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We all know that a character dying is very common in the world of fiction. I'm struggling to find reasons to kill a character. One reason I know of is killing a character, when their whole potential has been reached or they have no more to grow of as a character. Other than that, I don't really know any other reasons to kill a character. Are there any more factors or reasons to kill a character?

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    Do you specifically mean main characters, or any character? Because minor characters may die to motivate a main character in some way (sever the past, or drive them to revenge etc).
    – towr
    Mar 4 at 8:34
  • just characters that could be relevant to the story.
    – Crimsoir
    Mar 4 at 8:42
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    You kill a charater that is relevant to the story when their deaths are relevant to the story. If a character has nothing else to add to the story, to the other characters, or to themselves, you don't need to kill it, just set it aside (separate from the rest, stay in place when the others keep moving, etc)
    – Josh Part
    Mar 4 at 19:27
  • If you're struggling to find a reason, why not leave it at that and simply don't kill anyone? Josh - above - is correct and I, for one, don't understand why anyone would look for characters to kill… Mar 8 at 21:39

4 Answers 4

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I will like to say more about when not to kill a character than when to kill a character.

Of course, everyone have their own different thoughts in this topic, but I would be happy if my answer gives you some idea.

When the character you write is in middle of a character development:

Every good piece of writing is called a "good piece of writing" only when it exhibits an extraordinary amount of character development for the characters in their writings. The character development doesn't have to be to polar opposite. It can be a subtle change, or showing a new side of the character and the only thing that matters is how you write it.

There are some writers who develop a character only to kill them later for the plot development. Don't be them (at least in my opinion). But remember there is a difference between when a developed or developing character is killed and when a character is developed only to be killed later.

When you kill a character to heat up the plot:

Again, writing stories or novels or any piece of writing is tough and I envy many of the writers who do that in an extraordinary way. There may be sometimes when the plot will be going off the tracks or slow, but it is okay. Take your time and get on with the flow. Don't kill them to heat the plot temporarily. It is a bad habit. Some characters you killed could have made some crucial plot change later but they can't because they would have been dead at that point to do that.

Killing too many characters at the same point:

Killing too many characters at the same point (even though if you just have a war) is bad. Sometimes even though the writer may not notice, some characters even the ones that are not main characters may make a reader want to read their writing more. There are some writers who achieves those in their writing and there have been cases where too many characters getting killed at the same time for the plot. Killing one or two characters at a plot changing times can make a reader glued to the story but it will just turn the writing bitter when it just kills too many characters that involve in the story how little they have their time in the writing.

Other than that the image sent by @towr pretty much wraps up other things.

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There can be many reasons to kill a character. And there are also reasons not to. It depends on the kind of story you're writing as well as the audience you write it for.

Here's 7 reasons to kill, and 3 not to, from www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com
But don't imagine that's a complete list.
[edit]Spoiler tag added because the list contains some examples of deaths in books and movies.[/edit]

enter image description here

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    I can think of another reason: To create a mystery or a problem for other characters. Say a character had critical knowledge, and died before they could share it. A woman's husband dies in a car accident, she is suddenly on her own. Or a character dies and nobody can explain why, so they investigate. In any murder mystery, a character dying is absolutely necessary in order for there to be a story at all. I don't think this is the same as "advancing" the plot, in many cases it is creating the plot.
    – Amadeus
    Mar 4 at 14:43
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    One way I think about the realism point is: I, the author, will "kill" a character when it makes sense for another character to kill them. Obviously this doesn't help with deciding whether someone should succumb to an illness, for instance, but I find it helpful in other cases. Mar 4 at 16:26
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    Depends on the genre of course. E.g.: if your genre is "slasher flick", then killing people for the shock value is kind of the whole point... Mar 4 at 18:11
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    What I often see in books, and I find missing from your list, is character being killed when the writer doesn't want to deal with a complicated (e.g. ethically or morally) situation they create. E.g. a character has two potential romantic partners – kill one of them. Or a character has done something clearly unethical and unacceptable, but then attempts to stand on the good side – still often gets killed. Would you consider it a clever practical trick, or laziness and cutting corners? Mar 4 at 19:41
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    I know many of those stories/movies are considered classic, but a "Spoiler" tag wouldn't hurt, especially now that this question appears on HNQ. Mar 5 at 12:40
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You don't have to kill characters in stories. Heck, most children's stories do not involve any deaths.

But death is part of the typical adult human experience. The death of a loved one can be the most plausible motivation for change in a hero. Or the death of many, like a terrorist. It may be hard to write a believable terrorist story in which nobody dies. Death can be a great motivator, like in a detective story.

The death of a villain can be the emotionally logical payoff for a character that has been killing people for selfish reasons, to get rich, to gain power, to gain fame (like serial killers).

Death is about the biggest game-changer in fiction, if you are telling a story in which a character has a life transforming experience or makes a life-transforming decision about how to live their life, or what they will do with their life, then the death of somebody they love, or care about, is a plausible reason to justify that.

Would Batman have ever come to be if Bruce Wayne did not see his parents killed in front of him? If his father just got punched in the nose whilst being robbed? The death of his parents in front of him, and being left to deal with the grief of that trauma on his own, is a plausible motivator for devoting his life to fighting crime. I find it hard to imagine a motivator for that drastic a life change that doesn't involve death.

In Die Hard, Bruce Willis's character needs to see (in a fictional sense) the terrorists brutally, intentionally and calmly killing people without any qualms, those deaths are his motivation to risk his life and go solo vigilante to save his captured family from those sociopathic criminals.

Stories don't have to kill characters. You have to kill a character when the irreversible finality of death, and the emotional trauma of dealing with one or more deaths, is the only plausible motivator for either the hero or the villain to then do what they do. Completely changing their life in some way. Risking their own death, becoming a soldier, or vigilante. Or a hardened criminal.

This is part of the human story, human society has struggled forever against the sociopaths and lethal dangers of the world. But that struggle is also a motivator. To defeat danger, to defeat disease, to defeat slavery and injustice, to defeat violence. To defeat death! Of course none of us will ever succeed at that entirely, but we can win our battles against death, and that is the point of many stories.

But you can write stories without killing any characters, about other parts of the human experience. Finding love, struggles for acceptance, solving non-murder mysteries, defeat injustice on a smaller scale than murder. Finding a fantasy world. Putting a bully in their place. Succeeding in a struggle to be recognized as valuable. Fighting and overcoming an addiction. Fighting and overcoming a hardship, like trying to adopt, or get pregnant. Dealing with divorce, or cheating by a spouse.

There are many story topics in which nobody has to die. You really only have to kill character(s) when you need the strongest possible motivator for somebody to seriously risk their life to prevent further death, or drastically change their life in response to death, or sometimes reveal their true selves and feelings under the stress of fearing death.

Edit in response to comment: It doesn't matter what the victim's point in development is. They can be an infant, a child, a teen, an adult, retired and ending a long life, whatever.

The schedule for killing them is a turning point in somebody else's life, your hero or villain. It is perhaps an inciting incident, halfway through Act I. Or the motivation for a protagonist to leave their normal world, at the end of Act I.

Their death is a motivation for somebody (hero or villain) to change, so it occurs on their schedule; e.g. the loss of a child motivates somebody to run for office. The loss of a lover motivates somebody to move across the country. The loss of their parents in a car accident motivates them to end their partying life to care for their siblings.

You don't kill a character out of convenience, because that character has "no more growth" to offer. You kill characters at a point in one of the main characters lives, to motivate the main character to make a drastic change in their life.

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    well, my story might be serious like death note. hence the reason why i ask this question. I wanted to know when exactly is a perfect time to kill a character or at least retire them. I know nothing when it comes to killing a character, all i know is that once a character has reach their full potential and has nothing else to develop, killing them would do good. other than that reason, im not sure what other reason. Yes not all stories need to kill a character but this story is in development and i am just simply asking this as a request of advices.
    – Crimsoir
    Mar 4 at 11:59
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You will know when it's time to do it. If you can't think of a reason to kill a character, you shouldn't be thinking about killing them, and it's OK if the thought of killing them never even crosses your mind.

I have a story where the presumed protagonist dies partway through. This is for a few different reasons:

  1. It's shocking. Yes, another post here said that's not a good reason. I think it's not good if it's the only reason, but I think it's a fine reason if it's supported by other reasons.
  2. It casts doubt on the safety of the new protagonist. The audience won't assume the protagonist is wearing plot armor, even if they are.
  3. This character's death provides a major motivation for the protagonist in the rest of the story.
  4. The audience will hopefully like this character enough that they will share the protagonist's desire to avenge his death.
  5. The character's death also has other consequences; namely, it's a pretext for war.

But why did I decide to kill off the character? What made me decide that's what needs to happen? I decided early on that this character's death was what my story, or at least a significant part of it, was about. At the time I thought I had to fill my writing with shocking twists (wrong), and I thought killing my protagonist would be a shocking twist (probably right). As I matured and learned more about storytelling, I cut out many of my twists because I realized how silly and nonsensical they were, but this one stuck because it became so central to the story and it still seems to work well.

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