Killing Off Characters

People often get really upset when one of their favorite characters in a book, show, or movie gets “killed off.” They often get angry at the writers as though the writer sadistically decided to murder the character. I understand the frustration – I can get pretty emotionally invested in stories too – but really I think people need to chill out.

First of all, having beloved characters die is realistic. People die. We don’t get to decide who or how or when. Sometimes the people we love the most die. Sometimes many people that we love die all around the same time. It happens. And fiction should, at least somewhat, mirror reality.

Secondly, though I still sometimes use the phrase, I think we should stop accusing writers of “killing off characters” unless it is pretty obvious that the death of said character was written purely for shock factor (I’m looking at you, season 3 of Downton Abbey…I don’t know, that all felt really cheap to me…). One time John Green was talking about this (I think someone may have asked him why he decided to kill a certain character) and he said something to the effect of “Authors don’t kill characters; Characters die.” (This is not an exact quote). And I really liked that. I know this sounds kind of mystical, but whatever: The stories and characters that we write, while they are technically our creations and come from our own minds, are separate entities that already exist before we put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as the case may be). The story is already there and it’s our job to write it accurately. The characters already exist and it’s up to us to make sure the actions and dialogue we write for them are consistent with who they are. So, when I write about a character who dies, I’m not sadistically “killing him off,” I’m relaying to my readers the facts of his life. If I feel that a character is supposed to die in the next scene and I don’t write that death, the story is instantly cheapened.

It is perfectly okay to grieve a bit when a character dies, but please stop getting angry at storytellers for writing the deaths of characters. If you only want to experience unrealistic stories in which nothing tragic ever happens…maybe stay in the children’s section? Well… you may even be in danger there…

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