Why it’s wrong to kill off characters needlessly

1408766_flying_books_1Earlier this week, I posted about how we can help readers connect with our characters by feeling what they feel, and how sometimes that might not be the best idea or might chase away some readers. Well, you can never please everyone. No one can.

Today, I wanted to discuss the lasting impact of when a reader truly does connect with a character, and feels what that character feels. A few things happen, and they are their own form of magic.

  1. WE CARE MORE WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHARACTER. This is fairly obvious, and is, of course, the major reason we want readers to connect with a character. We want them to be interested in the story, and the people it’s about. We want them to hopefully be interested on more than a superficial level.
  2. READERS CAN SEE THEMSELVES IN THAT CHARACTER’S PLACE. I don’t just mean that they question, “What would I do in this situation?” (though readers do ask that.) I mean that readers can start to examine their own lives. They will find and contemplate times when they acted in a similar manner, or might have. If that’s impossible, they will grow in empathy as they get a window into a different kind of person, an explanation of why someone could ever make that kind of a choice or do that thing. It increases empathy and can really help us learn humility. This, for me, is the true value of literature as art.
  3. READERS WILL TAKE THAT PERSON’S FATE PERSONALLY. For authors, this is crucial to understand. Once a reader feels what a character feels, there is a bond. If that character is harmed, the reader will truly feel that. I know that in Doctor Who, David Tennant’s exit left me feeling actually and truly broken. Like I had actually known him as that character. In addition, readers will personally insulted and harmed and disappointed if and when that characters makes a mistake: especially a BIG one.

This is all important to understand because it shows how dirty and cheap a move it really is to kill a character off, or some such thing, without a reason. There is nothing wrong with killing characters, for characters are humans, and people die. It’s a fact of life.

But fiction is a method of exploring the meaning of life. It’s a means of coping with things that we can’t understand or grasp. As a person of faith, for me, fiction is an infinitely lower means of creation than God’s creation. It is an allegory of  God’s creation, and when God created, He created everything good and His creation had a plan.

That’s why I, as a reader, detest writers killing off characters for shock value, or because they aren’t needed for the plot to advance. All plot points should advance and contribute to the plot, to the purpose and meaning of the story. Most certainly, something like the death of a minor or major character should not be pointless.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Do you hate when characters die without any clear purpose for that happening (in terms of story and character development? Why is that?