10 Funny Ways to Kill a (Fictional) Character

Do you enjoy cozy mysteries where the author finds unique, even funny, ways to do away with a character? I do. One of my favorite authors is Kathleen Ernst. She writes the Chloe Ellefson mystery series. Chloe is a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor living history museum. She finds dead characters in the most unusual places. I won’t give them away. If you enjoy cozy mysteries give the Chloe series a try.

When you combine an unusual death (minus the gore), an amateur sleuth, and a community of quirky characters, you can create a cozy mystery readers love.

What are some humorous ways to kill off a character? Here are a few ideas:

• A star football player is murdered by an imposter wearing his team’s mascot costume.

• Small-town mayor dies when a clown on a motorcycle runs over him during the town’s Founder’s Day parade.

• A futuristic character is approached by a robot shooting paper airplanes–but one of the airplanes is loaded!

• Farmer gets locked in the hen house and is pecked to death by rabid chickens.

• A drunk passes out in a big pile of leaves curbside and is scooped into a garbage truck.

• Candymaker, working overtime and alone, drowns in a vat of chocolate.

• Contestant dies after consuming 10 pounds of baked beans in an eating contest. (Oh, the possibilities!)

• Grammarian is crushed when a shelf of dictionaries falls on her.

• A fisherman on a riverbank is killed when an eagle carrying a tortoise drops the tortoise on the fisherman’s head. (Don’t laugh, this really happened to Aeschylus, the great Athenian author of tragedies.)

• A large molasses storage tank bursts, and a wave of molasses rushes through the streets killing anyone in its path. (This actually happened in Boston in 1919.)

If you are an author stuck looking for a unique way to kill off a character, Wikipedia offers a list of “real” unusual/ ironic deaths that occurred from 620 BC to the present. Also, check out Springhole.net’s “Cause of Death” generator, “Murder Mystery Victim” generator, and more.

Happy writing!

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What’s in a (Character’s) Name?

I have a new kitten, a little silver-gray tabby four months old. At the shelter, they called her “Hedwig”, it’s the name author J.K. Rowling gave the snowy-white owl in her Harry Potter books. My kitty isn’t white. She doesn’t look like an owl, act like an owl, or sound like an owl. She needed a name that fit her.

Authors put much thought into naming their characters. A name should mean something, reflect the character’s personality, or make the reader curious to know more. I named my kitten “Naomi Grace”. In the bible, Naomi is a recent widow who would have been all alone if, by God’s grace, her daughter-in-law promised never to leave her. I want my little Naomi always to have someone who will never leave her. Mine is her forever home. Her name reflects that.

Think about some of the great literary character names that readers remember—Atticus Finch, Ebenezer Scrooge, Robinson Crusoe, Ramona (the pest) Quimby, Miss Havisham—all were carefully chosen by authors to reflect the essence of their characters.

So, how do authors choose the best character names? Imagination and creativity are key, but if the perfect name doesn’t come to mind, there are tools that can help.

The US Social Security Administration web site includes a page where you can search names and their popularity for any year after 1879. You can search the most common names in US states and territories and even see how names have changed by popularity through the years.

Ancestry.com has a page where you can enter any surname and learn its meaning and origin. The page is free, you don’t have to be an Ancestry subscriber.

Name Combiner is a fun tool where you can enter up to four names and combine them to generate unique names and nicknames.

Here are some others:

Masterpiece Generator (from the UK)

Reedsy’s Character Name Generator

Name Generator for Fun (this one creates a random personality type for each character name)

If you enjoy exploring random places, seek out any small town and read about its history and people. You can also wander among old headstones in cemeteries. Jot down interesting names you find and keep a list.

A name should fit the character’s age, location, and personality. It should be easy to pronounce and fit your story’s genre making sense within the context of time and theme. Think about your characters’ parents and backgrounds. Let them help you choose the right names.

When naming characters
choose names that are right
for your character, your story and your readers.

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The Best Stories You Never Told

WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY: five essential questions writers ask to get the full scope of a story. Like most kids, I learned about the 5W’s in elementary school. I wish I had the wisdom back then to apply them, because I missed out on some really great stories.

I was an only child surrounded by old people—grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, neighbors, family friends. They loved to gossip, and I was good at eavesdropping on their adult conversations.

I found out WHO in the neighborhood had come home drunk and WHAT happened when his wife caught him with another woman, WHEN she caught him and WHERE. And I wondered along with the gossipers WHY she stayed with that drunken man after he cheated on her. Those were the stories that my little ears shouldn’t have heard. The best stories, though, might have been those the old people held tightly locked in their hearts.

This season, summer, is the season of patriotic holidays, and I might have some good stories to tell had I thought to apply the 5W’s.

On a Decoration Day (Memorial Day) I went with my grandma to the cemetery to plant geraniums on the graves. We planted red geraniums in front of the big Dumke family stone, and then we planted a white geranium on each of the six graves where the Dumke children were buried. “Grandma,” I asked, “why do we put white geraniums on these?” Her answer was brief, almost harsh. “Because, it’s what we do.” Today, I look at that same headstone and the six smaller stones marking the graves of grandma’s young siblings and I have questions. So many questions.

On Independence Day, Grandma always hung a huge American flag between the front window of her upper flat and the big, old oak tree at the curb. Her husband, my grandfather, had died when Grandma was just thirty-nine. But someone (Grandpa?) had fixed a rope and pulley to make it easy to hang the flag. It was a 48-star flag, the flag soldiers and sailors fought for in WWII. It was a 48-star flag that the Marines raised over Iwo Jima. I remember that flag in front of her house every Fourth of July and how reverent and respectful grandma was when she fixed it onto the rope and sent it flying. Today, I have questions.

I remember my Great-Uncle Walter, too. He was an always-in-charge, short, bald little man who walked with a distinct limp. I laugh when I think of a Veteran’s Day when he sat in an old, 1950’s upholstered swivel rocking chair in his living room telling a battle story about the Spanish American War. As if re-enacting the experience he raised his arms, covered his head with his hands and ducked. “Bullets were flying to the right of me! Bullets to the left . . .” And then, just as the story was getting really good, the bottom of the swivel rocker gave way sending Walter’s backside to the floor. That, in itself, is a story. But still, I wonder. WHO was shooting those bullets? WHAT happened next? WHEN did it happen and WHERE? And WHY did Walter walk with a limp.

Five little questions I wish I had asked.

My advice to young writers, all writers, is to listen. Listen to that little voice inside that’s telling you, “There’s a story hidden here.” Then apply the 5W’s. Ask and keep asking until you get the full scope of the story.

If you don’t ask, you might miss writing the best stories you could have told.

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Filed under Encouragement, Independence Day, motivation, Uncategorized, Writing Tips