In this article, I will discuss the death of characters from The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and the first season of Game of Thrones. Beware of spoilers and read at your own risk.
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AS WRITERS, we connect with our characters more than anyone else in our lives. They live in the back of our heads, and we feel their joy, excitement, and pain. But, there comes a time where we have to kill our darlings to advance our plots. Now, how and why should you do it - and how should you not do it?

Welcome to the second part of my Writing 101 series, where I explore both ups and downs of writing and talk about how you can improve your creative writing. If you have not already read the first part, you can find it here:

Today, we are discussing how to write the deaths of your characters. We are also going to look at how some of the most famous authors on Earth have killed their characters, and why they have chosen to do so.

As you might have guessed by now, I am going to be talking about the deaths of some fictional fan favorites, and why their death and sorrow hurt us so terribly (so I find it hard to ask you to enjoy this article, but you can try either way). Let's get started!

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Why and when should you kill a character?

The main reasons why you should add death to your story is because it will advance your plot and create realism.

One of the many reasons why I watch Game of Thrones to gain inspiration for writing is because of how sad and realistic death is shown in the show. It shows perfectly how people grief death, and how it can scar you for life, all while showing that death is an important part of life.

George R. R. Martin, the author behind the show, kills more characters than one can count - that including main characters - and he does it remarkably well. He kills important characters when they seem to be at their happiest. He kills angry kings when at the top of their game. He kills innocent characters that have a special place in our hearts. Combine these, and you will find yourself sitting at the edge of your seat while watching the show.

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Ned Stark is a perfect example of how and why to kill a character. We meet Ned in season 1 of Game of Thrones, and he is quickly presented as the main character. We get the feeling that he will live long, and do good, but he ends up dead before the season is over.

Now, Ned's death shapes the series as a whole. The death throws his family in all different directions, and his children (especially Arya and Sansa, who watches the kill) are left scarred for life.

His death tells us that "just because you are a hero, does not mean you will get far", and leads to both conflict and emotional fallout - both for the ones that loved him and for those who hated him. It marks the point of no return and is even so important that it is talked about seven seasons later.

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Another great death from the first season of Game of Thrones is the death of King Robert Baratheon. There are plenty of reasons why I think so - but today, I am going to be talking about how realistic his death was.

Game of Thrones is a show about war and battles. Kings and warriors drop like flies every episode and most die honored with their head held high. Now, this is not the case for Robert, who gets killed by a bear while hunting drunk.

I would never have expected such a realistic death in a show about war, and it certainly left me shocked. Deaths like these are the reason why the readers want to keep their book open and keep reading, for, after a death like that, they have no idea who will drop next; their favorite character? The villain? The funny best friend?

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With a character's death, you can mark the start of something big, motivate other characters to fight and stand tall, and show that death is a natural part of life that can come when you least expect it to.

You should not, however, kill a character simply to shock your readers because you want to, or because you get tired of a character and want to get rid of them.

Before the kill, ask yourself: why is the death important? How does it affect the story and the other characters? What emotions do you want to evoke in the reader?

Try to make the reader love and feel for the character right before their deaths. Many do the mistake of killing characters the readers have not heard much of since five chapters ago.

Show the other characters' reactions to the kill to make it even more heartbreaking. A great example of this is Rue's death in The Hunger Games. She had a kind heart and was gentle until the end, and the fact that she was only 12 years old when she died made tears fall down - but how Katniss reacted was what truly made our hearts break.

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Katniss held Rue in her arms, singing to her and promising that she would win the horrible game that had been the end of her. She covered the body in flowers, all while slowly breaking down. The scene is long and detailed and makes us see the horrible truths of The Hunger Games.

Furthermore, to make death even sadder, you can give the character something to look forward to. Give them light at the end of the tunnel, only to let the readers watch them fall.

Another way to make the scene heartbreaking is to make your character fight death... or not.

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Trough the first five books of the Harry Potter series, Draco Malfoy appear to be an arrogant bully. But, something about him changes in the sixth book. He is forced to do Voldemort's dirty work, sending him into a deep depression. He loses weight, stops spending time with his friends, quit doing what he loves, and overall becomes more quiet and locked away.

When at his weakest, Harry Potter, who has been his enemy for years, approaches him to battle. At this point, Draco is beyond broken, so when Potter casts a spell on him that nearly kills him, he doesn't even fight death. He lay on the floor, sobbing, and who the readers have looked at as a horrible villain for five books, is now only a young and broken boy; we suddenly feel for him.

Draco survives, but have to live with battle scars and trauma from a near-death experience, which makes us want to read more to find out how he will cope.

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I think that the deaths in Harry Potter are all great examples of how to kill off your characters the right way. All of them have such great purpose, and advances the plot and motivates Harry to fight evil. Here are some examples of how the deaths affect the plot:

  • James and Lily: establishes the story.
  • Cedric: shows Voldemort's mercilessness and marks the start of the war.
  • Sirius: show Harry's lack of parental figures.
  • Dumbledore: tells us that the death of a great leader can't stop a war.
  • Dobby: tells us that even the smallest can die a noble death.
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Characters you should never kill off because your readers will literally never forgive you:
─ beloved pets
─ only one twin
(Yes, Joanne Kathleen Rowling, I added this part specifically for you)

Remember that killing an innocent character may sadden you, but you should always make sure that it saddens the main character more.

Do enough research before writing the death of a character, and oh, remember to bring out the tissues.

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