Monday, July 20, 2015

When to Kill the Character...

And when NOT to kill the character ;-)
(btw, Amy Leigh Simpson would probably have some different comments to say about this :-)

I'm on deadline for my second book in the Penned in Time Series so my mental abilities, time management skills, and patience are being tested to the brink.

So before you think I created this title because of the pressures of deadline, I'll put your mind at ease...I didn't, mostly.

As tempting as it might be, in all actuality this blog post evolved from a very real experience while writing a few weeks ago. I needed to decide whether someone in my WIP needed to die or not.

For some writers, it's a no brainer.
If you write books where no one ever dies, this blog post might not pertain to you.
For other writers, lots of people die in their books so the answer to this question might always be 'yes, kill 'em off."

But for those of us who write somewhere in between, there might be a real time when you have a dilemma about whether to kill off somebody or not. Which is what happened to me.

When creating stories we are constantly bombarded with the idea that we need to increase tension and conflict.

Make your hero bleed! Make your heroine weep! Break them until the black moment reduces them to a puddle of emotional puddy on the floor!

And though it's true that conflict increases tension and therefore may also increase the power of your story, there are times when killing off that person or causing that tragedy or increasing the suffering, might be too much.

Here are two ways we can make too much tension...too much!

Playing the Job Card (I struggle with this one so I put it first)

There's something to be said for solid, organic tension. Conflict that arises from your story and makes sense in the overall growth of your characters, is a beautiful sight to behold, but when bad things happen just because bad things happen, or just because you feel like tension is low, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the right time...or the right tension.

The best conflict comes from the natural storyline. In other words if killing off that person grows your character in the direction you want, or moves the story along as it should, then maybe you should kill off that person.

Otherwise, should murder really be in your future?

Bloodbath Analogy

Unless you're writing the next horror bestseller, Game of Thrones remake, Zombie apocalypse 10000000, or sparkly teen vampire romance, then there is a point where too much tension is too much tension.

I found myself at this place a few weeks ago.

I was planning on one of my secondary characters dying in a house fire. To me it would have given my heroine another way to deal with suffering and trust God, deepening her character development. Good reason, right?

The choice would have been an organic one from for her character arc, however I knew the future too. I knew my heroine had just finished dealing with the death of someone she loved and I also knew she was getting ready to face one of the most heart-wrenching battles of her life, so I begin to second-guess killing off another character. Why? Because it was just too much.

No, it wasn't conflict for conflict's sake. It would have given added depth to her growth, but it somehow felt a little contrived because of the intensity of consistent pain (and I'm not a pansy about killing characters or causing fictional pain, btw)

Some people may disagree with me on this choice, because they think any tension must be good tension, but I disagree. Maybe it's just my reading preference but when I get to the point where all I feel is loss, loss, loss in a story, then it's too much for me. Besides, sometimes killing off a person isn't what will cause the best tension. Sometimes, there something much worse that will have great impact to the overall story.

So, how's that for a happy Monday post! :-)

 I'd love to hear some of your opinions about tension, killing characters, and went to much is too much.
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She enjoys sprinkling her native Appalachian culture into her fiction whenever she can and loves annoying her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in April 2015. Her first contemporary romance novel, A Twist of Faith, released in December. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at


Julia M. Reffner said...

Love it! I agree with you on balance. Either direction can feel too forced. I love that pic of Amy.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh this is so so good! The subject I don't think anyone has yet to tackle here on the alley! Your points are solid. And I definitely want your story to flow in an organic way with some wrenches thrown in of course. No I don't just recommend killing someone just for the sake of an intention however life and reality is unexpected and death can come swiftly, without warning. In life and even in story you can't plan for the unexpected. Sometimes the story takes you in a direction you wouldn't have imagined and that's part of your hero or heroine's path to redemption. Overcoming heartache. Finding joy despite the pain. They're all sorts of ways to layer tragedy into a story to not just increase the conflict but to build character and to walk a broken journey and emerged victorious on the other side.I think ultimately you do what's right for the story what will make it the most lasting and powerful for the reader. Great stuff to think about here! Especially for a mystery writer like me who often wields my pen like a sword ;) or a knife!

That picture cracks me up! I just love how it slathered in frosting! Lol!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Sorry, speak to text added a few typos in there! Yikes!!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great thoughts. I think we all need to think on the aspects you raised here. I think we almost get giddy with causing turmoil for our characters when the best recipe may be something all together different.

Great words, Pepper!