5 Signs a Character Might Die

Killing off characters is a facet of storytelling that writers look forward to with glee treat carefully. A character death can pack such an emotional punch, and a lot of the time we plan ahead exactly how, when, and where a given character will kick the proverbial bucket. We try our best to keep those character deaths a surprise until the time is right.

There are, however, certain trends I’ve noticed that potentially give away which character will die next. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but next time you see a character exhibit some of these signs…well, don’t get too attached to them, just in case.

They talk wistfully about home

Ironically, the characters that talk or reminisce the most about the home and family they left behind to go on their quest are the ones who seldom make it back. Here are some key phrases to look out for:

  • “When all this is done, I’ll go home to…”
  • “Right before I set off, my wife told me…”
  • “I long to return home and meet my newborn son…”
  • “I miss […] but I’ll be there again soon.”

They get married

Characters who get married  just before or during the main conflict will probably leave their spouse in a lonely conundrum. Writers are just cruel like that. Happiness is for the single.

They have humble dreams and goals

If a character starts to talk a lot about their dream of owning a farm, or of visiting a certain place, or of witnessing a certain event…yeah, not gonna happen. Their lowly-yet-relatable ambitions make them the perfect candidates for a sacrificial and emotional end.

They dislike the protagonist at first

Ah, this guy/gal. The ally that spends the first two-thirds of the book hating our hero for questionable (if any) reasons, then makes a sudden change right around the start of Act III. You know what’s coming: they take the ultimate redemptive step by sacrificing themselves for the hero or the hero’s cause.

They embrace the concept of death

I mean, it’s kind of fitting, I guess. The character that views death as ‘the start of another journey’ or ‘not the end, just the beginning’ is, in fact, the first to get their ticket punched. Hey, at least they got a head start on that journey, right?

What are some of the clues you’ve noticed that might (or might not) give away which characters have their days numbered? Let me know! In the meantime, have a great day!

16 thoughts on “5 Signs a Character Might Die

  1. I love this, it’s bizarre how some writers use the same tricks over and over. I’ve noticed characters are often doomed if they act too tough (especially women) or too curious (‘I wonder what’s in this basement…’) Great post.


  2. This is something my girlfriend and I talk about during films. As soon as anything happens (usually one of the tropes you’ve outlined above) we turn to each other and say “Yup, this one’s going to die!”. Great post 🙂


  3. I thought for a moment that I wouldn’t be guilty of the fourth sign, but then I realized, I haven’t yet decided what will happen to that character… Right now, there are two versions, both of which happen after he saves the protagonist’s life:
    1. He kills the protagonist himself because he does still hate him.
    2. He dies from his own wounds because he didn’t have time to heal himself and save the protagonist.
    Thankfully, this doesn’t come into play until the end of the third book (I’m still in the first), so I have plenty of time to determine my readership’s suffering. >evil cackle<

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    I know first hand how independently minded characters can be, even with a plotting author…

    Well, today’s re-blog shows a different side of this phenomena — the Muse enforcing things that both the author and the character weren’t planning on…


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