Over at YA Misfits, Francesca Zappia posted about the appropriateness of killing characters, with some great insights. When done well, these can be my most favourite moments in a book. A book where I end up crying over a character death nearly always makes it onto my fave-books-ever list. But when done poorly, it just leaves me feeling frustrated with both the story and the author – and I can call up a few favourite series where that’s happened, too.
I’m definitely a character-killer. Of the 10 books I’ve written or planned (ie the unwritten sequels), only one didn’t include the death of a central character. It doesn’t feel like my story to me if someone doesn’t die. Death is a powerful way to force change on your protagonist, and to create tension, plot twists, and spin the story forward. What the protagonist does as a result of this loss not only defines the character but also changes the course of the story.
But like anything, I think death needs to be used sparingly. Too much death and it starts to lose its punch. It should, I feel, be reserved for those moments where it really is either critical to the plot (something can’t happen if a character continues to live) or to character development (the character needs this loss to spur them into change… which is kinda just a variation of ‘critical to the plot’). Possibly the only exceptions I would allow to this are war epics where character losses are just par for the course; because it’s a war, after all.
Readers will understand if you have to kill even their most beloved character, so long as it’s evident it’s absolutely necessary to the plot. But you’ll get a mutiny if a reader favourite suffers what seems like a senseless death. Remember that familiar saying, “The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense”? That’s especially true of deaths.
Anyway. Francesca went into a lot more (really good) detail in her post, which I encourage you to read, too.