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.

Preptober Plotting Tips

Welcome to Preptober! If you’re like me, you’re probably gearing up for November, which for lots of writers is simply known as NaNoWrimo. I’ve spent the last four years participating in every NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, but I’ve never been able to fully finish a challenge. After much careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s probably because my writing habits could use a change and a little more self-discipline. I’m very much a pantster when it comes to writing – I just start writing by the seam of my pants and hope for the best.

While this method might be great for getting the creativity flowing, it also means that you’re more likely to encounter roadblocks to the plot. I find these happen most often in the middle of your book. It’s easy to write the beginning and the ending of a story, but the middle is where you’re most likely to drop the ball if you don’t have a set plot with a linear continuity already planned out. And if you’re participating in a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo it’s so easy to give up halfway through because you don’t know what you’re doing. 

That is why it’s a great idea to try and become somewhat of a plotster. You don’t have to detail out every single minor event or occurrence, but having a general idea will definitely help get you from point A to point C without giving up when you hit point B. And this year for NaNoWriMo I’m determined to finish a full 65k manuscript, which is why I’m spending Preptober coming up with a solid enough outline to help me next month.

I’ve been following a simple three-act outline that focuses more on the character development. The setting isn’t something that you need to worry about as it pretty much writes itself. But the plot and characters are pretty intertwined. I personally like to outline my characters’ reactions to certain major plot points. And if you follow the traditional three-act plot, it’ll create a pretty easy-to-follow outline that you can turn to when you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo.

Check it out below:

Act One

Opening/Narrative Hook:

  • Introduce character 
  • This is also the place where you can do a bit of world building as you set up and Introduce your character’s normal world
  • Introduce your character’s unfulfilled desires or what’s holding them back

Inciting Incident:

  • What happens to disrupt your character’s sense of “normalcy?”
  • Character can react to either want to change things or escape things

First Plot Point:

  • The moment the character makes the full commitment to whatever the inciting incident has called them to pursue
  • Character struggles with fears or a lie they believe about themselves/others/the world

Act Two

Rising Action:

  • Your character begins the proverbial “hero’s quest” and along the way must confront the things that make them uncomfortable such as fear of failure, fear of their own shortcomings, breaking down long-held beliefs, etc.
  • Your character’s fight against the antagonist begins
  • This is also when your main character begins to see that their fears/beliefs are wrong

Midpoint/Second Plot Point:

  • This is the biggest part of your novel so far, in which your character comes face to face with the antagonist

Post-Midpoint Rising Action:

  • The main character devises a plan to defeat the antagonist
  • They make a small step toward their goal
  • While continuing to grow as a character, they still struggle with previous fears/old beliefs

Act Three

Character’s Darkest Moment:

  • Right after that small step toward their goal in Act 2, the main character suffers a major setback that forces them to confront the fears or misplaced beliefs that have been holding them back the entire story
  • The release of their repression further fuels them to defeat the antagonist

The Climax:

  • The conclusion of the character’s arc is complete with the defeat of the antagonist (but keep in mind if this is Book One in a series then the smaller antagonistic force is stopped, but not the overarching antagonist of the entire story)

The Resolution:

  • Your character returns to “normal” but having experienced change they can’t return to the status quo, so they begin their life in a new way

Author Interview with David Allen Voyles

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview All Dark Places 2 Author David Allen Voyles.


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

I taught literature for nearly thirty years so it’s hard to say which writers I enjoyed the most—there are so many. But I can identify these three as having a tremendous impact on me: Edgar Allen Poe for defining what horror is, Ray Bradbury for teaching me the sheer pleasure and poetry that a story can offer, and Stephen King for providing me with superb models of terrifying plots and believable characters.

2. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I’ve always loved Halloween. My family and I have hosted a Halloween party for the past forty years, most of which had their own creepy theme. Early on we incorporated the idea of storytelling into the fun. We always encouraged our guests to share a scary story, but I made sure I had at least one ready to tell myself. One year our theme was “Dark Tours” and I escorted small groups of guests around the property, through the house, and even on a walk in the neighboring woods and told stories about the haunted scenes we had prepared for them in all those places. The success of that party led to the idea of creating our own ghost tour business, and within a year, we had purchased and renovated a 1972 Cadillac hearse in which we transported our customers to various haunted sites in our area. I had to create stories for the tours, of course, which was great fun, but that experience encouraged me to write stories much darker than those I could tell on a family-friendly ghost tour and to eventually publish two collections of original short stories.

3. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I think so, yes. In elementary school I enjoyed writing stories even when they weren’t assigned. Later I decided that I wanted to be an English teacher and have my own class where I could get students excited about the wealth of literature that awaited them. Writing is a large part of the English class curriculum, too, of course, and I enjoyed writing creatively with my students.

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

As I said, Halloween is a big part of my life. This year, due to Covid-19, the celebration will have to be a virtual one, so I haven’t devoted as much time to making props for the party as I normally do, but making skulls, corpses, haunted trees, and tombstones for our annual haunted scenes is a hobby I very much enjoy. I’ve also recently become interested in puppetry and hope to find time to create the characters for several scary puppet shows that I’ve written the scripts for. Yes, that’s right. I said scary puppet shows. As if puppets aren’t scary enough as they are! Am I right?

5. If you were a tour guide, what would you like a visitor to see and what impression would you want them to take away with them when they leave?

For three years I had the pleasure of being the ghost tour guide for my own small business, Dark Ride Tours. As the fictitious undertaker/host Virgil Nightshade (“Virgil” from Dante’s guide throughout Hell in The Inferno, and “Nightshade” from one of Ray Bradbury’s young protagonists in Something Wicked This Way Comes), I wanted guests to experience the spine-tingling thrill that comes from a good, scary story. And to wonder if–just maybe–ghosts might be real.

6. Do you write listening to music?

Not always, but often I listen to dark, ambient music. I do not listen to songs with vocals, however, as lyrics seem to conflict with my ability to write. I’m currently in the process of writing episodes for the ongoing story of Witch-Works for my horror podcast Dark Corners which is based on an existing dark ambient music album of the same name by the wonderful musician/composer Mombi Yuleman. Each chapter in the story is based on a track of the album, so I most definitely listen to those dark sounds while I’m writing. My collaboration with Mombi has led me to search out more dark ambient music, which I find perfect for creating a mood conducive to writing good horror.

7. Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story?

It really depends on the story. Sometimes all it takes is to think of a creepy idea and jump in. Other storylines take more work. For example, I’ve been asked to contribute to a horror anthology that will accompany a collection of Lovecraft-inspired music, so I re-read a few Lovecraft stories and researched a bit about Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and his cosmos in order to figure out how to incorporate some of his elements into my unique tale. I am outlining the plot now and looking forward to fleshing out the story. So I guess you’d definitely call me a “planner” rather than a “pantser.”

8. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I love all aspects of the actual writing process—the planning, the first draft (probably my favorite part), even the editing. What I really don’t like is having to promote my writing. Social media is a necessary evil these days, but it siphons off so much time away from actually writing that I find it a frustrating distraction.

9. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I don’t think I thought of myself as being a real writer until I connected with Gestalt Media, a small publishing company dedicated to promoting indie writers. I had self-published my first collection, The Thirteenth Day of Christmas and Other Tales of Yuletide Horror, but I was still hesitant to say, “I’m a writer.” I think it took finding someone else who didn’t know me aside from my writing and who seemed to think that other people might like to buy my stories for me to feel myself really a writer.

10. What is the significance of the title for your All Dark Places 2 story?

I’d like to think that there is a sense of prevailing justice to life, or perhaps more specifically, some kind of karma. It galls me to think of some of the despicable people we see today being rewarded for their selfish, thoughtless, and destructive behaviors. The idea of “Just Retribution,” where someone who has lived a life devoted to harmful self-interest ultimately gets what they deserve is, I know, simplistic to say the least. But aside from providing me with an opportunity to include a scene that once terrified me in a dream (the ultimate haunted house), the story satisfies my need, for at least once in my universe, for things to work out as they should in the end. Very few of my stories do that.

11. Where can readers learn more about you?

Website: davidallenvoyles.com

Horror Podcast: Dark Corners with David Allen Voyles (Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and here: gestalt-media.com/darkcorners)

Facebook: David Allen Voyles @DavidAVoyles13

Twitter: @davidavoyles

Instagram: davidallenvoyles

Interested readers are also welcome to sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter by downloading the free story “Captain Buchanan’s Return” at http://dl.bookfunnel.com/y83ic544jh