Marked for Death: When Beloved Characters Die

As an author, one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my fiction writing is to orchestrate the death of my characters. I spend all this time getting to know these characters, they are very nearly real people. I love them, and hurting them is not what I want to do.

That said, there is often occasion in a novel for characters to die. Especially when that novel involves political intrigue and a huge, multi-national war. People are going to die. I’m of the opinion, however, that death in a novel should serve a purpose. They should not simply die for the shock factor. A death in a story needs to advance the plot. It should develop or change a character in such a way that the story is altered and propelled forward to its inevitable conclusion.

In my current novel in progress, I have been trying to decide if a certain character will die. She isn’t one of the primary characters, but her death would be devastating to one who is. I’m having a hard time bringing myself to do it.

The story actually opens with the deaths of a couple of important characters. Though the reader will never meet them, their loss is huge and sets in motion the entire story. There is another death that must happen in the story. The old emperor will die, setting off a succession crisis. These deaths have not been so difficult for me, perhaps because I don’t know the characters as deeply.

The death I am struggling with the most is that of a character very important to another one. One of my favorite characters, in fact. The death of this woman would alter my character dramatically. My thought is that her death would provide just the right sort of motivation he needs to move on into the final events of the novel.

This is my project for National Novel Writing Month that I have been frantically working away at. Perhaps the frenzy of this crazy challenge will allow me to be as ruthless as necessary in order to get the story written. I’m running behind on my word count. Maybe this is exactly what I need to do. The emotional energy that the death of a loved one would provide could be the source of a lot of words and finally get me back on track.

What’s your thought? Kill the character? Or let her live?

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