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How Many Characters Do You Kill in a Thriller Novel?

I’ve had this question posed to me recently and I actually had to stop and really think about it. 

How many characters are too many to kill off in a thriller novel? 

Is there a minimum number of murders to a thriller novel?

My first answer was… I’m not really sure.  I don’t think there is a special number of appropriate deaths for thriller or suspense novels.

For thriller novels, it’s just part of the creative process to kill off characters, likeable or detestable, and even just a planted “victim” character; otherwise, it’s just another type of fiction story and not a thriller. 

I spend a fair amount of time outlining my novels, which includes the progression of the main plot, character analysis, settings, research, subplots, conflicts, and the thriller pacing.  In the end, my outline consists of one to two pages for each chapter of what’s supposed to happen. 

At this point, I can see what is needed to be included or deleted before I ever approached the freestyle, creative writing aspect of my story.  And yes, I can figure out if my serial killer victims were enough, too many, or if they were an integral part of the entire storyline that helped to drive the story forward. 

Another important question that writers have to answer is…

What main characters live or die? 

Ah, do I dare be devious or do I let a particular character live another day, or rather in another book?  There are a million questions that you must answer when writing a novel, but that’s what makes it the most fun and definitely the most difficult.              

For the question of murder or murders in a thriller, I ask myself these basic three questions as I plot the storyline:

1. Does this murder just add gratuitous violence and doesn’t really serve a purpose, but to add shock value?

2. Does this murder drive the story forward and heighten the suspense?

3. Does this murder cause conflict and struggle with the main character(s)?

To finally answer the question…

How many characters do you kill of in a thriller novel? 

Kill off as many as it takes in order to tell the story to the best of your ability.  Try to strike an appropriate balance that won’t take away from your main storyline or the struggles of your protagonist. 

Most of all…

Have fun and keep your audience on the edge of their seat because they don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s my favorite kind of thriller where you your ticket for that thrill ride and you’re not disappointed in the outcome.

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