We’ve all been there. Some character -- the hero, the hero’s best friend, or just some random dude we were really fond of -- is suddenly and epically (or not, in the really tragic case) killed off by the ruthless author. It happens all the time. But, as much as we miss him, if you think about it, the story probably wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable if the author had seen fit to save him. If you’re anything like me, you can think of a movie, book or TV show where one of the characters died and then turns up later, saying, ‘Lol, Jk.’ It’s, quite frankly, annoying. Like you decided that the author didn’t want a ton of fans (or not) showing up at his door and trying to commit homicide.
I think the thing I hate about resurrections is that all too often it feels like the author decided he didn’t like life without the character that he killed. This feels like wishy-washiness on the part of the author and it usually annoys me. You can’t be a pushover when it comes to writing.
One thing that will help keep you from being wishy-washy is truly enjoying your character’s death. This means that no matter how much you love the character, the death is so awesome you’d hate life without it. One of my favourite examples is Boromir from The Lord of the Rings. Boromir is my favourite character from that story, but when he died, because he died fighting for the hobbits, I could not wish him back. This is sort of what you want to do with your story. When you kill that character, make sure you do it in such a way that it either makes him a hero, inspires somebody who is still alive, or does a lot of good for the cause he’s fighting for. The point is, if it’s not a fake death, make sure that you know that you couldn’t change the way he died.
Yet, this sometimes invites indifference to the death. And that brings us to our next point which is: drum it up. Like really drum it up. You’ve made the death irrevocable, now is the time to make it a true killer. This is the time to use your sadism to torture your readers. Cause them every milligram of pain that you can. The ideal situation is where you get the reader so attached to the character that his death, just stated, makes your reader go into convulsions.
A second way is to show the character in the eyes of your viewpoint character at the moment of the dying character’s epic decease. With this method you would describe the deceased in the light of a hero, and have the viewpoint character laud him a little. But just a little. Too much can be annoying and unrealistic. Sometimes it is more important to make the viewpoint character shocked, and shake off a little of his shock onto the audience. There’s also the method of just showing it in the eyes of the narrator, and using something – symbolism, mood, or narrator’s viewpoint, -- to show the magnitude of the event. This is the point where really obsessed writers see the scene taking place in slow motion. Sound odd to you? Or am I right on target? Writing it with a mood of slow motion is what will make your reader cry, and that’s what you want.
So don’t draw it out too much. And if it’s just a minor character, the best idea is to not draw it out at all. Let’s say a little dude that’s helping the good guys just appears for about five minutes and says like one line. Since he’s minor, you don’t want to say a lot about him. Mention his name and make him do one awesome thing and die in the process. Don’t make him die epically. Just make him suddenly show up when the hero’s locked up in the bad guy’s lair and try to free the hero, and then make the bad guy come up behind him, shoot him in head and walk away as the hero (and audience) screams in horror and disbelief. The success of this method depends mainly on its snappiness. This is the point, where you need to just say it right out and move on. Then, as the reader is trying to realize what just happened, you gloat and make it look like his death was as useless as possible.
Still, you don’t want to just brush over a death or loss. When your reader catches up and realizes that the random dude is gone, you need something to keep him from hating you so much that he puts the book down. This is where you start mourning and bewailing the poor little guy. You make it turn out that his death really did do some, actually a lot, of good. And you make some other friend of the hero’s nearly die of shock when he hears it. Don’t overdo it. Make sure that there’s enough action to keep the Main Characters busy. One of the ways of mourning that I like is when the characters look back at the very end and call to mind the death, then decide that the person who died did a lot of good in his death.
Never, I repeat, never kill someone just for the lolz. If you kill someone, you have to make sure that the story wouldn’t be any better if you left him alone. There are many bad ways of killing people, and this is one of them. Even if you have a really awesome way to kill him, it’s not going to impress me unless you make me sympathize with him a little first. I’m not interested in his death unless you make me. I call killing people randomly, killing the cat. It’s like the bad guy walks down an alleyway and just randomly decides to scientifically disintegrate a cat, just for fun. It’s annoying. I’m not interested. At this point, I’m basically going, Just get to the story already! Though this can make the bad guy badder, it disrupts the flow and makes the reader go: Why do I even care?
But what if you can’t find a legitimate reason for the bad guy to kill this dude in the epic way you had planned? Simple. Don’t kill him. I know this destroys some of your dreams, but when you finish a story, it’s always a good idea to look at the deaths and make sure that they need to be there. As I said before, There’s a point where the death crosses the fine line between tragedy and boredom, and if the death doesn’t move the story along in some way, it shouldn’t be there.
There are several reasons that a death might move a story along. Perhaps the hero makes a promise to the dying person, and sets out to fulfill that promise. Maybe the death inspires him, or gives him new motivation. Possibly the dead person was a mysterious person and the hero has a curious personality, forcing him to look into the matter. Or perhaps, the death of the character has to frighten the hero, and make him take a step back before he gets the motivation he really needs.
The last thing I want to say is, Hit him where it hurts. Let’s say that your hero’s enemy is time, and the progress of life. Killing someone close to him, and making the cause age really puts one up on him and he takes a step back because his enemy has won the round. If you tie in the death with the theme of your story, not only does it make the theme a lot more memorable, but it gives the hero some time to think about just what life is all about. This isn’t exactly necessary, but it really helps hold the story together and make one big book.
In closing, I would like to note that deaths, even fictional ones, are monumental and life-changing. If you do it right, your readers will be changed for the better when they put your book down, and you will have become a true author.