So, before going to the actual advice I just want to say, thank you so much for all the attention that my post on making a character death heartbreaking got! That post actually got reposted on Instagram by an account much bigger than me (they credited me so that’s actually really cool!) not sure if that’s where you all came from or just a coincidence, but I’m happy you’re here. 

Now, that repost on Instagram got a lot of attention and among all the comments something I did see a bit off, was people asking why authors do this, so I thought for today it’d be cool to actually go over some of those reasons. 

1.- The first and most obvious is tension management. In a story tension depends on the existence of the possibility of failure, in a lot of genres this could mean a couple not getting together, the protagonist not getting the job they want or a villain winning. In fantasy, we often find ourselves in life or death situations, and if character’s never die, life or death situations completely lose that tension. This is especially true with longer series with several books. 

So sometimes, as saddening as it may be, you have to make the choice to sacrifice a character for tension sake. But why put in an effort o make it as sad as possible? Well, by making the death an impactful one, you can get away with killing less characters. 

A good example of this is actually Harry Potter, everyone says loads of character’s die in Harry Potter, but that’s not entirely true, loads of characters die in the final book, so for the sake of this example, pretend the final book doesn’t exist please, thank you. Up until the the Half Blood Prince, there are only THREE important character deaths! Cedric, Sirius and Dumbledore (I obviously am not counting minor characters, mentions of muggles dying, ghosts, Harry’s parents, although I was tempted to throw Aragog into here). That’s not many deaths for six books. But they were all hard hitting impactful deaths, that carried the tension with only one character sacrificed for the sake of many. 

So as a writer, remember it’s quality and not quantity. 

2.- Character arcs and development. There’s two sides to this: 

2.a.- Vengeance and mourning can be very powerful character motivations, they can make someone switch very quick. You got a character that always plays by the rules, always cautious and careful, kill of their friend, their family and watch how emotion can blind their judgement. They can switch sides, they can switch methods, they can change goals and form an entire new side! Everybody reacts different to grief, and you do need to be very cautious with this, lots of people have done this wrong, but so many have done this right! 

Everyone talks about redemption arcs, love to see it, but a hero gone villain can be just as good when done correctly! 

2.b.- Smaller changes. Some people don’t react suddenly, some people handle death surprisingly well, but someone close to you dying is something that will always be with you, and affect you. I think a good example of smaller changes, is when you have a say a team, and one of the members die and the remaining members have to take on the responsibilities that this person had. 

If the person who died was, say, the one giving motivational speeches before each battle, when the next battle comes and there is silence, it’s very likely a different character will take up that responsibility, showing a side of them we hadn’t seen before. 

3.- Plot reason. When I think of character’s dying over the plot, I usually think dead parents who died before the book even begins. You know, every Disney parent ever. But other examples could be villains who die or a king who dies leaving his son/daughter/next in line to rule. I don’t think it’s as important that these be sad, it depends very much on the character and on the author’s intent. 

This is probably the area where personally I use the connection card, especially if the death happens before the book begins, it’s not sad per say, but you might feel empathy towards the character’s left behind and their soft words of remembrance. 

4.- Just, emotions. The whole point of writing is to tell a story, the whole point of stories is to make us feel things. And a happy ending is only amplified by the struggles that got us there. A character dying for something they believe it can be heartbreaking in the moment sad, but when that thing they believed in comes to fruition, the fact so many gave so much to get it, makes it feel so much more important! 

Anyway, so those are my big four reasons to kill characters off. There are probably loads more reason out there, maybe you’re just writing angst, maybe you’re writing Game of Thrones, maybe you just created far too many character’s and it’s time to clean up! No judgement here, but I hope this helps newer authors who don’t entirely understand the reasons behind these decisions.