What About Killing Off a Main Character?

Marilyn Meredith’s published book count is nearing 40. She is one of the founding members of the San Joaquin chapter of Sister in Crime. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra, a place with many similarities to Tempe Crabtree’s patrol area. Webpage:  http://fictionforyou.com Blog:  http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/ and you can follow her on Facebook.

Before I get started, let me state that though I’ve bumped off a bunch of fictional folks in my books, I’ve never killed a main character. Nor have I ever considered it.

I’ve read books where on-going and important characters to the hero or heroine have been killed one way or another. In one, the character’s love interest was killed but miraculously returned in the next book. To me it was unbelievable because of the way he’d died. In a series I love, the wife of the hero dies. Heart wrenching, but it made for much angst on the part of the hero and some intriguing new twists in the following books. I don’t know whether I could do that.

I’ve had a couple of readers tell me to kill off Tempe’s husband, Hutch, because he’s too “straight-laced.” Well, after all, he is a pastor. Besides, because of his strong Christian beliefs, at times there has been conflict because Tempe has used various forms of Indian mysticism to help her solve crimes. Because Tempe and Hutch love and support one another, some conflict adds to the fun of writing for me as the writer.

Because I’ve said all that, who knows what might happen in the future? I never quite know what these characters I’ve had floating around in my mind for such a long time might have happen until I actually start writing about them again.

Recently, I had a friend ask how I remember what has happened in the past. To be honest, sometimes I have to go look back at a book to refresh my memory. But as far as how Tempe or Hutch might react to something, I have no problem knowing what each one might do. I’ve been hanging out with these two for so long, I even know how they think.

But as for killing off a main character, I have no plans to do that at the moment.

What do you writers and readers think about this?



A Cold Death:

Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her husband answer the call for help with unruly guests visiting a closed summer camp during a huge snow storm and are trapped there along with the others. One is a murderer.

Anyone who orders any of my books from the publisher‘s website: http://mundania.com can get 10% off by entering MP20 coupon code in the shopping cart. This is good all the time for all my books, E-books and print books.

You can order books from many sources:

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Contest: Once again I’m going to use the name of the person who comments on the most blogs on my tour for the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery—which may be the last in the series.

Tomorrow I’ll be here: www.sharonarthurmoore.blogspot.com with Deputy Tempe Crabtree and the Food She Eats

39 thoughts on “What About Killing Off a Main Character?

  1. Don’t kill off a major positive character, please. In fact, I stopped reading one author after she killed the love interest of the protagonist. He was a neet guy, and brought some relief from terrible issues in that series. Memory of his death and effect on main character was too strong. I quit reading.


  2. I’d say it’s not advisable to kill off a main character. Readers of a series have an expectation that they’re revisiting a group of friends when the new book comes out. That’s part of the appeal.


  3. Even on TV, I stopped watching a show called Death in Paradise because they killed off the lead character (actor Ben Miller) as a plot happening to bring in the new lead!

    And Hutch helps make Tempe interesting and likable. I need my Hutch (smile).


  4. In general I say, no killing off of main characters! We’ve worked hard to make the readers care about these people…what sense would it be to make readers grieve deeply? But I do know a series where the hero ages and eventually sinks into the darkness of Alzheimers, so the series did end…with his inability to tell his story any further. Saddest book I’ve ever read…I’m tearing up now to think of it.


  5. I was actually considering killing off one of my main characters in my last Deena Powers mysteries, but was advised against it by one of the people in my critique group. Soooo, he lives on. But it would have been a cool plot twist for my detective.


  6. I think you should leave Hutch because he provides the yin and yang of Tempe’s personal life. I was going to kill off Mike in the Bella Kowalski series because he’s such a pain but decided to have him merely gone and them divorced so I could bring him back later. Dead is dead.


  7. No, I don’t think writers should kill off major characters, especially the ones our heroes and heroines depend on. Sometimes it might work (Elizabeth George pulled it off, but it still upsets me when i think about it), but readers come to love our characters and let’s face it—we say goodbye to enough real people in our lives, we shouldn’t have to do the same to characters we’ve come to love. I’m contemplating killing off a semi-major character in the book I’m working on, but it’s to advance the story and provide a turning point for my major character, so I think it will work. And he’s not a major character. As Sue McG. said, “Dead is dead.” Unless you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy and can concoct a truly viable method of returning a character, it’s best to just have the person move away. And hands off Hutch! Tempe (and we readers) nee him. My two cents worth!


  8. I think that, sometimes, killing off a main character can do wonders to a story. After all, isn’t death an inevitable part of life? It doesn’t mean a story comes to an end; life carries on as usual, to most people this seems alien: that the world could not possibly carry on revolving without that person we care about … but it does. Life, and stories, veer onto a different, but no less exciting, path.


  9. And, yes, a darling character dies in the sequel to my next children’s book. Funnily enough, I don’t want this character to die, but that’s the way the story’s steering me.


  10. I read a lot of horror and always expect characters to die, even the main protagonist. In other genres, I don’t mind if the secondary ones die now and then. Makes all those feels come out and the story more realistic. Your book looks fabulous!


  11. You must remember that your readers come back to read your stories because they trust you not to kill off people they have vested time and emotion on. They feel safe when they open a new book of yours. The death of a character could easily lead to the death of the series. Don’t do it, please.


  12. P.S. You can always pull a Luke Skywalker; send the character off to his private Never Land until when/if your main character needs him, then start your adventure/puzzle on the epic journey. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny is outstanding in this.


  13. Hi, Marilyn. No–don’t even harm Hutch. I like him a lot. 🙂 I posted earlier (it vanished) that I stopped reading Dana Stabenow when a major male character (love interest) was killed. As to Death in Paradise? Husband and I love that show and like the new lead male much better than old. We, however, are still getting used to Camille going off to Paris. I suppose characters have to be written out when an actor leaves for one of many reasons.


  14. Readers get very attached and sometimes closely identify with the main characters. It is why they continue to buy. book series. Killing one off would definitely be a leap of faith as to whether the reader would accept the death as part of the plot line or walk away.

    Liked by 1 person

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