Killing Characters

101 Fascinating Ways to Kill A Character

DragonCon panel with John Ringo, Anthony Francis, Jeanne Stein, Debbie Viguie, and moderated by John Robinson.

Despite the original name of the panel, it was a far more insightful panel than listing of ways characters could die.

Why Do We Kill Characters?

“Because we shouldn’t kill real people.” – Ringo

  • To raise the stakes, show the baddie is bad. But don’t make it gratuitous. – Francis
  • You’re writing to give your readers catharsis. Putting characters in danger, then saving them gives your reader endorphins that literally addict them to your characters.
  • We’re assinine and manipulative. We want to hurt you, then uplift you. – Ringo

The Power of Death Scenes

  • Rambo: when Viguie’s dad showed it to her, he said it would explain him to her.
  • Apocalypse Now: helped Stein understand her ex-husband, a Viet Nam vet with 3 tours.

Minimalist is best. You can do more with a teddy bear abandoned by the side of the road than with a pile of skulls. – Ringo

Sources of Deadly Inspiration

  • The depths of your soul
  • Ask your dad
  • Interesting google queries
  • Law enforcement is happy to talk to writers
  • Police Academy students
  • Your local assassins’ guild
  • Forensic specialists

Why Does Death Fascinate?

  • We all deal with the fear of death and deal with the death of loved ones. Like highway rubber-necking.
    • Viguie kept naming villains Steve until her aunt asked her mom why she kept killing her uncle. Then she cried when her asshole uncle died and asked her mom, “Why?”  “Because your villain died.” Mom said.
  • We only hear about the murderers we catch. The smart and the lucky ones get away. Like they’re doing right now. – Stein
  • Ringo’s wife has 12 1/2 ways to kill him without it showing up on an autopsy. She told him.
  • 2,000 people go missing every year. 40,000 people die from reasons unknown every year. – Francis
  • In Paleolithic times, 1/3rd of the people died from violence. Evolutionarily, we need violence to remind us of the joy of living, and not being the one to die today. – Ringo

When To Kill A Secondary Character

  • No one is too important. But, know if you need carnage or if you need emotional significance. – Viguie
  • Make sure to spread it out so the reader AND the Main Character don’t go numb from all the death. – Viguie
  • Remember, humans cut death with humor. Gallows humor is useful and reasonable for your characters that remain. – Viguie
  • Use the 3 or 5 act structure. – Ringo

Random Bits

  • “I never leave myself a way out. I killed a cat, brought it back as a zombie by a bad guy on the last page of like book 3. Then forgot to put it in book 4.” – Stein
  • “Pets suck in books.” – Ringo
  • “Dead is dead. I outline series. But, never say never. Forgetting a detail from the last book and remembering it halfway through the next one [sucks].” – Francis
  • There are 50 sq. feet within Yellowstone National Park in which murder isn’t technically illegal. – Viguie
  • A “Weber” load equals 1 million missiles. – Ringo

What death scene has stuck with you? Why?

For me: One of the deaths that I read about that has always stuck with me was Ensign Dubauer’s at the beginning of Cordelia’s Honor by Lois Bujold. I couldn’t even remember his name and wikipedia doesn’t find it worth remembering either. But to know that she could fight so hard to save someone and then have them die anyway-the futility of it all, that stuck with me.

In books, death have meaning. Even if it’s just to raise the stakes or for the Main Character’s growth, it has to make sense in the story.

Too bad life doesn’t care.


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