Why yes, Character, you have to die.

So I recently came upon the question “Do I have to kill my character?”

It was in a forum and the post continued with how the author had plans to kill the character from the start, but now they were at that point, they were having second thoughts. They really liked the character and were trying to figure out if they could just keep them alive.

I told them the character had to die.

See, it wasn’t that they’d come up with a major subplot that required the character or realized a scene would be greatly improved by the character being present. They simply decided they wanted the character to live and they wanted us to tell them it was okay.

And they got a lot of that. People were going on about how to have the character injured or disappear, only to show back up at the end. I pointed out that was a terrible cop out, but it probably fell on deaf ears.

I am assuming that this character death was intended to mean something, it wasn’t just a path to get rid of a character. It was supposed to teach the protagonist about her own mortality and show her exactly how high the stakes are in her quest. Why, a few breathes difference and that could have been her.

I’m not saying that you have to kill your characters, but sometimes you realize you need to show them how serious this is, it’s why Wash died in Serenity. I realized this while writing Resurrection: unless I kill off some people, you aren’t going to believe in this. I’ve implied the stakes are high, an all powerful demonlord attempting to enter the physical realm is relatively high stakes, but until someone dies you can’t be sure. Until that demonlord kills someone, you can’t be sure. It’s like talking about the war in Afghanistan and then discovering one of your classmates died there. One’s academic, one is personal and real.

As I started with, if this person had come to us and asked for advice for how to make this character look like they died, but they were needed for a future scene, it would have been fine. The fact they were asking us if it was okay was proof that it wasn’t. They wanted permission to do so. They could have even come with alternate ideas, asking which of them would work out best, but they asked for permission to consider not killing this character.

Authors need to maintain some control over their stories, they need to trust their own creative instinct. Ninety percent of the questions I see and vet are easily answered with a one off thought because they don’t even want to go into enough detail about what they’re looking for. And it is ‘want’, they want the community to write their story for them. They aren’t confident enough to make a major decision about their project and somehow they need to learn this.

They need to accept that sometimes that character dies and that will make the project better.