Data + Design Project

The Recipe for Writing Success? Kill Your Characters

Wednesday 04.18.2012 , Posted by
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Ok aspiring fiction writers, if you’ve ever wondered how to write a successful novel, the secret is here: kill off your characters. Of the handful of books that won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2011, all 13 novels had the common theme of putting to death main characters… it’s a lot like the plot of Will Ferrell’s Stranger Than Fiction… everyone knows the story won’t be as good without a solid death.

This beautiful graphic designed by the literary heavy “slow journalism magazine” Delayed Gratification, traces the dominant themes from last years winners, showing that not just a few, but ALL the winners featured overriding themes of death. What followed that? In distant second we have themes about love and then betrayal… both subjects that can get the blood boiling, but obviously don’t guarantee a win. Oh, and don’t forget some of the less popular plots about escaped tigers, nanny trust issues and homicidal cowboy brothers.

If you want a reference on this point from a classic and well respected author, look no further than the recent post over at Brain Pickings about Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules On How To Write a Great Story. Beyond the other insightful examples he gives — from giving readers characters they can root for, to starting as close to the end of the story as possible — he says you should also “be a sadist” when it comes to your characters. Now you know the secret… time to start writing!

Click here or the images below for a full-sized view:

fastcodesign dgquarterly

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Benjamin Starr

Written by Benjamin Starr



Known in some circles as the most amazing man in the universe, he once saved an entire family of muskrats from a sinking, fire engulfed steamboat while recovering from two broken arms relating to a botched no-chute wingsuit landing in North Korea. When not impressing people with his humbling humility, he can be found freelance writing, finding shiny objects on the internet, enjoying the company of much-appreciated friends and living out his nomadic nature. He is Managing Editor of Visual News. Follow his movements on Twitter:

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Comments

  1. That’s really interesting–each book had at least one major death. It is an extremely useful tool for demonstrating stakes and creating emotional depth in a story. Still, I would encourage writers to kill characters in a well thought-out manner; death doesn’t automatically add anything, and if done poorly it can quickly subtract from the overall impact of the story. (Why’d that guy die? This story is ridiculous!) Give the character meaning, an arc–and maybe the death robs them of that arc? That’s heartbreaking. Even worse is if the main character is directly to blame….

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