“You seem a decent fellow,” Inigo said. “I hate to kill you.”
“You seem a decent fellow,” answered the man in black. “I hate to die.”
– William Goldman, The Princess Bride
I’m with Inigo. I hate to kill off my characters. It feels like I’m betraying them somehow. It’s easier killing off my villains, but even then I feel guilty occasionally. I prefer to come up with more creative ways of punishment where they can learn a lesson. How very parental of me, right? I think the more attached you are to your characters, the harder it gets, and maybe the better job you’ve done as a writer if you can get your audience attached as well.
It can add an element of realism to your fiction if you decide it’s necessary because of course people die in real life, but I’ve read a lot of stories and sometimes it can actually detract from what you’re trying to do. Killing a character just for the sake of killing them isn’t a good idea. Just like in real life, I’m sure your characters would hope their fictional lives would have meaning in some way. If it doesn’t add to your theme, forward your plot, or affect your other characters in an important way you’re wasting their life and their place in the world you’ve created. I think that’s so sad.
Holding lives in your hands, although they may be fictional, is a great responsibility. The character Inigo studied for twenty years in order to find and kill the six-fingered man who murdered his father. Inigo’s quest and the ultimate death of the six-fingered man defined those characters’ existence.
Will the death of any character you choose to kill mean as much? I think it should. What do you think?