Killing main characters. It’s becoming all the rage in fantasy fiction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you known George R.R. Martin is (in)famous for it. Joss Whedon is another who apparently enjoys creating wonderful characters only to stab them to death with his writer’s pen, albeit less violently than Martin does.
So that brings us to you, dear writer. Could you dare even think of killing one of your main characters? Would it tear out your very soul? Would you have sleepless nights? Would you do like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did and bring your character back to life after receiving death threats from fans?
As an aside, you know you’re an awesome writer when your fans threaten to KILL you after killing a fictional character. Wow.
Well, I’m here to help you. I’ve killed plenty of my characters, gleefully and with wild abandon. Sometimes I do it just because I feel like it and sometimes I do it for deep emotional purposes. But mostly because I feel like it.
Here are my 5 (Give or Take) Ways to Kill a Main Character:
The heroic, no way out approach. Almost all characters who are subjected to executions in fiction of all types come off looking either incredibly heroic or incredibly dumb to fall for such a trap. If you’re going to make your character a martyr and go all Braveheart why not do an execution? My feeling is doing this early or half-way through your book may be better than the end, a luxury you can have if your story has multiple POVs. Unless you want to go the depressing, throw the book across the room route and have the character be executed at the end. I personally am not a fan of this ending in modern fiction. Shakespeare can get away with it, but if I read a fantasy adventure with a hero slicing up dragons and then some bandits capture him and cut his head off at the end, I’d be mighty unhappy.
Or as I like to call “Maybe he can come back?” technique. If you have a wizard hurl a fireball at your main character and he dives over a climb in a fiery ball of thrashing limbs, as long as we don’t see him splat, he can always come back. However, if you’re going to go the explosion route, might as well go all out. This way may not be the most popular because it doesn’t give your audience a chance to say goodbye. You could always do the M.A.S.H thing though. Let your characters say goodbye before your character explodes in a dragon-airship collision. This method guarantees a dramatic, memorable death that your readers won’t soon forget. Just make sure if you’re using this method, that your readers won’t riot when they see their favorite character’s limbs raining down upon them.
Duels. What else can you say? A good duel is a dramatic way for a main character to die. Maybe she’s fighting one on one with a skilled swordsman to save her home from being destroyed. Or it’s a gladiatorial showdown in the pits of some arena. This way is good for writers, and readers, that want their heroes to go down fighting. You can even make an antagonist all the more horrible if he pulls a trick on an otherwise honorable character. Poison knife anyone?
No, not the The Temple of Doom style beating heart kind of sacrifice. Maybe having a character grab a gem of power and jump down into a whirlpool before it sucks everyone into a black hole of nothingness. Big, bold and over the top. Or it can be something simple. Like a character sacrificing oneself to dire wolves so the others can get away. This role is almost always better served for secondary characters, but can sometimes be great for a main character as well.
5. More Creative Options
Hell, there are tons of ways to kill a main character really. Here are some fantasy based ones you can borrow if you like, from A-Z.
Anthropomorphic aardvark assassin’s crossbow bolt
Bigby’s Crushing Hand (for you D&D nerds)
Diamond encrusted dirk in the ear
Elven barrage of barbed arrows
Giant’s ingrown toenail
Harpy’s talon (or breath)
Iceball to the face
Jump into a volcano
Karaoke gone wrong
Manticore tears out the eyeballs
Overby’s suggestions (that’s me!)
Quiche with bad eggs
Sauron’s eye (fan fiction version only)
Trip and fall
Uranus goes out of orbit and crashes into the Sun
Venus fly-trap greenhouse party
Warhammer to the bread-basket
Xenophobic hordes of goblin-folk
Zeltranian death wyrm (OK, I just made that up).