but I feel like this is the direction my characters want to go towards. There are other character in my story, but so far, the focus is mostly on the children. What is this called when a scene seems to have a lot of extra characters, a senseless act and kids being traumatize (kid soldiers is what these adults want the kids to become)?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s no specific term for the kind of scene you’re describing. It’s a device to advance the plot and establish the story world and the stakes. It’s possible this scene could end up becoming your characters’ Ghost, which will define their backstory and drive their character arcs.

    • I have a similar scene in one of my books, well, actually, a set of scenes. One of the scenes happens before the book actually starts, but the MC (Xenia) often has flash-backs to it and cites it as one of the reasons why she became cold-hearted and has bad opinions of people in general (her mother, a ruthless tyrant, rounded up a group of rebellious people and forced them to watch as their children, from the youngest to the oldest, were brutally tortured then burned to death) Near the end of the book, the scene is brought up again when the descendents of the victims take revenge on Xenia’s family/people for the killings, even though the victims of the second killing are totally innocent. The second killing causes Xenia’s brother, who’d before been a kind, easy-going person, to become violently angry and burn down 3/4 of the city, ending the book. They’re really important scenes, but they’re absolutely no fun to write, chiefly because writing a whole scene about blood and gore and murder is frankly disgusting work.

  33. In my story, the antagonist’s sister is going to be killed off by the antagonist himself. It hurts me a lot, and even more when the MC and her were starting to bond. I really thought all of this through before making the final decision, but the more I analyzed the repercussions of the bad things that had happened before, the more unrealistic it seemed to salvage her. It hurt me more than I expected.

    Well, I think this death moves the plot forward, or better yet, motivates the character to move the plot forward. The MC was a very nice person, but the sudden sorrow, anger and thirst of revenge for all the horrible things the antagonist had done up to that point really drove the MC to a dark corner of himself that he never even knew was there.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” If a character death affects us deeply, we’re probably on the right track to affecting our readers as well.

  34. I have a character that I killed off. She was a six year old child, created by genetic engineering, who was killed after managing to escape slave traders. She had died of blood loss and the fact that her godmother thought she had been one of the slave hunters, which are alien shapeshifting beings. I used it as a plot twist showing not only the cunning of the alien races, but also as part of the beginning of war. How’s that?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Death is often an excellent catalyst for major events in the story – especially if you’ve got it placed at one of the major turning points at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks.

  35. Isaiah Huxley says

    I have two protagonists who share much of the story together, Jude, and his younger brother, Daniel. Part of the conflict of the story is Jude’s abrupt-yet-heroic death, and Daniel’s coping with the sudden loss, and the void he leaves behind. (another character takes over narrative though) I usually don’t like killing off characters because it causes me pain! But I knew that this is where his story had to end, where he had to step off the stage and wait in the wings. Through out the rest of the story, after his death, Jude’s journal surfaces, and some parts of the next few chapters are entries from it, detailing his traumatic past, his struggle with addiction, and his rebellious streak (which got him killed and saved his family in the process)
    Is it contrived to have him die in order to save a group of people when the death isn’t in a war setting, or other high-stress, death-likely setting?
    Your blog is great! I’m book marking this post for later 🙂

  36. Hi, Ms. Weiland,
    Thanks for the great article!
    I’m really stuck on the death of this character… It’s thematically important to the story that he dies (I checked on your checklists, too, it is relevant) but I’m really unsure of how to do it! In all of my drafts he has gone after a friend and ended up dying but I never liked it, it feels cliched, not to mention the fact that his friend then would have to live with his death on her hands. I tried exploring other options for the death of a teen, but I didn’t like the idea of suicide (it won’t work thematically) or a car crash (because then it becomes very Looking For Alaska-esque. Given the story is mildly similar in plot to Looking for Alaska, I’m trying very hard to steer clear from it). I really don’t know what to do! It’s not a fantasy or anything and it is YA fiction so I really can’t think of a logical way for him to die…
    Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The best deaths happen *because* of the plot, not even so much in the sense that they’re relevant for thematic reasons, but because the plot causes them. Ask yourself why the plot needs this death in order for the subsequent scenes to move forward? If you’ve got a solid answer to that question, then start looking within the scenes in which the deaths need to happen and those just previous to the death. What plot devices are available in those scenes? Character illness? A rickety building just waiting to go up in flames? A dangerous hobby?

      You’re also going to want to look for modes of death that will resonant within the overall story. A book about cops should confine most of its deaths to dangers on the job. A book about a mountain climber will probably find its best resonance in deaths that happen from the elements or from falls.

      • Thanks so much!
        The plot does need it to be pushed forward.
        So far it has been in a fire (the story is set in a particularly bush-fire prone area in Australia) but it seems a little too ‘convenient’. I like the idea of the dangerous hobby… and also the fact that he goes back in after her all seems a bit too romantic in my opinion. I’m just not sure… Am I over thinking it? Also, how could the friend live with herself? I’m struggling with the idea that she is the cause of her friend’s death and although she is never ‘ok’ with it, I’m just not sure of how she should act.
        She leaves the school, and stops talking to her friends…. but that’s so depressing! I’m sorry for my rant, I’m really stuck, do you have any ideas?
        Thanks so much!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          The fire or something related seems like the obvious choice, but honestly it’s hard for me to say with any certainty without being more familiar with the story. I would recommending running it by a couple trusted beta readers and seeing what they’re opinions are.

        • Zelda Smith says

          Erin, this is just a suggestion from someone who recently read a book that dealt with the idea of blaming oneself for a loved one’s death. You mentioned that your MC blames herself for the boy’s death because she thinks it’s her fault. Having a character blame himself for a major event can either be really sad, or it can be really annoying, if an author forgets to actually make the character guilty in some way. If the character is in no way to blame for the death and he spends the whole book hating himself for it, it can get both old and boring. Your example of having the boy go back to save your MC, however, is good because there actually is a reason for her to blame herself: she did technically contribute to his death. Just my opinion; hope it’s helpful!

  37. I have a four book series I’m almost at the end of where I killed my heroine in the first book because the hero couldn’t evolve without her demise. Killed a dear friend….stillborn baby….even a beloved horse after three books …..makes me feel sorta serial….

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes having to kill an animal in a story is the hardest death of all. Go figure. :p

  38. I’m considering killing a character to serve the purposes of villainizing the antagonists mostly, but also to turn one of them to the good side. The event of the death also gives another reason why this particular character is not so bad after all. And, although this is not super important, his actions at this point give a certain protagonist (who doesn’t show much emotion) a reason to show appreciation for him. Are these good reasons to kill an innocent character?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The most important measuring stick for a character’s death is always: Does it move the plot forward? It sounds as if the death you’re describing does that, particularly in respect to the antagonist who is then motivated to turn good.

  39. I’ve killed a main character…okay she did come back but i’ve killed two other main characters and never looked back…oh and a beloved horse. Take that Moffatt! You must be willing to kill your darlings for the sake of the plot.

  40. My mother too, she has a soft spot for animals. I think because they don’t have a voice and can’t always defend themselves from the cruelty of people. The highest compliment I got from my daughter is when she told me I made her cry at the end of two of my novels. To make someone feel enough for your character to affect them that strongly is one of the greatest pleasures of writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree! I always feel a little gleeful when someone tells me they’ve cried over my story.

  41. Zelda Smith says

    If you’re worse than Moffat, that might be a wee bit of a problem.

  42. C.E.Dillon says

    am i the only writer out there who knows a character is doomed right from the very start? And who knows they die for a noble reason, but still have trouble writing them beacause YOU KNOW THAT THEY WILL DIE. Sometimes its hard playing God. and is the following a good reason; my side characters best friend dies to protect him, and to tell this guy, (luka) to get off his arse and tell his little brother (the villan) to stop.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” If a character’s death is affecting you, then you know you’re the right track.

  43. I pride myself on having made my readers cry over my character deaths. It’s not that I don’t love my characters….I’ve shed a tear myself…but for the sake of the plot we all make sacrifices…

  44. I made my friend cry just by telling her the plot synopsis of my short story. I felt a bit cruel, but I loved it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. Yes, every writer needs to be adept at the evil chuckle in such circumstances. 😉

      • >:) Sometimes I have to restrain myself from killing people just for the shock factor. It does make for some intense and emotional settings though. A character ALMOST dying has more of an impact than actually killing them in most cases that I’ve found.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Very true – as long we’re not unnecessarily fooling readers into thinking a character has died when he hasn’t.

          • Hannah Killian says

            Question: How do you pull off a faked death?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            That can be tricky. You definitely don’t want readers feeling like you’re faking them out just for the fun of it. Two things to keep in mind:

            1. The motive for the faked death must drive the plot.

            2. The POV characters need to be just as faked out as the readers.

  45. I’m in the process of writing a story, and I’m not too far in, so maybe this is a bit premature? But I already know which character needs to die at the near-end, but certain events will have to take place in the story in order for the death to make sense. I feel like if I plan the death so far ahead of time, and write the story to cater to that, but then change my mind, I would have written a LOT of pointless scenes! Should I go ahead and plan for it so far ahead?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m a huge proponent of outlining. I always plan the entirety of my story, in detail, before writing it. So, yes, I definitely think that’s a valid approach.

    • It’s been a while since I was last here, but I love reading all the comments of the writers here. I just want to say to you Ellie that there is no such thing as a pointless scene unless it drawls on and has no tie into the story. Get fun with it! Have those scenes that lead up to a death you no longer want turn into another plot point moving forward. If you have everything outlined, then let the story take the reins for a while to see what happens, then take it back on track with a little nudge. My point is, remove pieces you’ve already written, because if they came forward already, you are only going to hurt your story in the long run.

      Well… That’s my two cents. Hope you have luck in your writing endeavors.

  46. In my latest novel, I give my character sort of an heroic death. After suffering so much bullying, he kills himself but not before taking 17 others with him and wounding many more. After his death, questions of who to blame arise with everyone trying to blame someone else while at the same time, trying to absolve themselves of any, especially the town.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d hesitate to call that heroic, but the important thing in any story is just making sure the death is necessary–which this one definitely seems to be.

  47. Thanks and that’s the other question. His death might have been heroic in his own eyes but does the reader think so?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, and that’s actually really great aspect of theme: there are always two sides to any story.

  48. I plan to kill off my main character and her love interest in an explosion at the end of the novel. However, some days I waver between letting them live and killing them off like originally planned. This checklist has really helped me think harder about the decision of why they should/should not be killed off! The deaths help motivate the other characters remaining, as well as fit in with the theme of the novel about fate.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes it’s tempting to kill off a character just because it seems like it might add drama (or even be a fun scene to write). But we always have to come back to the affect it will have on the story.

  49. To abbreviate my story, it starts having the protagonist’s bestfriend has just died but we are told nothing about it. She is constantly having flashbacks about her death but tries to move on in her life. However, her company insists on her having an accomplice and when the mysterious Green comes to take her place, her first actions towards her are closed off and angry. Later on they soon bond and the protagonist realises Green’s motives are nothing but friendly. A new, cool sidekick joins and steals the attention of the protagonist, effectively later breaking off the friendship, knowing all too well that Green secretly knows that she is not what she seems…
    Anyway, does this sound like a ‘sutible death’ for the best friend? Later, when Green’s knowlege places her in danger, the protagonist has another flashback leading to the death of the best friend. I am also thinking of doing a prequel after to reveal their friendship and circumstances ect. Also, does this idea seem too basic? Thank you if you read this and also thank you for your posts that have been very helpful.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like the friend’s death is the basis for the entire plot, so it’s definitely suitable to the story.

  50. I’m stuck.

    I have a MC who has led several past life’s, with the ability to unknowingly pull memory’s from these past selves to the fore when in a stressful situation. Such as how to waltz when summoned to a Ball, or she would suddenly know how to use a Martial Arts move when shes never studied Martial Arts in her (present) life.

    Anyway, that is enough back story. My MC was told of a prophecy where (she thought) she or her (not really younger but the babyish one) cousin/sister would have to die in an epic battle to protect part of the world.

    Now, I know how she dies, and (most) of what happens after, I just need help on how she come back to her friends and family. She didn’t really die. Just was sent back in time to train with her past self. (A famous Queen.) Now i just need to know how to bring her “back to life” to her cousin/sister, her boyfriend(who is still in love with her) her three friends, (one who hates her because she turned him down) and a new team mate the just happens to be her cousin/sister’s boyfriend.

    Anyway, I’m lost. Any help would be nice. Thank you.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great premise!

      Whenever I’m stuck on something like this, I always pull out the almighty “what if” question. Sit down with a notebook and pen and start asking yourself questions. What if this happened? What if that happened? Be wild. Write down any idea that comes to mind and see where that takes you.

      • Thank you!

        I would also like to know, for the history parts of my story line, would you happen to know anywhere I could look or anyone I could contact for help? The main things I am looking for are popular(Greek, Egyptian) Myths and story’s from the female P.O.V.

        Are there any places that you know of where I can find info on woman such as Jone of Arc, Queen Victoria I and Queen Nefertiti?

        Also, how would you have my above described MC come “Back” after five years? She has superhuman ability’s other then what I wrote before.

        Again, I would like to think you for your help, it’s appreciated.


        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Amazon is always my go-to place for research. Just search your topics and see what interesting looking books you come up with.

  51. I’m kind of not sure as to what to do regarding the story that I am writing. My first idea is to write about a young half elf whose mother has been brutally killed when she was young. I wanted to write about her struggle to get her life back on track. But in order to know the story behind her birth myself, I decided to write the story of her elvish mother who was raped by a human. Only trouble is, I am farther in this story than I am in the first one, and I would like to finish it. But I would also like to write the original story that I had in mind. But if ever they become books… How do I kill the main character of the first book (the mother) in order for my readers to still want to read the kinda sequel (the daughter)… Or should I even kill her or try to find another way…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re loving the story you’re writing, keep at it! As for the character’s death, it might be better to let the mother’s story be whole unto itself in the first book, then begin the second book with the death as the inciting event for the daughter’s story.

  52. I’m writing this story where the main character’s love intrest gets killed off 1/4 of the way through. The MC had been on the fence as to if he should fight against the villain, (as he didn’t want her to get hurt) but when Sina (his love intrest) was killed by one of the villain’s henchmen, it pushes him to fight against the antagonist. Is this good plotline?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If the death lands right at the quarter mark, then that sounds like your First Plot Point – and a character death is often a very good choice for a First Plot Point, since whatever happens there has to get the protagonist moving irrevocably into conflict with the antagonistic force.

  53. Hey, thanks for taking your time to write this post! It has certainly been food for thought, for sure. I have been writing for five years now, and I am finally reaching the climax of the third book in my trilogy series. Despite its oversaturated nature, it is a zombie novel series, though they are more of a hazard than the antagonistic force; instead that role falls upon a woman named Tabitha, and others who precede her before the final book.

    The reason I’m commenting is, so many people die in a world such as this, and every three or so chapters a death occurs. These aren’t done for flashiness, the characters are all heavily affected each time and do their best to carry on, despite the bleak nature of such tragedy.

    However, there are instances when minor characters have died – merely existing in the background behind the main group of survivors, and killed during a gunfight with an antagonistic force to really exemplify the brutality and bleakness of the situation. I try to avoid using minor characters to cut corners on killing protagonists, as plenty of those die too, but I have always worried over whether a reader will dislike the moments where not everybody makes it out of a situation alive if every casualty isn’t a main, fully fleshed out character.

    In the second book, this is where most of my concern lies, as many of the survivors settle down at a ranch where they’re relatively safe. Four main characters end up dying across that time, with five minor characters perishing as well by the time the antagonist catches up to them for his revenge. The reason I never fleshed them out beyond some interactions and dialogue, and their presence during key events, is that they weren’t part of the main group that continues forward, and I worry that – even if the reader doesn’t feel sad for their deaths, at the very least would a few minor characters dying amongst some main characters still emphasize the gravity of the brutal situation?

    In the third book, this isn’t much of an issue. The main cast is down to a mere six characters and they each meet satisfying conclusions. One of them is killed by the new antagonist as punishment for the main protagonist, Ashley, getting greedy and trying to save her own skin – his death carries a heavy weight on her conscience and causes friction between his sister and Ashley. Another death occurs later in the story, again as a moment of consequence, when Ashley’s son Damian attempts to escape captivity from the antagonist’s compound, and his girlfriend Anna is shot through the back of the skull in front of him to motivate him into obedience. Her death also drives him, across six months in a cellar, burning with revenge until the opportunity to grasp it presents itself. Being only sixteen years old, this weighs heavily on his conscience and mind, and he fulfills his desires during the final act thanks to the actions of Ashley. Then, by the ending, after Ashley atones for her mistakes and kills the main antagonist, she too succumbs to her wounds as a punishing message that losing your way under the influence of power leads to only one end. Her death serves as a lesson to the surviving three characters who make it through the end of the trilogy, motivating them to retain their humanity as they walk toward a brighter future with their freedom returned to them.

    I just seem to find it hard in the second book how to justify the minor characters dying. To me, the five minor characters that die with the main ones during the survivors’ time on the ranch feels justified as it’s done to add gravity and a bleaker tone to the situation, but a reader could easily argue it’s done for shock value, which it honestly isn’t.

    I may have rambled and derailed here but there’s so much written for the three books across these years it’s easy to get lost in this small comment box. Any thoughts would be much appreciated, though!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Certain types of stories – war stories and certainly zombie stories – are thematically *about* death, so the rules are a little different. It’s fine to have a wash of character deaths in the background in these types of stories. Sometimes even the bleakness of the deaths of characters the readers hardly know can serve to enforce that feeling.

  54. Just finished killing a character, and I’ve been leading up to this scene for months (I actually wrote the death scene very well in advance, and finishing it is a milestone for this novel). This character’s death was actually essential to the plot, and for the development of the protagonist.

    But yes, I did shed some tears. Partly because the dead character is (was?) inspired by a real-life friend.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a good sign when a character’s death moves you. If it doesn’t move you, how can it ever move readers?

  55. I tend to kill off many people, though usually minor or in the background. However, in the story I’m working on, I killed off one early on, to progress the plot and send the MC on his journey, and I just finished a passage where the mentor died in order to give time for the MC to escape, after realizing his best friend is actually a crazed psychopath, but in the end, the MC doesn’t escape and he doesn’t remember his best friend being a crazed psychopath, but it allows the reader to know about the best friend, creates a sense in the MC of frustration since he doesn’t remember his mentor dying but it apparently happened right in front of him, and much later when he realizes the crazed psychopath that is his best friend, it hits right in the feels when he is confronted. Oh, and of course, it causes the MC to grow up, as death tends to do for many characters. It also helps alienate another character so badly, and is even more tragic because said character has a pregnant fiance to get back to… Sooooo… yeah, I think the second death really did have to happen then, but it is making me feel slightly depressed as I write… Luckily a happy passage is about to come up, so that’ll lighten the mood.

    For my outline and the future parts of the story, I have several people who die. One to stop the main antagonist, he gives up his life, and to fulfill an ‘obligation’ and a ‘promise’. One to save the MC’s ‘sidekick’ because she loves him, though in the end she doesn’t really die, she just becomes invisible and unable to interact with anyone except the MC. Another to cut all familial ties and causes the MC to fight without regard for his own life. And one more to hit home the feeling that, yes, we are at war, people die.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re crying over the death, that’s a good sign that you’ll inspire the same emotion in readers!

  56. Doubly Deceived says

    In a story that’s still in draft, let’s just say that I’ve made the six characters that the story focuses on, well I made them the actual problem in the world. They think they’re doing what’s right, when they’re really just causing more trouble for everyone. So, obviously, for the world to come back to peace, these six characters have to go. The only thing is that I get upset about having to kill them, because they’re nice and friendly, but become corrupted in their strategies.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re upset on an emotional level, that’s almost always a good thing. It means your readers have a better chance of reacting that way themselves!

  57. I have a question I’ve been wondering about for a while, and I’d like some advice on it.

    I have a character who sacrifices himself for the MC, but I don’t know to progress from there. I kind of feel like I killed him for no reason, but his death advances the plot. I just don’t know what to do next.

    In his circumstance, he joins with the villain because he thought it was the right thing to do, but when he makes friends with the MC, he gets a little confused. The villain asks him to spy on the others through the MC, and he realizes his mistake. Unfortunately, so does the MC. She feels betrayed (because she trusted him and shared her feelings and secrets with him) and runs away. When she gets attacked by the villain later on in the book, he steps in and saves her, but dies while doing so.
    Her father wouldn’t allow her to go aftr the billion even if she wanted to. I just need help finding the motivation for her to confront the villain.

    • Villain, not billion.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It sounds like this character’s death is definitely moving the plot, so that’s your most important factor right there. The next thing you’ll want to take a look at is the thematic resonance of this character’s death. Do the things he learned, which prompted him to make the decision for self-sacrifice, tie into the main theme? Will his sacrifice inspire the protagonist or help her grow in some important way that will then empower her for her own confrontation with her inner and outer conflict?

      • Yes to the first question, and for the second question, that’s the tricky part. Lately the MC lost her magic powers, and feels useless because everybody except her has them, even the villain.

        She thinks she’s useless, and nobody’s really helping. Her brother and father are REALLY overprotective and, her boyfriend (the only person who accepted her for who she was, not because of her cool powers) disappeared off the face of the earth. That’s partially why she became friends with Chase. She needed someone to talk to who was just like her, and Chase doesn’t have any special powers, so he was the one who helped the most. I think another part is that he liked her as more than a friend, and she could teach him things that he didn’t know. He made her feel wanted and useful again.

        Maybe she’ll get over feeling sorry for herself and decide to confront the villain. That’s probably what should happen.

  58. So, the MC (Serenity) goes off to live with the Keepers of Balance, and then one night gets kidnapped and taken prisoner by the villainess (Brooke). The other MC (Serenity’s boyfriend Adam) goes off to find her with the others, and they get captured by Brooke too. When they escape, they take Serenity with them. But what none of them realize is that Serenity was blinded by Brooke. The cool thing is, they dont find out for at least a week because her powers are air and wind, so she uses them to “see” where everything is. 

    A couple weeks later, Serenity runs into Brooke, but she doesn’t know who it is until they begin to talk. But Brooke has changed, and is good then. They keep meeting secretly, and one night, the other Keepers return to camp early. When they see Serenity with Brooke, Adam gets a bit overprotective. They chase her out of camp, and then set a guard near Serenity so that Brooke won’t be able to “hurt” her. 

    I can’t decide whether I should kill Brooke, or if I should have her be accepted by the Keepers and go live with them. 

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If Brooke’s reform is convincing and resonant, then there’s no reason you need to kill her.

  59. I actually killed off my MC’s best friend twice. The first was suicide, he came back as an angel, and the second he was sacrificed to keep her safe. I legitimately cried after I killed him both times. I get extremely attached to all my characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good job! Creating characters you care about that much yourself means you’re all the more likely to get readers invested in them as well.

  60. I find myself killing off a lot of characters in order to spur my MC on. For instance, in one of my scenes, one of the spies reports that the person they are trying to kill is the MC’s best friend (even though the person they are looking for is the MC), because the MC is his sister and he’s trying to protect her. They end up killing the best friend, but I’m not sure if it’s the right choice. She has a big role up until then and I’m struggling to find someone to fill it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Just from what you’ve written here, it sounds like a choice that could definitely work well. However, you don’t want to play the “death” card *too* often, since it can easily end up being repetitious and losing its effectiveness.

  61. I agree with this WAY too much! I’m helping a friend write a story, but he’s just randomly killing people, and I’m over here like, “Yeah, what was that all about?”

    I love it when characters die… AS LONG AS IT’S A GOOD DEATH! It’s gotta be like Tadashi, from Big Hero Six, or Stoick from Dragons 2… And the list can go on and on for good deaths! I love this list, and find it TOTALLY true! Thank you!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Agree. Character death just for the sake of death–or for the sake of “getting” the audience–is not cool.

  62. Found your wonderful site on Pinterest. I am about to kill my mc’s best friend and I think it’s going to kill me… but it’s going to make my mc grow so much!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah! I know exactly what you mean. Killing a great character–and making the other characters go through–is never easy and never should be. But it can pay huge story dividends in the long run.

  63. thank you! I always wanted to kill my protagonist a la rehenbach falls, but I didn’t know how to make it tug people’s heartstrings

  64. I don’t like killing off characters. Torture them, yes. But kill? I used one death as a motivator, but because of that story world, death wasn’t a loss. Two deaths I’m using is to further plot, but also urgency to complete goals, and introduce an even greater threat than the other characters were dealing with before. My heart hurts thinking about it. I already wrote the outline…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Don’t be afraid of killing off a character. Sometimes it’s the best thing for the story. But never feel that you *have* to either. Always be looking for which option will best serve your particular plot.

  65. I have decided to slowly kill off a few of my main characters. My plot includes a woman so bent on revenge, her emotions sink her to depravity. She captures the man she is obsessed with, convinced she can force him to love her; if she kills who he desires (not realizing his affections have changed to someone else now). It is a science fiction novel, so there is a mystical sense to it with plot twists and surprise events. It is actually a trilogy I am writing and in each novel you see her personality change a bit more. She is not the main character, but is one of the lead characters, causing major events in the story.

  66. This is great! Thank you so much, I’ve been needing something like this to help with my writing. Would you mind if I linked your site in a Tumblr post?

  67. That’s a really good guide, nice checklist, I hate it too when writers kill characters for no reason.

    So my plot is set on a medieval kingdom torn by civil war, where the main character, a young prince uncovers the secrets of his past and true identity while he grows from a village boy in refugee through a series of battles, court plots and treason to a heroic king that will stand up to the foreign barbaric invader but sacrificing himself while also fulfilling an ancient prophecy, but as a result he manages to unite the kingdom that was stolen from his father by treason and stop the civil war that raged for 30 years.

  68. I am thinking of killing an important character of my story, but i am feeling attached and sort of… guilty? I think his death would be shocking and important to the grow of my MC and if i dont kill him i dont know what he would be doing in the future of the story. I am so conflicted.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like your head is saying yes and your heart is saying no. In this instance, I’d go with your head.

  69. Derek Capo says

    I’m feeling very trapped right now, as if I’m in a box. In the second story of my series, where there are many deaths and the world is quite dangerous and violent, I am tempted to kill one of my original main characters. His role in the story in the Main Character’s right hand man essentially and I need to introduce the big bad, (the main antagonist of the entire series from here on out), and I feel like killing the second-hand main character would show readers how evil and cruel the antagonist really is.

    I liken it to one of the greatest, yet most disheartening moments in comic book history, SPOILER WARNING FOR WALKING DEAD FANS;

    In issue 100 we meet the new bad guy, Negan, in his first issue, he is introduced and almost immediately kills arguably the most loved character in the series.

    I’m stuck, should I kill my MC’s Deputy to show how much the reader will hate this antagonist or should I introduce him another way?

    Let me know your thoughts!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like a good reason–as long as it also advances the plot/inspires consequences in some way.

  70. Im writing a story and am am killing off 2 of the bigger characters, a boy named Cuba and a girl named Ellie who are dating. They are all armed with guns waiting for an attack when Cuba starts talking to Ellie, its not written from there point of veiw so no one knows what there saying, then Cuba gets shot by attackers who just came. When he drops down dead, Ellie finds an engagement ring in his hand. She is so traumatised by this that she picks up the ring, shows it to the other MCs, puts it on and shoots herself in the head. They were supposed to shut down the villains plan as they are good with computers. From the readers point of view it looks like a big block is put in front of success, but from my point of view it moves the plot along. Do you think my idea is good? Anything that could be better?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The event in itself is fine. As long as you feel it’s moving the plot, that’s what’s important.

  71. brenda valencia says

    I want to share this blog post with my sixth graders as we develop our narrative and realistic writing.

  72. At this point in my story I am not sure whether to kill off the MC’s best friend or have him badly injured. Either way the MC would be more motivated to protect his other friends from the killer/attempted killer and set the stage for when the baddie shows up again. I am not sure if it would be more effective to kill him off and since this is towards the end of the book I don’t want to end things on a sad note. Also I really like this character which makes me want to avoid killing him 🙂

  73. I have a main character who I’m planning to kill off for two reasons: to develop the other main character(His love interest) and to progress the story on a larger scale. But I don’t really want to >_< I think those are good reasons, right? And I need to do it… but I still don't want to! Is there anything else I can do other killing him?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Your reasons are sound. But there is rarely only one option that’s worth exploring. If you’re feeling resistance to killing the character, then at least give yourself the leeway to look at the other avenues you could take. Sit down and brainstorm possibilities. Then decide which is best for the story.

      • This was helpful, thanks a lot! I will definitely consider how other options will affect my story.

  74. Hannah Killian says

    So, in one of my WIPs, the MFC (who is a princess) is separated from her family during a rebellion. How she is separated from them is yet to be determined, but it involves her falling off something (ledge, bridge) into a river. One of her brothers tried to grab her hand to pull her back up, but missed. Fifteen years later, she is in danger of being killed by her love interest’s cousin. Her brother (the one that tried saving her when they were children) is able to save her this time, but as a result, loses his own life.
    Does that work?

    I’m also considering killing off the love interest’s father. . .the reason being this:
    The LI’s mother died when he was a toddler, and he’s also an only child. Maybe he was sickly at one point too. Anyways, his dad can get a bit over protective and is having a hard time accepting his son is a grown man who can take care of himself. In the climax, when it seems like his son is losing for good and is about to be killed, the father goes into overprotective dad mode again-but it has fatal results.
    Does that work too?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’d say both are well set up and thematically resonant.

      • Hannah Killian says

        Thank you!

        Now I just need to think of some tearjerker last words that will make my test readers (which consists of two of my sisters, three of my friends, and one coworker) cry. Mwahahahaha!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          If they cry, they buy! 😉

          • Hannah Killian says

            I also need to figure out how to foreshadow the deaths. . .and I still need some character motivations.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Here are a couple posts you might find helpful:

            How to Use Foreshadowing
            Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 4: Your Character’s Ghost (on motivation)

          • Hannah Killian says

            I was re-reading this, and at the line that says, “You have created and positioned another character(s) to fill the hole left in your story by the doomed character’s death”, I thought of my story and started to wonder: Is the hole of the two characters I’m killing off going to be filled by two other characters?

            I’m killing off the heroine’s brother, and maybe their older sister’s fiancé can fill in the hole his death leaves? Since he’s obviously going to be her brother-in-law. . . .

            And the hole that the hero’s dad’s death leaves: Can that be filled by the heroine’s father? The mentor-type figure?

            Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. . . .

  75. I’m killing off two of my characters ad I’m really afraid I don’t have good reasons for it. I have a GREAT reason for one (it motivates his sister to get her head out of the clouds and creates a plotline just for her), but as for the other? I think right now I’m just having fun killing her off. I need to find a reason.

  76. In a series I have not yet written, I kill off a main character in the third book. However, though this may seem strange as he was an important part of the story, he still serves a role throughout the series, by being a reason for them to continue on. His memory, whilst haunting, is comforting to them, and the grief they felt at his death was something to convince them to fight for their lives. Also, as the series goes on, we discover more about him after his demise, and these secrets he’d had cause the characters to wonder just how much they knew about him.

  77. Should I kill off this character? Right, so here’s the basics:
    – she’s not a main character, but an accomplice to one of them
    – she’s the partner of the main characters cousin, who is also an accomplice
    – she allows the good guys to have an advantage over the enemy… which the enemy clearly don’t like.
    – her death causes the cousin to become an untrusting recluse, so the lead characters have no one to turn to for help (but a different enemy!) the cousin is never seen again after mourning this characters death
    – her death and the effect it has on her partner, the leads cousin, makes the lead feel guilty, and harden inside a bit.
    – this characters death is also a show of how far the enemy and their betrayal will go – since what is now enemy was once best friend.
    – I want the main focus to be on the two lead characters.
    – her place in the story and the cousin’s place too is replaced by one person – anther accomplice. she also dies. her death isn’t really justified but for making more guilt for the lead and making them harden just a bit more.
    – said new accomplice is then replaced by the other enemy I mentioned before, because the leads have no one left to appeal to. this accomplice does not die.

  78. I am 14 years old and really trying to finish my first story. I’ve written some in the past but they are now rejected in a bin hidden in my closet. I would really like to finish a story and get it published, not for fame or money, but for fun. I have been writing stories since about 8-9 years old and LOVE it! I don’t know how to kill off a main character, though this did help, and I would really like to finally prove to my big sister that I’m good at something. She is older by a year and also writes, though she is much better at it than me. How should I finish a story? A schedule? Can I use my unfinished stories? Please answer… I would greatly appreciate the feedback. ?

  79. I’m 14 and trying to kill of a main character in my story… I know they should die, but how is the question. Can you help?

    • Btw this is actually Olivia… Emily’s friend

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The specifics of how you kill off a character will depend on the story itself, its setting, the antagonist, and the needs of the plot. I suggest looking at the reasons why you want to kill off this character, then brainstorming the best place in the story to place it. What methods of death are available at that moment in the story? You’ll find your best answer there.

  80. Please tell me what you think about this death-
    A teen girl is walking through the shortcut through the forest to her house from being at a party.
    A couple of days after a search began for the missing girl, she is found hung high in a tree. Her stomach ripped open and her insides laying on the ground in the form of an X.

    Please let me know what you think lol hope it isn’t too much! My sister Emily said I should try this site out and so here I am!

  81. I am deciding whether or not to kill my protagonist. The idea is that with his death, he will pass the protagonist torch to his mentor who is older (and offers more opportunities for future adventures). While my protagonist is interesting, I’m not sure he has the legs.

    Ultimately this will be the prologue to a series that will feature the mentor as the protagonist. So rather than offering this story as a future prequel, I am starting the series with it.

    Not sure how readers will react to this. Will they see it as a legitimate death or will they feel ripped off because they think the whole boot was a set up?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In general, I wouldn’t recommend starting a series with a protagonist different from the one you will follow throughout. There are exceptions to this, such as when you’re writing a deliberate prequel to the main series or when you’re planning each book to feature a different protagonist. Otherwise, you risk frustrating readers when they invest themselves in the first protagonist only to realize he wasn’t really the guy.

  82. So I had this extremely weird dream where I was kidnapped, then fall in love with one of them, I kick some ass (lol), and turns out the guy I love is good and was forced to do that or die slowly and painfully… after we kick some more ass (as in kill the actual bad guys, while losing a few good), I convince him to go home to my house with me. We become boyfriend and girlfriend. We share a special moment outside before we went to my home and many after that.
    The moment was on the porch of the house I had been taken to (btw they treated me normal, kinda- I was locked in a normal teen girl bedroom), but anyways…… on the porch, I was convincing him to go home with me and he agreed…

    Then my mom woke me up 🙁

    Could I turn this into a good story, do you think?

  83. Paige Fedenko says

    I am a new author writing my first novel called Ashes to Ashes. it’s sort of like Cujo, with the good dog that eventually goes rabid, but with 2 other characters in the storyline that are somewhat important.
    One of these characters, however, is later killed off. Umbra, (the main characters friend who helped to save her life) would have fallen in love with the main character later in the story, but due to the lack of plot twists and the just plain boringness of the novel, I decided to have the mentor in the story kill him off, because she is the antagonist.
    Still not sure if that was the right decisio, so I would appreciate feedback.
    Thank You!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Whether or not a character’s death was the right choice always comes down to whether or not it advances the plot. If the story doesn’t change after this character’s death, then either the death itself is extraneous or the character is.

      • Nice article! So, I’m having murderous thoughts. . . thinking of killing my main character. In fact, I already did. He’s just not buried yet.
        I’m working on a follow-on novel to a standalone I just published this month. My main character from the first novel is a deputy who is wanted by the law for something he did as a kid. The first book has a happy ending, though it’s a rough time getting there, and he survives the impossible and essentially cheats death twice.

        This new novel is about his best friend and fellow deputy, who more or less saved Jesse once in the first novel. The best friend became a reader’s favorite in the first novel- and the only reason I’m writing this follow-on book is for that reason.

        So, spoiler, I just wrote the ending and killed Jesse. Dang. In the end of this book, he takes a bullet for his best friend. He tells him he feels that he’s always lived on borrowed time, and has been grateful for every day of it since he should have died ten years ago.
        Then the book ends on a short note looking another 10 years forward, to his wife and sister admiring his kids out back. His son, born after his death, was given Jesse’s name, and of course, acts and looks just like him. There’s my passing the character torch, I guess.
        I guess my only reason for killing him is for my sense of realism. It was the wild west – it was tough, people died a lot. I feel he can’t cheat death yet again and have me keep a shred of credibility. And it’s a little to do with things coming full-circle and him making the ultimate sacrifice for a friend who’s done so much for him in the past. However, I hesitate, because it won’t really show much for what it did for the other character’s arcs, because it’s so near the end. Everyone else comes together and take care of each other, his wife and sister’s kids grow up together. But, how can I argue that’s advancing the plot, when the book ends that way? There’s a bit of bittersweetness to it so that it’s not all just reader torture, in that he comes back to his wife with a little sign – one right after he died, and another one that mirrors it ten years later.

        But then, I fear how pissed readers will become that I killed someone who came so far in the first book and who they came to love.
        So, I hesitate. Maybe I should find a happier way to end it. But then I can’t imagine that things will feel as well-rounded. At least, to me.
        Has anyone else killed off a main character, just to have their readers come back to make them regret it? I guess I fear their wrath a little, haha.

  84. I’m trying to decide whether killing Tawney(a character of mine) is a good idea. Here are some details:
    – Tawney is a main character, but is NOT a good guy at first.
    – She is a technician and ‘interrogator'(read: torture person).
    – She’s actually not that bad of a person, though – Tawney feels bad for physically and psychologically hurting people while doing her job, but it’s the only position she could get with her skills. Plus she’s loyal to her trusted companions and pretty funny.
    – She begins to take a bit of a roundabout turn to the protagonist’s side, but up until her death is still pretty conflicted.
    – Her death opens up Aggie(my main) to the reality of just what she is opposing and pushes her to step up her game. It also hardens her on the inside a bit(“I can’t let this keep me down, or I’ll never get anything done”).
    -She dies in a sort of sacrificial fashion, by helping Aggie(and, though not exactly her intention, Aggie’s side of the war).

    I mean, her death probably fits the checklist well enough – Her death speeds up the development of Aggie, and has deeper ties to the overall plot. So, should I pull the trigger?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Based on the list, I see no reason *not* to kill her. But I’d still question *why* you’re wondering about it in the first place. Obviously, there’s something you feel doesn’t quite fit.

      • Because I like her. I don’t really like killing people, even if they are fictional people(Wow I really am a psychopath). I guess one thing I’m wondering about is, is it okay to create a character solely for the purpose of killing them off to motivate other characters? It feels weird, for some reason.

  85. The Science Fiction novel that I am writing has a character death from cancer.

  86. I am writing futuristic sci-fi fanfiction with a very dark theme. I have multiple pov characters that die, but near the end of story the most important female character from my story dies in a very sad way. I love to kill my characters in a very violent or sad way. She discovers a dark secret about (not really villain, the guy tries to protect Earth from invasion, his intentions are actually good, but his ways are bad), the main bad guy, a politician that massacred the family of her love interest when he was a child. She finds out, and she falsely gets accused of betrayal and having links with terroristic groups from other planets. The politicians promise to her that if she not speaks, he will not kill her family and will stop hunting her friends, the girl chose to keep the secret. In the end, she dies. I am afraid that her death is too clichee, or the reasons are too stupid to kill her off. The politician believes that if the girl dies, his secret is safe, but actually, her death will lead directly to his downfall

    • i am afraid that people will go like” it was really necessary to kill her? She has been trhgough so many bad things only to die? Couldn’t the writer to find another way to reveal the secret? And how about her love interest? She promised to him he will never be alone again because she will stay forever with him?” I really don’t want her death to look like is for shock value or another female character that died for a male character motivation.

  87. This was just what I was looking for. My current work has a war so naturally people are going to die. So far it’s been characters who are really secondary. You meet them and a little while later they die. The only reason you might care is because the main characters care. The one I’ve been struggling with though is one of my main characters although not a POV character. I purposely avoided making her a POV character because somehow I’ve always known she was going to die. But I don’t want her to die, crazy right, and still she has to. She already survived once when she should have died, I can’t very well give her another miracle. So now I can see it even if I still don’t accept it.

  88. Madison Cunningham says

    I killed off a character because I wanted the main one his best friend, but six months later the main character ends up with a kid on his doorstep. His late best friend’s daughter. I used that moment to emphasize that the bad things happen because good things are coming. There’s a reason it happened. You just have to give it time. It killed me killing off that character but it made for such a great storyline.

  89. I have killed off the brother of one of the two main characters in the book, and I’m wondering how I could make his death more emotional for the reader. His death motivates his brother to “defeat” the villain in the end, but the other main character has only known him for a few days (albeit she met him after he saved her from being frozen to death in a snow drift). I’m thinking of something along the lines of discreet positive connotations used on him throughout the novel, but I need some more ideas.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      One of the best ways to emotionally affect readers is to make sure their favorite character is affected. If the brother is mourning the loss, then you can use that to help readers empathize with him.

  90. Sara Baptista says

    Thank God! You showed me a good reason to kill a character! :3

  91. Hannah Killian says

    Is there a checklist for near-death experiences?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hmm, if anyone has a resource like that it would be

  92. Tyler Smith says

    Hey, I’m writing a story for my history class. It’s supposed to be a historical fiction story that takes place in the Roaring 20’s (1920’s). The current title right now though I may change it is “Ventures of John McJames,” and there’s a supporting character that I’m planning to kill off, but I want to make his death honorable, noble, touching, but I’m currently in a writers block on what to do next with it. I’m willing to send a copy via a PDF if you need that, but keep in mind I’m only 14 so the story might be bad or good, it’s your opinion, I just want to have some advice on how to advance it further. Current and basic plot summary of it is:

    18 year old John McJames is a mercenary in the 1920’s trying to fix the mess that’s his life while in the meanwhile trying to keep his friends safe while also trying to maintain his relationship with them. As he questions his morality he runs into trouble with a vengeful Mobster who will stop at nothing to avenge the death of his men for their families. The one who is to blame for their deaths? John McJames.

    Don’t mind my email, it was made when I was like 12.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t allow me to read or critique manuscripts—although I’m always happy to answer any specific writing questions you may have.

  93. Need help with an idea on how to kill this person in my story:
    The girl was killed by (A) near a river, boy finds her (dying), says sorry, promises to be with her till the end. She dies. He carries her to the river bank and jumps in. Hugs her and sinks to the bottom.

    How to describe that part where he falls in?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s something you have to decide for yourself. 🙂 Focus on the sensory details.

  94. Jo Meyer says

    Hello, I’m currently working on my first novel and well, I don’t know if I should kill my main characters (the story is told in 3rd person with insight on the emotions of one of them)
    The story is a post apocalypse story and in a nutshell, two young girls meet and decide to go and try to find the safe haven that one of them knows about.
    On their way, a lot of sh*t happens: they get captured by a religious cult, have to deal with a virus and general survival. One important part is, that my main Character is not a hero. She just wants herself to survive and later she also cares a lot for the other girl. But later it happens, that they find some Information that could save the people in the safe haven but that’s not their Main goal. They just want to live

    So at the end, either both survive, one of them or no one

    Basically, at the end they find the safe haven and some people come out to rescue them, but they notice that the one girl has the virus and so she can’t come in. They force the other girl to come so she can save the safe haven but not the girl (the opposite of what she wanted would happen and being the Hero doesn’t matter to her)
    That’s one version

    In the other one, she would just give them the information and stays with the sick girl. (Did i mention that everything that’s outside the safe haven dies after a certain point in the story, so being outside at the end means you’re doomed)
    That would lead to a very emotional dialog between the two
    Of course both could just survive but everybody else they meet on the way dies so it’s a little unrealistic, i think.

    I’m sorry, my english is very bad and i can’t explain very well
    Thank you if anyone read this anyway and i would be happy if someone could answer… i’m really stuck on this bit

  95. Thanks for the article and the checklist. Here I thought a character ought to die because I felt he ought to die. I had a number of people question why I killed off a perfectly good (in a despicable way) villain named Big Ed when he could go on to greater gory.
    I killed him off because I hated him. My youngest daughter hated him. My friends hated him. He became too real and too threatening to go on breathing.
    And there was that little particle of me that remembered Stephen King’s The Dark Half and wanted the character’s demise to happen in Book 1 rather than give him any opportunity to stage a George Stark defence.

  96. Evie Alistair says

    so i am a young writer and i’m starting the second book of a series (it’s on Wattpad not published) and i have this perfect ending to lead into the third book but it includes killing one of my favourite characters.

    i write a fantasy story. so the male lead has a younger brother who is part of the reason he is still sane (he is good but he has an evil magic fire curse that turns him very dark and sadistic sometimes).
    well in the climax of book three the male lead watches his brother get killed and loses it basically turning very, very evil.

    i have a question that is not exactly related to this blog but i hoping you can help.
    throughout that book Darrien’s (male lead) personality starts to become more aggressive and dark because of the curse and i’m not sure if its a good idea to do that.
    what do you think?
    thank you for the blog also do you think killing this character as i mentioned is a good idea?

  97. One of my favorite tropes is totally unexpected ways to die. For example, in my book, I set up the last great fight between the antagonist and the “love interest” aka the protagonist’s partner who believes he is there to rescue her. Everything was in place for this Boss Fight, if you will, then the fight commenced and shit got real. About at the point where our hero should be losing and desperate enough to call on the help of the gods or something, the antagonist gets extremely disoriented, stumbles around for a bit, and trips and falls down a ridiculously long stone staircase, which, of course, killed him.

    Besides him being my favorite character, I thought that end was particularly hilarious and unexpected. EVERYTHING up until that point (including an ominous prophecy) made it sound like he’d die in some epic showdown, but no lol. He tripped.

    Homeboy didn’t even really do anything and got called a hero 🙂

  98. I want to kill off a character because it will progress the story line and motivate the MC, but I really don’t want to. But i also feel it makes the book more relatable.

  99. Yamika Tosaki says

    Hey! I have a character for my story called Jay. He was introduced in Chapter 4 and I am currently on Chapter 7. I’m planning on eventually having him be killed as his way of trying to redeem himself after his attitude toward the reader. Of course, this isn’t the only reason. His death will also be used to motivate the main character to kill the man who killed Jay. In the Chapters up to his death I’m planning on making him more and more distant and he ends up sacrificing himself for her. The theme in itself in that they got on the wrong side of a bunch of murderers and I feel like his death would also remind the reader of that after a few calm chapters as they book starts of pretty heated with her being kidnapped but then having her memory wiped (Kinda sci-fi I suppose). Would this be a good idea? And, if so, how long should I wait?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I don’t see any reason not to proceed with this. As for when, the plot should dictate the best time. When in doubt, look at the “low moment” at the Third Plot Point at the beginning of the Third Act.

  100. DeArron Hamilton says

    “I love killing people.”
    Best way to start an article LMAO XD

  101. Ryan Gonzalez says

    I’m writing a ten minute play for my elective class and I’m thinking of having a 6th grader character who commits suicide because of the abuse he was getting from his peers and father Then I plan of having the rest of the story being the other students reflecting on that moment. Do you think I should continue?

  102. I am not very good at writing the actual fight part of it, I use a lot of detail and I have been told I am good at arguments. I am not sure where to go with my battle though. I am at the climax of my story and the antagonist is supposed to die. Both of my characters in the fight have magical powers. The Protagonist can use shadows to give her energy to fight things and can shape the shadows to do certain tasks like lift her up into the air or burn out torches. My antagonist uses light for energy and counters the shadows but I am not sure how to write it.
    This is what I have so far:
    Earthen rock arises from the floor spiraling out into the heart of the ruins of Quintea in the heart of the mountain of Arkala. The rocks crash into the chasm where the single orb of light dwindles flickering as rocks pass through it. Shadows tread across the walls pacing behind me as I shroud myself against the dark desolate houses as I move closer to the center of town so I can see the spherical orb.
    Staring at the sphere a tall man stands in a dark cloak. His head shakes seemingly involuntarily as he stands there. He, a lengthy man is skeletal and uncanny. “It’s only a matter of time before the Raine’s Tune is lost forever, my child,” Someone shrieks into the dark, “I know you’re there, pretty bird, but where I cannot see. Meliri taught you well, my child.”

    “Who are you?” I whisper back into the darkness

    “I am your father, your king. Do you not recognize my voice, child?”

    “You could not be my father was an honorable man who ran his kingdom and loved his people. He was lost in a raid many years ago and died.”

    “Died, you say. People thought I had died. I was forgotten and now they will pay for what they had done. I had fought beasts and they overtook my fighters. The ones who survived took me for dead. They left me there.”

    “There was a search party that looked for you for days. You were nowhere to be found. You could have come back, but instead, you left my mother to continue hold of our kingdom and look after my sister and I with no help but from the castle’s miserable maids.” I cry out and in anger, I stand up, “If you are indeed my father show yourself so I can see you for what you are,” My hands shift to my pockets where my little mouse sleeps and I stroke her head gently. The mouse stirs, realizing soon there may be trouble. With her beady eyes appear peaking over the pocket of my coat she watches.

    “Of course, dear,” My father strides down steps at the center of town, his black long cloak dragging behind him. His face is as white as the snow on the tops mountains south in Ariden. His piercing green eyes seem to gaze off distantly as his thin lips turn ever so slightly upward in a smirk.

    “Father, Minima Stella is dying; the magic in the air is withering; the homes, temples, and shops are turning to rubble. Will you not come home? Will you let our people die?” I ask my body feels cold, the father I thought I knew would have never been like this. He was tall and handsome with a hearty laugh and a gentle smile, but instead, he is dark; cold-hearted. Chi sulks down back into the safety of my pocket, warning me to be careful. I stand still my feet planted on the shaking ground, a rock falls in the distance, the Raine’s Tune pulses through my mind.

    “My dear daughter if you only knew there was no hope for your beloved people in your miserable, forsaken kingdom that you hold so close in your heart,” He whispers grately as he stands several yards away crouched over and old looking.

    “You are wrong father, there is hope. They are your people as well you cannot just throw them away as if they are rubbish, you wouldn’t. Would you?” My hands start to tingle, as the shadows in the darkness throw voices into my sub-conscience mind luring me to give them excitement.

    “They are peasants, just mere peasants. That is what they are you have said it yourself; rubbish. They are garbage.”

    “No father, Minima Stella needs their king.”

    “Of course they do, but I am not going to risk my life for the safety of good-for-nothings.”

    “They were never good-for-nothings. I should have never thought of you as my father nor as my king. Have you seen what you have become? How could have my mother ever loved a dastardly swine such as yourself?”

    “How dare you to speak to me in such a manner. I am your father, you are to obey me. Come to me, maybe then your worthless kingdom will not perish,” He replies the words rolling off his tongue, like lightning striking a tree.

    “You do not see my intentions, I will never come to you just as you had never come to the aid of my people or your own family,”

    “If you do not, you and Minima Stella will fall to ash forever buried in the earth,” My father screams from the light of a torch that he stands by.

    “I will not follow you,” I call out into the light that my disgraceful father stands in, and as I do so the walls start to dance with darkness once again. The silhouettes of the crumbling stone walls around us sway in the light of torches that can never burn out. And as my eyes begin to follow the shaded figures my mind whispers and the shadows lie still. With the palms of my hands to the cavern’s top, I chant the words to bind shadows so that they will do my bidding, “In this dire time, this darkest hour, I call upon the tune of Raine, as light flames shadow be binding to me, shadows bid my wishes.” As the words form in my mouth black sparks flutter out of my hands and my shaded familiars squirm across the floor filling me with their energy. “I will not follow you nor will anybody else,” I scream, my words echoing off the wreckage of deserted Quintea streets.

    “My dear daughter, what do you suppose mere shadows could do to me?” He croaks laughing, but his eyes dart back and forth.

    “They do as I bid, father. If you are not willing to rule, I will make sure that you do not.” I say as my fingers twirl as a puppeteer’s do and my shadows flow through me until I am drenched in darkness. Unsheathing my father’s bastard sword a column of black smoke lifts me into the cold air.

    From there I am not sure where to go. The father is supposed to die, I am thinking that somehow he needs to be absorbed by the orb of light so that the protagonist’s town doesn’t crumble, but I do not know how to get there does anybody have any suggestions?

    I really could use some ideas, I would ask the people reading my story but it is an important part of the book and I do not want to spoil it for others… Thank you.

  103. Luke Johnson says

    My name is Luke and I killed off a character named Noah in my latest chapter.It was a hard decision to make because I really like the character (I was going to kill another character but I wasn’t going to because I have plans for her.) I did this for a couple reasons. Idid this because 1. I thought it would drive the main character to the final battle, 2. because every good story has at least one death, and 3. because I thought it would drive the story forward. He was kind of a little brother figure to the main character. What I am having trouble with is the aftermath. It is really hard for me to write especially because I don’t want it to be too melodramatic but I don’t want it to be too emotionless. I also want each character to grieve in different ways (like the main character Connor will turn to anger, while another character, Isabella will turn to sadness.( Do you have any advice? Thanks for the help.

  104. Natalie Carroll says

    Hi! I’m writing a novel about a girl who discovers that an entire war between two legions of wizards and enchantresses has been right under her nose. At the end of the book, during a battle between the legions, I have her try to stop it, but die in the process, along with her sidekick-ish character. I’m trying to promote the fact that war just leads to death, no matter what side that you’re on.

    Is this a suitable cause of death, or should I try and build from there so I don’t end on a cliffhanger?

  105. Robintvale (Jessica) says

    Hum going to have to think about this one. I Introduced Han on chapter six. He’s a cat-man low tier healer (lol?) and was from the first draft when I was still trying to figure the book out. I put him in to heal the others so their injurys wouldn’t be ignored my way back then around a logic flaw.

    He evolved into a really fun character, but doesn’t do much else then be ‘the only sane man’ and on occasion snarky.

    He has nothing to do with the plot that I can see. 🙁 I want to keep him though I’m not seeing a good reason to.

    I’ve finally stopped tossing the characters into the meat grinder so they can actually get the story going. So they aren’t always hurt and when they do they’re given time to heal (at least a little.)

    Han is clinging like my kitty and won’t let go! xD

    Is there a way to fix a character so they can be part of the plot and stay? I’m drawing blanks here. Thanks for any help!

  106. I know this post is old, but I think this settles everything in my head.

    I have a series with three separate protagonists. Protagonists 2 and 3 are still in their series character arc and play really important roles and archetypes within the story itself. Protagonist 1, however, has finished her arc fully with no way of pushing further. Her love interest is also secretely an antagonist, and she’s been super naive about their quick meeting and falling in love for the past two novels. My plan in the third book is for her to reach her full goal and potential, but have her life cut short because of this shady love interest. There are other characters who would be up to taking her role as the group’s mediator (as she wasn’t the only one), and it would push the other two protagonists to finish the fight that Protag #1 started.

    Do you think this sounds good, or would you think the readers would feel cheated?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s hard to say. It all depends on how you set up your readers’ expectations. However, killing off the primary protagonist is always a tricky proposition.

  107. I am writing a book with two main characters.
    Its in an alternate medieval world, but no magic, potions or fantasy creatures.
    They are both girls in their late-teens, i will call them 1 and 2.
    They are best friends, but over the course of the story many psychologically and emotionally scarring things happen to them (1’s parents are evil and they kill 2’s bae yeah, yeah ik ik) and it drives the 2 insane while it drives 1 to fight. But the sad thing is that the insane one, 2, is in a position of power so she keeps killing people. Including the other main’s whole family (it’s a long backstory as to why) and the non insane one ends up killing the insane one to end the war.
    Is that cheesy/uncalled for? Or should I make peace between them and somehow bring the insane one to sanity again?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It all depends how it’s set up within the plot and how it creates the thematic throughline.

  108. I’m thinking on killing my love interest and there’s a lot of pros and cons to it, this is the best aritcle I’ve encountered on the subject so far. Thanks.

  109. I am currently writing a story in which the love interest and best friend of the main character dies, however I don’t want him to stay dead because he is important to the end of the story, as he learns his place in the world and that he isn’t the monster everyone thinks he is. Theron (that’s his name) is a werewolf, and is executed with a silver knife, so I thought up a plotline where through a complicated series of events the main character (Tamah) and the late story antagonist (a jealous lover of Tamah) go to the underworld to bring Theron back, this leads to them trying to battle Death and losing, but the antagonist decides to sacrifice himself to Death in order to allow Theron to return to the world of the living. Do you think this works? Or is it just a cop-out like “Oh, and then they went to the underworld and brought him back. HAPILY EVER AFTER!”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As long as it makes sense within the overall plot and isn’t just tacked on as a means of returning this character to the story, I think it works fine.


  1. […] Authors are always being advised to be mean to their characters. Often, that meanness involves killing them off. And even as we may bawl over our beloved characters’ deaths, most of us get a strange sort of fulfillment out of it. We gotta play tough and do whatever best serves the story, right? But that, of course, begs the question: Is killing off a character really the best way to serve your story?  […]

  2. […] on January 13, 2014 by Judith After reading How to Kill off a Character on this site – – I had this to say: These comments contain spoilers so proceed at your own risk if you haven’t […]

  3. […] How to Successfully Kill a Character: The Checklist, from Helping Writers Become Authors: How do you know if the character you want to kill off is […]

  4. […] Dell Smith advises how to write outside your generation, and if in the end you absolutely MUST kill off a character, use K.M. Weiland’s checklist to kill your character successfully. […]

  5. […] How to Successfully Kill a Character: The Checklist […]

  6. […] on that topic.  So we’ve got “400+ Ways to Kill a Character” from Clever Girl Helps,  “How to Successfully Kill a Character—the Checklist” from K.M. Weiland,  “How to Kill Your Main Character” from Rhiannon Paille, and “Murder […]

  7. […] Killing Characters? Do It Successfully with Tips by K. M. Weiland  @KMWeiland […]

  8. […] questo articolo di K.M. Weiland — il cui blog ho scoperto da poco ed è subito entrato tra i miei preferiti, […]

  9. […] utili all’articolo: How to successfully kill a character: the checklist How to kill off fictional characters How to kill off a main character in […]

  10. […] all heard the advice as authors to “kill your darlings” but in her article, “How to Successfully Kill a Character: The Checklist,” K.M. Weiland shares her thoughts on when it’s a good idea to kill them, and when […]

  11. […] happens how do you keep it interesting. You can kill a character off (not the main character) the right way. Fight scenes are full of suspense and thrill. This makes the reader want to find out what happens […]

  12. […] Successfully Killing Characters […]

  13. […] Killing off characters is not child’s play. There’s more to it than may meet the eye. There are lots of things to consider before deciding to take force your characters into a death trap. Luckily, whilst browsing Pinterest I came across this amazing little chart to get us started (special thanks to Helping Writers Become Authors). […]

  14. […] are rewarded with a crown. Unpredictable plots keep readers engaged. This is not to say that you should start killing your characters off without reason, but you should consider how to add twists and turns to your […]

  15. […] infographic comes from the K.M. Weiland article “How to Successfully Kill a Character,” and opens with the utterly provcative statement, “I love killing […]

  16. […] can also check out this article that includes the complete checklist for killing off characters (good reasons vs. the bad reasons). […]

  17. […] How to Successfully Kill a Character: The Checklist […]

  18. […] How to Successfully Kill a Character: The Checklist […]

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