Character death is a necessary evil that some writers try to avoid. Naturally, I’m not speaking to novels that don’t involve death in some fashion such as a romance novel or a coming of age story for a football player. I referring to novels that involve danger of some kind. Dangerous situations make a story exciting and offers a way to show how our character grows through adversity.
Danger is a classical and important device used in stories. It is exciting for the reader and, for me at least, fun as hell to write. There comes a point, however, when constant danger gets stale and the danger just becomes another part of the scenery. This happens when characters never die. No matter how much danger you throw at them, your main character and their friends survive it. It is a disservice to your reader, yourself, and your characters.
Now I’m not saying you need to go off and kill your main character. Most, if not all, writers are attached to their characters, especially the main character. We created them and helped them grow through our/their stories. Secondary characters are also close to our hearts as they help our main character grow as they grow themselves. Antagonists kind of get the short end of the stick as they are there to be defeated by our main character so of course they lose or they are killed. This isn’t what I’m talking about. If your reader, after having read four of your books in a series, knows that your hero always wins and the bad guy always dies, what is the point in continuing to read?
So what do you do to keep your story fresh and interesting? You kill someone. I know, you love your characters. So do I. Sometimes though, someone needs to die in order to make the danger real. I like to refer to this as the Joss Whedon Effect. He is well known for killing off beloved characters at the right moment in order to advance his story to the next level. The main character somehow survives, but a dear friend is lost and they must grow in order to overcome the loss. It is powerful stuff to write and engages your reader as they won’t know who will die next and thus, your danger is real.
So keep writing great stories and remember that each character is a dead man walking, they just don’t know when it will be their turn to face it.