Monday, June 28, 2010

Writing Your Hero's Death

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Writing Your Hero's Death - by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Would you like to hear what your readers really think of your novel? A surefire method to receive an inbox overrun with emails is to write the death of your NOVEL's HERO. Wouldn't you be upset if you spent hours reading a novel only to have the character with whom you most identified croak off? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends upon how you handle writing your hero's death.

If you feel your novel needs the wet work, here are some suggestions to kill off your hero so your readers won't abandon you.

Make certain his exit is necessary to your plot. You probably shouldn't kill him off just to shock your readers. Yes, it's often good to shock your readers, but I don't think this is the time to do it.

Also, make his death of consequence and finalize the event on a encouraging note. That is, ensure he dies for a worthy reason, one your readers will understand and accept. Think silver lining here. Sure, the hero dies, but his daughter lives on to become the first female president of the United States and ends all war. Now that would make for a worthy passing, wouldn't you say? If you arrange this to be a positive event, your readers will forgive you and probably even approve.

Create a situation where any and every major character has the potential to die. There's more power to a scene when a bus load of characters goes over the cliff than if the bus has only the driver, your hero, at the wheel.

Make the situation logical. Which of these scenes works better for you? Everyone runs around and screams on a sinking ship when an unexpected meteorite slams into it and kills everyone on board before they drown. Or, your hero is in battle and a wave of enemy fighters swam around him and kill him. This second situation is much more likely accepted by your readers.

If you're going to do it, as the Nike commercial says, "Just do it." Put your hero in a red shirt and have the meteorite smack him upside the head. Either kill him or don't.

Your hero's resurrection should not exist in fiction. You shouldn't put your readers through the trauma of your hero's demise only to have the character jump up later and yell, "Surprise!" This won't offer your readers any relief but may well irritate them.

It may ease the blow if you give your readers a foreshadowing of your hero's demise. The secret here is to give them the information, but insert it into your novel in such a way as they might misinterpret the clues. When the event finally occurs they should be shocked, but upon reflection, understand they should've seen it coming.

You may wish to consider the hero's death as a catalyst for a whole new and dramatic chain of events that are yet to transpire. What fun!

One last thought. If you cannot imagine the death of a specific character, then neither can your readers. That's the guy who should survive.

Killing your hero can be either courageous or disastrous. It all depends on how you handle it.

Is there anyone among my readers who has killed off a major character? If so, would you care to share the responses you received from your readers?

Until we meet again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the now-at-the-editors novel "Born to be Brothers"


  1. Killing a main character can be just a traumatic for the author.

  2. C. Patrick SchulzeJune 29, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    You're correct, Alex.

    I killed off a major character in one manuscript and my editor, my wife, the female half of my beta group... all cried.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. I killed both the MCs in my first novel - everyone cried but, it was necessary and brought about important change so . . . they forgave me (more or less). Still, as it was a romance novel - probably NOT the best plan ;)