Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Death - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Gosh, I've had a cheerful blog challenge so far, haven't I? A tribute post to my late father, a piece of flash fiction about a poorly-named child taking revenge on her parents, and now death. Yesterday's chocolate post seems less like a self-indulgent ramble and more like a welcome respite.

Anyway, it's the use of death in fiction I want to talk about today.

Whenever I try to write a short story, it centres around death, grief, recovering from loss, or something else equally cheerful. It's because I think of death as, paradoxically, the ultimate life experience. Nothing else compares the loss of someone you love - the first time it happens, it changes you completely as a person.

But sometimes, death in fiction can be a terrible cop-out.

In my short stories - if you'll pardon the overstatement - I throw in recent bereavment as a shortcut to making the characters sympathetic, and as a way to inject profundity into a story that seems low on it. It's cheap, it doesn't work, and I take it out when I edit.

Deaths in fiction should MATTER. They shouldn't be an easy way to dial up the angst factor. I am a big believer that no character should be immune from death, but that doesn't mean you should kill any character you fancy.

Death in real life very often makes little sense - people are taken for what feels like no reason. While not everyone who experiences bereavement loses their faith (indeed, lots of people find it through bereavement), many do. Death can seem random, cruel, ironic, sadistic.

In fiction, though, a death should achieve something. Otherwise it just feels cheap and tacked-on. Life, sadly, doesn't conform to narrative laws, but - guess what? - narratives should.

Also, if you write fantasy, please please please please please ensure all deaths are permanent. If you don't, and characters can pop back willy-nilly, it means death can't be used as a plot device. Even the great JK Rowling was an shaky ground when she introduced ghosts and resurrection stones.


  1. Loving your A-Z so far and 'B' was a lovely tribute.

    I really do wish you hadn't mentioned CCE though. I daren't even write it out properly.


  2. Sorry, Kit!

    I once turned to a friend at a New Year's Eve pary and said 'Ooh, CCEs are back in the shops tomorrow!!!' I got some very strange looks!

  3. You can't get more permanent than death! Even baddies deserve deaths that mean something to someone! Terry Pratchett's Death is one of my favourite characters in fantasy fiction. Take care

  4. Great post. But you did just post TWO links to TV Tropes in the one topic. Someone's gonna lose their whole day to that site.

    It may be me.

    Not that I'm complaining...

  5. There is a permanent link on my sidebar :) I'm already in league with the time thieves!

    I'm working my way through the JustBugsMe section.

  6. Yes! Please make a fictional death permanent. Great advice.

  7. Excellent post! Nice reminder that death in stories should have meaning and not be used only as a writing ploy. Thanks, Ellen.

  8. Bringing a dead character back to life or killing off characters when the writer can't think of anything better or more interesting to do is just the pits. To me it screams...I the authour think you the reader haven't half a brain in your head. It annoys me no end!

  9. Great post, I totally agree that death should be permanent.


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