Why hello there, old sports. I guess we all know the spiel with this one, but I tell you anyway, using this handy-dandy step-list:

  1. You introduce a character who is likable.
  2. (optional)Keep him around for a while
  3. Kill him/her off horrifyingly, and have the murderer bathe in his/her blood (maybe literally) and organs.
  4. ???
  5. Profit

However, old sports, this trope was used by too many writers and/or too many times for anyone to take it seriously, or don't saw it coming. We all know, that an innocent and powerless character is destined to be brutally murdered, and so, the readers will be too distanced to feel sorry because they knew, this would happen.

But I want to kill off characters for the drama.

So, how to do this trope "right"?

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    I think the whole premise is mostly wrong in the first place. Killing off random people just because for the sake of "laughs" or drama will probably give you the opposite affect of what you want. People hate meaningless deaths. GoT has killed many people, but each death served a purpose, whether to build a character's personality by showing ruthlessness or by forwarding the plot. I would be careful in how you approach killing off people just for laughs.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 23, 2017 at 17:13
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    @ggiaquin It was striked out to ensure, that no one took it seriously, but it's completely removed now. Aug 28, 2017 at 20:20
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    honestly bro, it wasn't even the laughing part that is the main issue. It's the whole premise of killing someone for the sake of having death in the story isn't ideal. Rather killing someone for the art of a well written demise of a hated/loved character to push the story along. This requires the reader to be invested in the character emotionally (love or hate), and requires the death to have a purpose. If there is no purpose someone might get upset over a random death and just not bother finishing the story.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 28, 2017 at 20:26
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    @ggiaquin C'mon, old sport, what do you think drama means? Besides, in X-Com the aliens kill your best soldier with a 1% chance trickshot, and the only reason is that the dice really hates you. Aug 28, 2017 at 20:30
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    Tropes Are Not Bad! The reason that one happens a lot is because it's effective (unless done so cheaply that nobody can have an emotional response to it)
    – GordonM
    Aug 28, 2017 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


A death feels 'satisfying' when it makes sense in the story. Satisfying in the sense that an audience will put up with it: it won't feel out of place, or as though it was just put there for 'drama'. (Even if it was.) Oftentimes, a character will get killed because of a flaw. Being stubborn, loyal, or even unrelentingly moral can be flaws that get a character killed. But as Mark says, this still must serve a purpose. In a story I wrote, I realized that I should kill off a particular character because he would be likely to take unnecessary risks. It also put a great burden on the main character that helped explain some of his feelings afterward, but largely I realized that he would die due to taking that risk.

Innocence and naivety can be a reason a character dies, but it still must make sense. There must be a reason that their innocence gets them into a situation where they die. If they die at the hands of another character, it must make sense for that character to have killed them.


The basic patterns of story are as old as the hills and they are not going away or losing any of their potency. It is always and forever in the execution.

But I think you need to stop thinking in terms of tropes, or at least stop reading TV Tropes. TV does not get by on storytelling. Most TV storylines are weak, and often absurdly so. TV gets by on your affection for the characters and that is largely down to the attractiveness of the actors playing them. The TV writer's job is to give actors and directors room to work. They can pull out the standard TV tropes again and again and let the actors go to town on them. 95 percent of the weight of the show is on the actor's shoulders (and that is reflected in their salaries). This is why recasting so often kills a show, while writers come and go and we rarely notice the difference.

In a novel, all the weight is on the writer's shoulders. You can't paper over the cracks with a pratfall or a pushup bra. Your characters are characters, not actors, and you need to focus on making them whole, human, and consistent, and on clearly delineating the desires that drive them.

This does not mean that you cannot use conventional plot devices. Story is what it is and there are only so many shapes it can assume. The key thing to understand is that you cannot use such devices to make readers care. Readers have to care about the characters before the familiar plot device occurs; they will not start to care just because such devices occur.

This is why the notion that you should start in the middle of an action sequence is so difficult to follow successfully (and why it is clearly contradicted by so many published books). You have to care about the character before you care about the action.

Get that part right, and all the tropes work. Get it wrong and all the tropes fail.

On the screen, that part is up to the actor. On the page, it is up to you.

  • 1
    TL; DR: Give them some time before their demise? Aug 23, 2017 at 18:16
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    No. Make us love them first. That need not take much time, and time alone won't do it.
    – user16226
    Aug 23, 2017 at 19:01
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    Oh, Okay then, so more time and characterization. Aug 23, 2017 at 19:07
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    Despite the name, TVTropes.org is not just about TV. It covers tropes of all kinds of media, including novels.
    – Philipp
    Aug 29, 2017 at 22:08

Who is laughing? Just you, at suckering your readers into caring about a character?

Maybe this is not how you read, but most readers are making an investment of time and emotional energy in imagining the characters. Developing a character they like, and then causing that character pain, stress and grief, is part of storytelling. But if you kill the character (and there is no afterlife for it) you have wasted their time and investment for an entirely superfluous stunt. They won't laugh at that, they aren't psychopaths.

If you are going to kill a character, there are ways to make them sympathetic but undeveloped. With a single line happy line or helpful act, a pretty actress gains credit with the audience, then you can have her laughing and looking over her shoulder as she walks into an oncoming garbage truck. the audience will still not find that funny, but they will wince and move on, because they did not invest too much emotion into the character; just a first impression.

If you want to play death for laughs, you need a burlesque story with over the top or supernatural characters (e.g. Beetlejuice, Zombieland).

  • 1
    Yes this is exactly my point in the comments I made. I am starting to get a feel for this OP that they are trying to write a really dark and messed up book. All their questions seem to revolve around harsh topics or things that most find cringeworthy.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 23, 2017 at 18:24
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    First, I'm the one who's laughing HIHAHUEAHUEKEKE. Second, I already got the intel to develop them before the meatgrinder, and ensure, that their resurrection will happen, when everybody moved on. Aug 23, 2017 at 18:25
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    I wrote a story in high school where a character was killed very quickly into it, and it was played for laughs. (The main character was not a morning person.) But I would describe him as a 'character' very lightly - he had no characterization or development, more a piece of set dressing. And it served to establish that the main character was not a morning person. (I only got a 99/100 on the story, but that was mostly due to comma splices.)
    – Michael
    Aug 23, 2017 at 18:31
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    @Michael When I thought, that I was the psychopath. Aug 23, 2017 at 18:32
  • 1
    It was in the context of a Conan the Barbarian-esque character/fantasy world, so such violence was part and parcel. Plus I was a young man then, given to testosterone.
    – Michael
    Aug 23, 2017 at 18:45

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