How to Write an Effective and Heartbreaking Character Death Scene

Characters die. It's inevitable.
Sometimes you plan it, other times you don't. Either way, you still have the task of writing that character's death--and it needs to be good. What's the point of going through all that work and emotional trauma of killing your baby if you give him or her a crappy death scene?
The truth is, if you don't care about the character's death, the reader won't care, either. And that simply won't do.
I have planned a lot of character deaths, and not all of them fall through. In fact, a character I practically created for the purpose of dying in my first book decided at the last minute that she wasn't dying. Then the direction of my book changed and now things are different, thankfully in a good way.
So. It was around 10 PM. I was in my room, enjoying a typical night with my laptop, texting my cousin/writing buddy when all of a sudden I got the biggest urge to write the death scene for a character of mine. I knew this character wouldn't die until the final book in the series (which I was nowhere close to writing) so of course, I had to write that scene. I just had to.
And oh my gosh did I write it.
I had already had an idea of the scene in my head, and I had been on the fence about writing it because I wanted it to be good, and I wanted it to make people cry. I really didn't expect to make myself cry as I wrote it, but...
I cried. Very hard. For a long time.
Then I sent it to my cousin (the same one I was texting as I was writing the scene) and asked her to read it. Five minutes later she texted me saying she was now sobbing into a pillow and she hated me for killing that character.
Photo by Lisa Runnels,

1. You have to cry. I practically live by this now. You want the scene to make your reader cry? Well then you need to write it so it's enough to make you cry. Killing a character is a difficult task, especially if that character is one you love. So if you pour your own emotion into the scene, odds are the reader will feel it, too. If you don't cry when you kill the character, then the scene isn't sad enough. Rewrite it until it makes you cry.
2. Listen to sad music. Either sad music, or rain. When I write death scenes I tend to listen to slow and sad instrumentals, like Rue's death song from the Hunger Games or Terrible Things by Mayday Parade (my favorite band everrr.) My absolute favorite, though, is the instrumental version of Say Something by A Great Big World. This song already makes me want to cry on it's own, so when I wrote the death scene I mentioned before to this song, it really set the mood and let me make the scene feel real.
3. Don't force yourself. You want the scene to make the reader feel like they've personally lost a friend, and if you just aren't having a good writing day or your motivation is low, stop. Death scenes are important scenes, and should be written when the time is right. Sometimes I feel like writing fun, happy scenes where my characters are smiling and life is good. Other times I feel like writing dark and depressing scenes like torture or death. Make sure that the mood you're in is right for what you want to write, and if the words don't come, don't force yourself. You'll be able to write the scene eventually.

For most genres, character deaths are not only inevitable, but sometimes, they're necessary. Whether it's to move the plot forward or add a shock factor, killing a character off needs to be done in a way that affects the reader as well as the writer. This is the same for practically any emotion, as well--anger, jealousy, embarrassment, etc. Whatever you want the reader to feel, you need to feel as well. Because if what you write doesn't affect you, odds are it won't affect anybody.

**UPDATE** I am absolutely floored by how popular this post has become! It is by far the most popular post I have to date. Thank you to all of you lovely readers for taking the time to check out my little blog. It means so much!

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Romans 12:9