I’m at the point of brainstorming the sequels to BLAQUE (yes, there will be two more books) where I have to make one of those critical decisions: do I kill some major characters, and who?
You really don’t have to, but it’s a good way to both surprise and distress your readers. I wrote a short story back in high school in which one of the main characters was diagnosed with AIDS, which at that time was (and still is) a death sentence. My father’s secretary read it and cried. I literally did laps around the house when he told me.
This is one of the times when I think killing a character can be justified. Another time is when the character’s death (and the actions leading up to and immediately after as a result) pushes the plot forward or reveals a huge plot twist.
Let’s say that you have decided that someone needs to die. Okay, who is it going to be? If it is too minor a character, the reader will not care and will probably be slightly offended that you thought they would care. If you kill a character who is highly significant, then you could turn the reader off to the story.
Note: I think it goes without saying that killing off your point of view character could either go really well or really horrible, and most writers (including myself) probably won’t be able to pull it off.
So the key is to find the right character to kill. That sounds bad, but to a writer, it is exciting. We have the chance to change the game in our story, to take it to the next level.
A writer also has to look at the genre they are writing in. Mine is a spy thriller with a touch of humor…hmmm, that sounded better in my head. Anyway, with my characters in that kind of work, it is expected that someone would die. Don’t kill someone at random for the sole purpose of gaining some kind of emotional leverage over the reader. Your readers are smart, they will see exactly what you are doing.
If anyone in my story dies, you better believe there is a reason for it. I don’t like using tactics like that just to throw people off, because every character is important to me. Harry Potter had to lose Dumbledore in order to step forward and fully embrace his destiny. They should be an equally important reason why you kill a character. Yes, people often die in real life for no apparent reason…but you are writing a story. Everything has a reason in a story, and that includes who lives and who dies.