Note: I’m going to be going into one big spoiler for the latest season of Stranger Things in this post. If you haven’t seen it yet and you plan to, maybe click away and read this later.
This title is inspired by an issue of Transmetropolitan. In it, the main character was talking about a boy his assistant was dating. He said the boy wasn’t planning to stick around. He was here to go.
There are times when writing that we’ve got to kill someone. Not for real, hopefully, but on the page. Maybe this doesn’t have to happen in all books, but it happens in all my books.
In speculative fiction, not everyone’s getting out alive.
In some cases, you might want to write a character that you know you’re going to kill off. Maybe to bring the team together, like in Avengers. Maybe to clear the way to a throne, like in Tamora Pierce’s Tricker’s Queen. Maybe just to make sure that the battle costs something, like in the latest season of Stranger Things.
Knowing that you’re writing someone that isn’t going to make it to the last page is kind of a bummer. So if you’re going to do it, wring everything out of that death that you can.
What a here-to-go character isn’t
When I talk about a here-to-go character, I’m not talking about people like Snape. These are not characters who have been a part of the main cast and die in the last book. We expect to lose some of the main cast at the end of a series. I’m talking more about characters like Eddie or Bob.
I’m also not talking about red shirts. A red shirt is a nameless extra character, usually, one who goes along with some of our beloved main characters on a dangerous mission. They might also be considered cannon fodder for a writer. Someone’s gotta die when we’re facing a rock demon, and it’s not gonna be this MC that I spent three months writing journal entries for to get into their head.
What we’re looking for is something in between. Someone who has a name, a background. This should be a fully fleshed-out character. You want your readers to have an attachment to this person. You want them to feel like this person has been around since the start, even though they haven’t.
You want this character to fit right into the group. You want them to feel like they could be an addition to the long-lasting cast.
There are several ways to do this, depending on what sort of story you’re writing. In our example, Stranger Things, they involved Eddie in the main cast’s favorite pastime, D&D. Bob was a friend of Joyce’s in school. They fit right in.
Have two (or more) characters in this role
In season three of Stranger Things, two characters felt like here-to-go characters. There was Bob, who did eventually go. But there was also Robin. And Robin could have gone as well. She was new, but we were able to form an attachment to her right away.
By having two new characters, one to stay and one to go, your audience isn’t sure which is which. And that builds up the tension.
It’s never a good idea for your audience to know who’s going to die. If you’re writing speculative fiction, they have to assume someone’s going to die. But they shouldn’t be able to tell who.
If we don’t care that this character died, he might as well not have been there.
This is probably the most painful part. When you write a here-to-go character, you have to write them with as much care as you would the main character. Remember, you want to write every character as though they’re the MC of their own story.
You want your audience to care about the characters. I liked Eddie. I liked Bob. They were good friends. They were brave. They were funny.
Their lives and deaths changed our main cast. And that’s the point of these here-to-go characters. They aren’t here for a long time, but they’re here for an influential time.
Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.