I got to thinking today about the ways it is acceptable in fiction to kill off characters … so I thought I’d make a list, which is probably symptomatic of incipient OCD, but what the hell. Everyone needs a hobby.
- Bladed Weapons of any kind. It is a given, however, that your hero will be able to take any amount of punishment up to and including being stabbed in a vital organ, while the bad guy will go down with a single cut.
- Firearms. The bigger the better. See Bladed Weapons about how many shots it takes to kill someone. It is also a given that your hero will be a better shot than your minions of evil.
- Bare Hands/Fist Fights, Martial Arts etc. Very useful, but your hero must fight honourably while your minions of evil may beat little old ladies to death. Killing someone with your bare hands is only acceptable if the reader believes your hero has killed in self-defence or is performing a community service.
- Energy weapons. Useful because they can also be set to stun and apparently nobody ever has an adverse reaction to being knocked unconscious by several thousand volts or pretty green lights. Be warned though, energy weapons should — theoretically — cauterise a wound on the way through, not make it bleed. Only useful if you don’t want buckets of blood splashing about for people to slip on and sprain something…
- Childbirth. The most popular way to remove an unwanted female character.
- Plagues. Especially good for removing large swathes of the population, although rather icky if you have to describe it in detail. Incubation periods will vary, depending on the medium. Most TV plagues manifest in exactly the amount of time it takes to kill off the only person who knew the secret to synthesising the vaccine, forcing the promising underling (jaded yet brilliant outcast… whatever), to come to the rescue.
- Explosions – bombs, air raids, etc. Always a nifty way to dispose of people, either in small or large quantities. You must, however, have a digital readout counting down to zero. Failing that, having your character show a picture of his girlfriend to a buddy will alert us to the fact that he’s about to be blown limb from limb. Curiously, all cute furry creatures seem to be immune from them, and will invariably stagger out of the ruins, unharmed.
- Natural disasters. Same as Explosions. You may replace the digital readout with a scientist nobody will listen to.
- Wildlife of all kinds. Snakes on a Plane. Say no more.
- Nuclear weapons. Unless you’re writing a post-apocalyptic epic, best to use this method at the end of the book:)
- TB and all other inexplicable diseases of the lungs. The severity of the cough will be directly related to how beautiful/handsome and tragic the character is. Remember Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge singing up a storm while stopping every half hour or so to politely cough into her lacy white hanky which would come away delicately spattered with blood, so we’d all know she was dying? You get the idea.
- Zombification. A very useful tool. Removes the character but leaves you with an evil minion to wreak havoc on your heroes. Sort of what happens to people who join political parties.
- Cancer, AIDS and all other diseases. Take your pick. The severity of the symptoms will also depend on how beautiful/handsome and tragic the character is. Diseases must fall into the “acceptable” category, however. Nobody should ever die from stress incontinence. Not unless there is magic involved.
- Exsanguination. The fatal process of total blood loss. It’s what vampires and serial killers do. How much blood you have on the floor afterwards will depend on whether it was a vampire or a serial killer doing the exsanguinating.
- Native magic. This is cool but you can run into trouble and easily offend the very people who actually know how to do it, which is a very bad idea. There are documented cases of Australian Aborigines dying after the Kadaicha Man pointed a bone at them. Use sparingly and with permission.
- All other forms of magic. Anything goes. A truly inventive magical death would be where the sorcerer casts a spell on someone that makes them retain so much fluid that they fill up like a water balloon and eventually they explode in a big splash and…
OK, I know. I’m getting ridiculous. I shall stop now.