Killing Off Characters

I whacked thirty-three, no wait, thirty-four people in a piece of flash fiction today. That’s a record for me. It wasn’t hard really since most of them were victims of the bad man. Thinking about this made me consider two things: killing off characters you love is hard and being creative with your imaginary whackings is important.

Some of my favorite characters will never die. I swear it. If my preferred cop gets shot dead, I’ll just bring him back as a ghost in the next story. I’m not afraid to jump genres. Even so, sometimes the unthinkable happens and the only thing that makes sense of a story is to off one of your beloveds. Hard doings. That might even require breaking out the Bombay Blue Sapphire.

Once you’ve determined this is what MUST happen, figuring out how to do it well is important. Crucial really. Make the exit as memorable as the entrance. Whether it’s a blaze of glory, a fiery crash, a rousing bar fight, a wistfully freezing to death naked in a snow bank – make it matter. Yes, people drop dead of heart attacks everyday, but not in your story they don’t. Not unless the heart seizure made them stumble, collapse to one knee, tumble down a stairwell and into a flaming pit of hot tar. During which your protagonist yelled out the secret code to open the safe to access the computer to save the world from Nathan’s attacking space monkeys.

Work it…work it…work it.

Be the badass word pimp you are. If you can’t kill them with finesse and charm, hold off. Don’t waste a good character with a bad death scene. Kill off a Red Shirt instead, cause nobody really cares if they live or die (Star Trek reference in case that one slipped over your head young’un).

Practice offing people – it’s harder to do in fiction than in real life, or so I’m informed. Think about the logistics, the challenges, the problems. How much blood is in a human body? Dump a gallon of milk on your kitchen floor and you’ll freak. How heavy is a human body? Schlep a 100 pounds of feed corn around for the afternoon and that’ll be like moving a small dead person. Try it and you’ll rethink that idea of tossing dead bodies in and out of the trunks of cars and off the rooftops of buildings. Mucho muscle needed. What do bullets sound like when they hit flesh? It’s not the same thump thump of when they slap wood fenceposts. You have to make it feel and sound and seem real, but let’s face it – nobody wants it to BE real.

Putrefaction is something else to consider and it can happen mighty fast. But that’s another post.

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