Killing Characters

This seems to always be a divisive subject amongst writers. Some writers wouldn’t dream of killing off one of their characters, while other writers are more than happy to recreate their own versions of the infamous Red Wedding from Game of Thrones within their own works. Within the realm of fiction, character deaths can extend beyond just those of the villains. Side characters and even some main characters can be subject to meeting an untimely death. These are the characters that readers will mourn, especially if they happen to be a fan favorite. As writers, we know that not every character’s story can end in happily ever after. But killing characters can be a delicate art. You don’t want the death to be pointless, you want it to mean something. Below are somethings to keep in mind when you’re contemplating a potential character death. 

Positive Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Kick off the inciting action or to reveal a hidden secret. Sometimes our main character needs to experience the death of another character in order to get them to begin the proverbial hero’s quest. But at the same time, you don’t want the death to come across as cheap writing or cliched. You want this to be meaningful to the plot. In order for the death to be meaningful to the story’s plot, ask yourself if this inciting action can be kicked off any other way? Or can this hidden secret that is integral to the plot, can that be discovered any other way? If not, then you can proceed with the character’s death.

2) To motivate other characters. Again, death can be a great motivator to both heroes and villains. But you don’t want it to be the sole purpose of their motivation, meaning don’t kill a character just to get your hero or villain started on the path of their character arc and development.

3) To highlight a universal truth within your story’s universe. Sometimes some character deaths have to be sacrificial for the greater good of the story. If death is the only way to highlight a universal truth in your story, then do it. Or if you’re writing a series and you get to a point where there is no other way to illustrate a continuing theme then use a character death. 

4) It’s the only logical way of ending a character arc. There are plenty of ways for your character to come full circle and grow. Death doesn’t always have to be the answer. However, there are times when it is the only answer. As the writer of the story, you will know if this is the only way of wrapping up a character’s arc. 

Negative Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Solely for the purpose of shocking your audience. No, no, no. You will only make your fan base angry. Don’t alienate your fan base.

2) To start some drama. If you’re killing a character just to spice things up within your story, then you really need to re-evaluate your plot. There are definitely tons of other ways to shake things up without having to kill a character. My personal rule is if you feel your story needs something shocking like a death to save it, then you really need to start from scratch again. 

3) Just for the character development of someone else.Yes, sometimes either a hero’s backstory or even a villain’s backstory will include the death of someone close to them in order to get them started on their respective paths. However, killing a character just for the purpose of further developing another character is not necessary. You can achieve the same effect with a less tragic accident. For example, if your story is about two brothers who haven’t spoken in 10 years, you don’t need to reconcile them by having them lose their mom in a firey car crash. Simply having her hospitalized with a broken leg would be enough to get them back in town and have to face one another and eventually reconcile. You still achieve the character development but without the character death. 

4) You’re unsure how to further the character’s storyline. This more applies to minor characters who sometimes serve their purpose in a story, but then we, as writers, don’t know what to do with them. While the topic of what to do with minor characters after they’ve served their purpose is always up for debate, killing them off isn’t advised. It serves no purpose and if they happen to be a well-received minor character, this can end up angering the fandom. 

5) You don’t like them. We’ve all had characters that we don’t like in our stories. And I’m not necessarily talking about villains. Sometimes as writers we create minor characters or even major characters that, as we get into the writing process, come to find we don’t actually like writing them. Either they’re too boring, we’ve gotten sick of writing them, or we simply can’t connect with them. The easiest solution to this is to remove them all together from the story. Make it such that they’ve never existed within our story’s universe. Sometimes I have found that these characters I don’t like are simply in the wrong story and once I find where they fit, they work much better. I’ve also found that if a character is easily removable from the story, then they were irrelevant to it anyways. Of course, problematic characters aren’t always easily removable like this. Sometimes a character needs to be in a story but we, the writers, just can’t stand their story anymore. Don’t kill them off, find another less dramatic way of writing them out.

Author Interview with Peter VanGelderen

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Peter VanGelderen, who has featured in DSP’s Reign of Queens and the upcoming Lethal Impact anthology.


1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I actually realized I wanted to be a writer later in life, after college actually. I originally wanted to pursue a career as a therapist and that’s what I went to school for. Prior to grad school, I ended up doing some revaluation, and I started writing to try it out as a new hobby. Within a week I was in love with the process and its been my passion ever since. I did attempt to write a fourth Lord of the Rings book when I was a kid, but it didn’t go so well.

2. What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

I’ve gotten influence from many authors. George R. R. Martin and the Game of Thrones series was an inspiration in terms of character writing as well as cultivating peril and suspense. I’ve also been influenced by N. K. Jemisin, especially when it comes to narrative perspectives. Those are the two big ones, but countless others have surely been involved in the formulation of my own style.

3. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

I would actually prefer two, sort of a devil-and-angel-on-the-shoulder situation. On one, I’d want Douglas Adams for crafting one-liners and nuggets of witty wisdom. On the other, J. R. R. Tolkien, as he’d have insight on extensive world-building and detail-oriented writing. Plus, I think it’d be pretty great to hear them debate all day. 

4. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I am a sucker for an animal companion and all media that include one, so I love to add animal friends big and small to any story I can. Whether or not the animal is a typical pet, a massive lizard monster, or anything in between, doesn’t matter. I will almost always give them the personality of a dog or cat, though, especially if they are a giant lizard monster.

5. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When not writing, usually during my evenings, I often turn my brain off with video games. After spending all day writing narratives, I prefer to do something not so narrative-heavy. That way I can just let reflexes and chaotic whims take over so I can relax. I do usually watch plenty of shows and read books before bed, though. Other than that, I am often petting my cat or playing DnD.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

As of right now, I only have one completed book. It doesn’t have a name yet, one hasn’t come to me, but it features a massive expedition into a giant area of wild and dangerous nature. I’m very much looking forward to getting it published at some point, but I’m not sure how long that process will take. I have begun another and have been working on it for a few months, but it’s still very much in the beginning phases.

7. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw any inspiration I can from anything around me. Naturally, I take inspiration from any book I read, and building on that, any show or movie I watch. Games, songs, and musicals also are fair game. I’ve certainly watched my cat interact with the world and used it to describe animal behavior, it’s the same with my parents’ dogs and any other animal I see. Sometimes, I’ll take the few bits and pieces from my weird dreams that make sense and try to utilize them. I find that the variety helps a lot with keeping things interesting.

8. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Goofy, Caring, Kind. (This was given by my girlfriend, as this one actually stumped me a little)

9. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

Once again, I’m breaking the rules a little bit and including two. First off is J. R. R. Tolkien, as his work ethic and ability to build a massively complex world from scratch. That’s an amount of drive that I can only hope to achieve. Another important one is N. K. Jemisin, who isn’t afraid to be heavy-handed when including real issues that society needs to address. Her portrayal of oppression comes from a true knowledge of real-world problems and she has no fear when it comes to shining a giant, blazing light on subjects many others may only dance around.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place to get info about me is on my author Facebook page, @PeterVanGelderenBooks. On there I have all my basic info, as well as links to my published works.