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Shuffling a character off this mortal coil

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Oct. 30, 2020

Whether it be planned from the beginning, or a sudden decision, some characters just have to go. As a creator, one should endeavour to do it for the right reasons. Shuffling off this mortal coil may be a catalysing event for the plot, a much needed kick for the protagonist or a well deserved cosmic slap of karma; whatever the circumstances may be, it is an important and often used plot device.

It is easy to cheapen death with a fake out and although it can be done well, if you want to make an impact, leave the characters in the grave! Death is final. Removing a character from this mortal coil has real and lasting consequences for the other characters in the story. However, it can quickly become undermined the moment they pop up out of the earth, (unless it’s a zombie in which case you get a pass). If you want the loss to really sting and linger, then let them go.

When constructing your story outline,think about if and why you’re planning to have a character die or be merciful and keep them alive. Although the creative process is fluid and even the most well laid out plans and plots can change, keep this question in your mind, “What purpose would my character’s death be fulfilling?”. As a comic creator you’re well within your rights to design a character to die, just keep in mind this question and be open to the possibility that maybe they would better serve the story alive.

Have you ever planned a character’s death from the start? Did that change? Let us know in the comment section below! And join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!

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PaulEberhardt at 8:58AM, Oct. 31, 2020

I agree that killing off well-built characters is a bad idea if it has nothing to do with the point you're trying to make. Generally speaking, it may seem a cheap way to establish yourself as an interesting author, but it comes with the price tag of all the readers focusing on this one thing, no matter what else you put in there. You'll be stuck with the tone it sets and risk making it all look incongruous if you try to steer away from it again. An exception may be black comedy where you're allowed to play with that very incongruity - but you'll have to be very sure of your instincts to pull it off successfully.

PaulEberhardt at 8:31AM, Oct. 31, 2020

It's the toughest decision a writer can make. I killed off the main character in a story of mine (print only so far; I haven't put it online so as not to put off my publisher, but that doesn't mean I stricly rule it out forever), but only because it's a black-humoured tragicomedy that reflects on life and death and it's the pivotal point of the plot. It was well-received as such, but nevertheless the decision to pull this through cost me some sleep for a while. My idea was to get a bittersweet tone in there, something that makes you laugh and cry and then think, and it's way too easy to overdo either in that combination. In the end I got the desired effect by including a quirky version of Heaven, but only when I got all the positive feedback I got did I really relax. It does take some nerve to do this. If I ever try it again, I'll make doubly sure to apply the same level of care.

Banes at 10:57PM, Oct. 30, 2020

On another note, that gif is frikkin' hypnotic!

Banes at 10:57PM, Oct. 30, 2020

I haven't killed any characters in anything I've posted here...well, other than temporarily in non-canon or unusual episodes. It does take finesse to make it work, and it can so easily go badly if not done right!

hushicho at 8:02PM, Oct. 30, 2020

It's almost always a bad choice to kill off a character. It takes really a tremendous amount of skill and a good judge of timing, and most people don't have that. It doesn't add anything to most stories. Every character is going to be someone's favorite, and so you run the likely chance of driving them away by getting rid of what could be the only reason they follow the story. Most of all, though, getting rid of a character means they can't contribute more to the story, which is usually not smart. And death as a motivator is just a sign of poor writing. Avoid it wherever possible.

usedbooks at 4:02AM, Oct. 30, 2020

I created three side protagonist characters specifically for the purpose of killing off. One of them I didn't, which was weird. I built him up so much because I wanted him to be so good before getting axed. He was literally too good for the world. But now he's around. (I found a trope for him to fill, though.) One lived through an attempted murder early in the story, but I needed a victim later, so she ultimately only dodged the reaper. And the last one had to die because it was a major plot point. I had a couple close-calls that were kinda fake-outs, but I planted clues from the start. And a few deaths that were important to the story but not originally planned (mostly spring cleaning the cast). And a couple antagonist henchpeople got axed by design as well. Death is uncommon in my story, but my story is LOOONG.

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