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.