Character Death Reaction

by A Writer
(The Place Where Writers Dwell)

Question: One of my characters is at the brink of death. As much as it pains me, and as hard as I tried to keep her alive, she doesn't have much longer. So I'm wondering... what's the best way to pull it off?


I don't know if you remember, but recently, I asked about whether or not a certain chapter was important to the story, and the characters were Anna, Julie, and Jon.

I took your advice, and the river of writing is flowing once more. However, I've stumbled across another waterfall, and its flung me down the inevitable cliff that is a character's death.

Anna is going to die. I tried, but I failed. No matter which miracle occurs, I have three options:

- My writing becomes forced and unrealistic just to keep Anna alive.

- I delete the book and start again.

- I kill Anna.

I opt for the third choice. And it's difficult, because Anna was such an important character (and a personal favourite), and I need a believable reaction from Jon and Julie, who were her best friends, as well as from herself. I know exactly how she will die; I need to know how everyone ought to react to make it real.

For some context:

- Julie is an emotional person with slight anger issues, but she's lively, motivated, and carefree. She was a much better friend with Anna than her brother Jon was, and was often irritated at Jon for his distaste and mistrust of Anna. According to the 16 Personality thing, she is a Campaigner (ENFP).

- Jon is an intelligent person with more-than-slight trust issues, but he's empathetic (if need be), resourceful, and protective. He was not particularly close to Anna, for Anna had, indeed, betrayed them in the past, and he
is rather xenophobic, so he didn't trust her to begin with. But he was beginning to warm up to her again. He is a Logistician (ISTJ).

And before you ask, yes, I really did take personality quizzes for my characters.

Thank you!

Answer: For what it's worth, I think you are making the correct choice to sacrifice the character for the sake of the story. You should hope that, if your emotional reaction to the death is strong, the reader's will be strong as well. And it's better to take the reader on an emotional journey that feels authentic and meaningful than to serve them a phony world where nothing bad ever happens to people you like -- because that will make the story less meaningful and emotionally flat.

As JK Rowling told herself when getting ready to write the death of Sirius Black:

"You are writing children's books; you need to be a ruthless killer."

As for how your other characters should react, unfortunately I can't tell you. Personality types are generalizations. They help you build an understanding of the character in your mind, but characters that truly come to life on the page are more than the sum of their traits.

Only your imagination can tell you how they will react.

I suggest you focus your imagination on the characters as you write the scene and let them react as they want to react.

Then set the scene aside for a day or so and read it again. See if it feels authentic. If it doesn't, take another stab at it. (In fact, even if the first draft feels all right, let your imagination work on it some more. You may find an even better version emerges.) Repeat as necessary until it feels right.

No shortcuts here.

Best of luck.

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