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How To Kill Off Your Characters

Killing off characters in a story can be a great way to raise the stakes in a story and shock your audience. Especially when the character being killed off is someone the audience likes. With that being said, there are also times where this can have the opposite effect and if that happens then it’s probably because of a few reasons.

  1. The character wasn’t well developed
  2. The character didn’t mean much to the overall plot
  3. Nobody liked that character anyway (or didn’t care about them)

However, if your protagonist or supporting characters have been properly developed and you have an unforgettable villain then you won’t have anything to worry about.

Characters Who Shocked Us When They Were Killed Off

Without giving too much of a spoiler, I will just name the show or movie where relevant characters were killed off with purpose.

Game of Thrones

The Departed

The Sopranos

Breaking Bad

The Walking Dead

Scarface

Snowfall

In these shows and movies relevant characters who the audience cared about were killed off and it wasn’t just for shock value. It served the plot, raised the stakes and moved the story forward.

Tips for Killing Off a Character

Make sure their death serves a purpose.

If it’s a complete nobody who gets killed it should still be a point to their death. Does a vicious mob boss need to remind his crew that he means business? Is it an abusive husband who is killed by his wife who has been beaten one too many times?

Consider what the audience will think or feel.

Figure out what you’re going for by killing off this character. Shock, devastation, anger, joy are all emotions you should be planning for and not getting by accident.

What will the outcome of the character’s death be?

How does it affect the plot and overall story? Which characters are most impacted by the death of this person?

When killing off your character make sure their death matches their deeds.

In the Game of Thrones there is a character named Ramsay who was a sociopathic killer. He kept a pack of wild dogs in a pen and starved them to death so they would be hungry if he locked someone in there to be killed.

Later in the story Ramsay is defeated and his killer feeds him to his own dogs to be eaten alive. Do you see the irony? Killing off this character wouldn’t have the same impact if he had just been killed in a bar fight.

What’s the Best Way to Kill Your Character?

If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll know the answer is pretty obvious — it depends. Personally I like to use a at least a little bit of irony when I kill off a character, but here are some creative ideas:

  1. Stabbed to death
  2. Killed in a massive gunfight
  3. Earthquake
  4. Shocked to death in bathtub
  5. Suffocated with plastic bag
  6. Accidentally slip and falls in a deep hole
  7. Crushed by truck slowly driving over character while they can’t move
  8. Attacked by wild animal in jungle
  9. Bit by poisonous snake or spider
  10. Car accident or hit and run
  11. Zombie bite
  12. Bar fight where character takes one too many hits to the face
  13. Acid poured on character while being tortured
  14. Dies in sword fight
  15. Bit by shark while swimming
  16. Tornado or hurricane
  17. Slips and falls through ice lake
  18. Pushed off cliff by unsuspecting supporting character while hiking
  19. Gun malfunction backfires when least expected
  20. Dies of infected wound

Whatever you do, don’t forget that you must consider the story you’re trying to tell. These deaths can’t and should not be random.

Jay

About Jay

Jay Carver is a screenwriter, director and producer. Through his production company J-Style Films, he has done work for companies such as Turner Broadcasting. In the past, he has worked with Hollywood actor Omari Hardwick and won several film festivals including "Best Director".

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