When Characters Die

Part of the reason I love to read romance is because, by definition of the genre, you get a happily ever after.  You know there will be a hero and heroine in conflict, but regardless of what that conflict is you know they will get together in the end.  And the greater the conflict, the more a reader loves it because you know it has to be resolved somehow.

Bring a hanky

Bring a hanky

Not all books that have romance in them are considered the romance genre.  Let’s look at Nicholas Sparks.  Most of his books, perhaps all of them, have romance in them.  But, most of them have some tragedy as well.  People die.  People we learned to care for.  For whatever reason, books like that tend to be considered more “literary” because, well, I don’t know.  It’s not like we learned something.  We all know tragedy happens.  We all know horrible things happen to good people.  But, for some reason, when a character dies and there’s loads of tragedy, it’s “literary fiction”.  Now, I’m not knocking Nicholas Sparks.  I adored The Notebook because to me, even though the end was sad, it was a love story to the very end.

If I read thrillers or horror or fantasy I realize characters I invest my time and heart into may die.  I know that because those genres make that acceptable.  If you watch Game of Thrones you know just how expendable even the most loved character can be.


I’ve always thought I’d be a romance writer.  Primarily because that’s what I love to read.  I read other stuff, but romance has always been a part of my life since I was fourteen years old and discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss.  I have always loved historical romance and am thrilled to know Lisa Kleypas is writing historicals again!  Then I found paranormal romance with Christine Feehan and Laurell K. Hamilton (early years of Anita Blake).  Then it was thrillers.  I was reading horror starting at age nine.  Graham Masterton’s The Manitou scared the living daylights out of me.  I had to read more!! Stephen King’s The Stand is still in my top 10 of all time favorite books. I don’t read as much horror anymore because I just haven’t found someone I really liked until recently when I discovered Jonathan Maberry.  His Rot & Ruin series is one of the best written books I’ve ever read regardless of genre.

Now, if Lisa Kleypas killed a character in one of her books I would be furious.  Why? Because that’s breaking the rules of romance.  No, I don’t think she is going to do that, but you get what I’m saying.  If Jonathan Maberry kills off a character I like I will be sad, but I wouldn’t be angry because he is playing by the rules of horror.


The question is- would you hate a book if a beloved character was killed?  What are your won rules to make that okay to do in a book?  If you love Game of Thrones I don’t want to hear that you would NEVER read a book like that.  lol

I am currently writing a young adult series and a Gothic suspense series.  They are two very different series.  As I work no book 2 of the Gothic suspense series I know going in that someone we will learn to have sympathy for is going to die.  It’s important that he die.  His death changes a lot of things for the story arc and for the characters.  I don’t arbitrarily kill of characters just because I can.  But, sometimes death is inevitable for other things to move forward.  It’s a thriller/suspense so I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised or even angry, but I bet it will make people stop and think.  That’s what a death should do, in my opinion.  It should add something to the story.  A murder adds clues.  A tragedy puts characters in a situation they wouldn’t normally be in, etc.

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where you were actually stunned when a character died?  Have you cried over the death of a character in a book before, but also felt it needed to happen or that it couldn’t have been any other way?

Tell me about a book or movie in which you were surprised about the death of a character, or one that you hated that they died, but knew it couldn’t end any other way.


About Sheila Clover English

International speaker, business woman, author, mother, wife and owner of seven dogs. I love people, am an advocate for animals and stay up too late at night reading books.
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11 Responses to When Characters Die

  1. Lisa says:

    I don’t read or watch Nicholas Sparks because I know he will kill off one of the two main characters or for whatever reason they don’t stay together – that to me is not romance. Romance is a HEA or a Happily for Now. I remember once reading a time travel romance where the heroine got hit by a train in the end and I was like WTF?? If I invest money and time to read 300 or so pages I want my hero and heroine together in the end. It’s escapism, there is so much bad in the world that for a few days I want to be swept up in a really good story. That’s my criteria for romance, any other genre I don’t have those expectations.

    • Nothing makes me angrier than a surprise killing at the end. I read a romance where the hero died at the end and they wrote one final chapter where, years and years later, she meets a nice, respectable doctor and remarries, so that was suppose to make up for the death of the hero. I hated it. I was maybe 17 when I read it. I swore I’d never read that author again. And I haven’t. Boy, I can hold a grudge!! LOL

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    The problem I have with Nicholas Sparks’ books is that it seems like it’s usually the women who die. It’s been a long time since I read his books, so I could be wrong about that. Maybe he’s killing men now, too.

    One of the indie loops recently had a discussion about a character dying. In a long series with suspense elements, I think it’s okay. In fact, it makes it more realistic if someone dies. Especially if it’s necessary to the plot, which yours is. As a writer and a reader, I feel that you need to do it.

  3. Dale Mayer says:

    I won’t read books where the main characters are killed off – or watch movies with that type of ending. I know they are popular with some but not me. I remember watching Jeepers Creepers and being furious with the ending! lol.
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Vampire in Conflict is here!

    • Jeepers Creepers end was such a cheat, but with it being horror I figured something like that may happen. With horror they’re allowed to kill off anyone I guess.
      Cujo, Pet Semetery, hmmm…lots of Stephen King books come to mind for that kind of thing. LOL

  4. Oh man, I hate it when a character I’ve grown to care about dies. Hate. It. I get it. But I don’t like it. So, I usually shy away from books and movies where I know a main character isn’t going to survive. I never read Game of Thrones, but watched the first season of the TV show and oh my God! I was shocked at the ending! I had no clue.
    Robin Bielman`s last blog was …Help! I need a saying!

  5. If the author does it right, I’ll accept it, even if I don’t like it. I’ve killed off a major secondary character in a book before, but it was realistic, and no-one has complained to me about it yet. 🙂
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Winter Booklovers Contest

  6. Mary Hughes says:

    Thanks for bringing this topic to the table! I’m definitely a HEA reader, which is why I read so much genre fiction. I can’t stand when a sympathetic character gets killed. I don’t even like it when people who are supposed to be a team have huge fallouts. Lol. I have wondered for years why death in a story makes it more artistically significant.

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