Today, Havan Fellows has invited me to talk about the all-too-important topic of killing off characters. I love killing characters. I'll use anything—swords, stakes, knives, letter openers...whatever's available, really. There are three major things I take into account when I’m killing a character:
1. World Rules
Based on the rules I’ve crafted for whatever world my book takes place in, I have to ask myself, “What are the ways this character can be killed?” In my erotic novel, Clipped, angels and demons can only be killed with weapons created in immortal realms (aka Heaven and Hell). One exception here is if the angel/demon has been clipped, as in the case of my main character, the demon Kinzer. Since he's been clipped, he can be killed just like any human. I could have a character slice open his jugular with a knife, and he'd be a goner. His enemies, on the other hand, don't have his handicap, so Kinzer uses a sword created with materials from the immortal realms to kill them.
When I was writing the book, it was important for me to remember these character limitations, because forgetting them created odd and undoubtedly confusing inconsistencies. In one of the initial drafts, an angel used his wings to shield him and several other characters from bullets. In another chapter, those same wings were injured when he was being fucked on a desk. This is obviously problematic. Similarly, if I killed one of my angels/demons with something from the mortal world, I would have violated the rule I’d set up and left the reader confused about how my world operates (or just thinking that there are no rules because I’m a crappy writer).
2. What’s Available
Another important factor in killing characters is finding something to kill them with. Several years ago, I would plant convenient weapons wherever my protagonist needed them, but I’ve discovered that stories are far more interesting when my characters have to get creative. In my upcoming book The Pining of Kevin Harding (Wilde City Press, October 8, 2014), people are biologically transformed into vampires when a master vamp infects them with the vamp-making virus. My blood-sucking menaces are particularly difficult to kill, because they have rapid regenerative abilities. Vampire hunters can sever off their limbs and heads, and the vamps regrow them. The solution? Hunters have to use a special serum that kills the virus (and the vamp). Of course, what fun would it be if I always made the serum readily available to the hunters? Not much. So I keep it out of their reach. Now that they don’t have the serum, what are their options? They can dismember the vampire. They can bind their limbs. They can do any number of things to immobilize the vampire while they get a chance to find the serum. But I only let characters use whatever’s available in the scene. They don’t magically have a knife or a gun. They have to look around the room, take stock, and act accordingly. A character getting creative with a potato peeler is far more interesting than doing the same old thing with a knife.
Though this is #3, it’s probably the most important. Is this death gonna be cool? If not, what’s the point? I’m not going to have any fun writing it. Readers won’t have any fun reading it. This is all about personal tastes. If the death doesn’t excite me…if it doesn’t make me eager to write the scene, then I’m not on the right track. Usually, the problem I run into is that it’s too easy to kill the character. The protagonist has the sword or serum. They can kill the guy in five seconds. Like I mention in #2, when I run into this issue, I find a way to get the solution out of my character’s hands. This forces me to get creative and come up with a unique and awesome way of killing the difficult character off.
This really only applies to important characters. Not every character needs a cool death. Too many cool deaths, I believe, take away from the big, dramatic deaths that I want to stand out. They also make the deaths fairly predictable. Even with major characters, it can be useful to kill a character in what may seem a less-than-remarkable way. It’ll catch the reader off guard and leave a greater impression, especially if it’s a character that they would have rather died in some glorious, meaningful way. One of the best examples of this is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (For those who haven’t seen the show A) What’s wrong with you? B) Spoiler alert.) In Season 5, Buffy’s mom dies in one of the most abrupt and human ways imaginable, and because so many of the deaths in the show are dramatic and related to some larger-than-life supernatural situation, it catches the audience off guard and makes it one of the most memorable deaths in the entire series.
So those are the three major things I take into consideration when I’m killing off characters. With writing, there really are no rules—just heavily and sometimes violently enforced guidelines. God knows there are plenty of people writing deaths and writing them better who have completely different criteria. Some writers plant weapons in their scenes but are so brilliant with their craft that they make it look seamless. Some writers don’t have to think about it being cool, because when they write it, it just is. These are just some things that I think about when I’m killing my heroes and villains. Sometimes they help, and sometimes the story or character demands that I throw all of these out the window.
Havan Fellows, thanks for having me on the blog today! If you get a chance, I hope you’ll head over to Wilde City’s website or Amazon and check out Clipped.
Though mortals have been convinced that God cares about their souls, nothing could be further from the truth. He created the world as a gift for his lover, Satan. But when Satan left him, he decided to end what he saw as his most grotesque creation.
Satan and his army of demons are man's only hope...
The demon Kinzer and his lover, Janka, have been sent by Satan to spy on The Raze, a gang of rogue demons who are working with God to bring about Armageddon. When someone exposes their true allegiances, The Raze clips Kinzer's wings and murders Janka. Kinzer manages to escape. He tracks down Satan's allies to warn them about a mole in their midst when he learns that they've located the Antichrist—a powerful weapon that could prevent the apocalypse. Now, he's on a mission to protect the Antichrist and avenge his lover’s death.
Buy Clipped here.
About Devon McCormack: If I was writing an old-school craigslist personal, I'd say (appropriately in code): fit masc wm ddf lookin 4 same. 28yo. Of course, who's honest with their craigslist personal ads? And who the hell uses craigslist these days? Please. That's what grindr is for.
On a more serious note, I'm from Atlanta, GA. I work odd jobs. My gay erotic novel Clipped is available through Wilde City Press. I also have a vampire novel coming out through Wilde City in October and a young adult novel being released through Harmony Ink Press in June or July
Find Devon here