How do you handle death in your story?


#1

I’m currently planning out how I want to deal with the death of a major character in my story and it got me thinking: how does everyone else handle death? I think I’ve got quite a one-track-mind in that respect and it would definitely be helpful to me (and many others) to find out how other people deal with it.

Does anyone die in your story? If so, is it anyone the reader is supposed to love and care about? Or do you leave death as a “punishment” for the more evil characters?

Do you deal with grief and mourning in your story? What kinds of attitudes do your characters have regarding the loss of one of their friends/family members? How do you portray the death as the writer? Do your personal views on the existence or absense of an afterlife affect how you write about death?

I guess my overarching question is: what role does death play in your story?


#2

I kill a lot of people in my old norse inspired story, and the Underworld (Helheim) is the setting for nearly half the book. Until now, my mc has been in shock after her first kill and is angry and sad over the death of two other characters, but haven’t had time to cope yet since she’s in another life threatening situation. She also has experienced loss in the past in regard to family, which she’s still coping with which have left her quite bitter.

I have a really sad chapter planned out where very important characters “die.” and my goals it that it will be really hard on the reader since it is characters that they are supposed to care about.

(if you’re reading my story and comes across this it’s future spoilers so read at own risk)

She meets a character that helps her deal with some of it. I have an upcoming event where she loses the only person she can call friend in the world anymore, and she’s suppressing all the things that used to matter to her since they just hurt where she are.

I don’t think so since I’m relying on mythology so I try to make it as close to that as I can.

Bloody, but not too descriptive since the MC don’t know a massive amount about dead people and killing… yet.

She’s hurt. Angry. Numb. She wants justice for the cruel fate that was stowed upon her.

No. Everyone dies. If they do it’s the Gods will and even if you do, you go into Afterlife. My MC want revenge on the people that destroyed her family and kin, but it is not sure she gets it since more important matters are at hand, and I like not having everyone have everything they want, it makes it more realistic for me.


#3

Thanks for that! Death can be a really morbid subject and it’s reassuring to hear that another writer is killing off fan favourites. Do you also find it quite emotionally taxing to write an emotional death scene?

I’d love to know how you went about researching attitudes towards death in Norse Mythology!


#4

i don’t have a death in my story, but my MC is recovering from the death of her mother that happened a year ago. her mother had cancer, recovered, but died in a vehicle collision. my main focus is how the ramifications of the accident have spread like ripples into her life now; how they affect her ability to form relationships with others and move on with her life.

in my story, like my experiences with it in real life, grief comes and goes. on some days, tuesday doesn’t think about her mother at all; on others, the slightest memory or feeling leaves her weeping in bed in indescribable pain. her preferred method of coping is humour, but mainly just… ignoring everything and not really facing it.

the afterlife question is really interesting! i don’t believe in a heaven or hell, but i do believe in… more; even if it’s on a miniscule level. i like to think of it like, when we die, all the little bits that make up our consciousness and our energy are blown out into the universe like dandelion seeds. we become vast, something else, forever connected to the rest of everything. idk if that makes sense??? LMAO. anyway. idk how that impacts my writing about death but it probably does.


#5

It depends for me. I believe that scene will be horrible to write because I’m just thinking about it and posponing it. For the more minor characters or opponents, no. They are more graphic so they don’t have a lot of time for emotions with the action so I try to keep to my MC pov and not overthinkg it.

Norse Mythology is quite open to death since it isn’t an end for them like many today. When you die you go to one of several death realms and live there until Ragnarok. After Ragnarok most of the universe is erased and start to exist anew, so their view is cyclical so nothing really ever disappear or die. It just changes. To reach different death realms you have to die specific ways; in battle (ends up in the Halls of Odin, the Allfather) is the most honorable so many really do die young and in battle (you’re of age at 12), though some die of age or sickness or not in battle (Ends up to Freya or Hel). Then there are several others and not everything is clarified since it diverged between clans and sources… like if you die at sea you may end up with Ran in the halls of the drowned etc. Doesn’t mean it won’t hurt to die, doesn’t mean you don’t want to die or leave your family or that it is scary or you get tortured to death my enemies. They just had security that when they die, you go on and it raises stakes in their first life to have the death they want (preferably in battle, though one shouldn’t forget that most actually was traders and farmers so many would go to Freya and Hel as well.)
In my story, some characters venture between the realms of humans and death so, again, it isn’t that final in a sense. It circulates and shows that not all deaths mean an end, but rather a new beginning.
I googled the Hel out of this topic and Norse mythology in general. The more you know, the easier it is.


#6

I have one. I just write about the emotions and feelings of the loved ones that are still around.
I thought that nobody understand death anyway, but everyone can relate to the feeling of losing someone. We all do sadly.


#7

I deal with it as a sense of justice. In the real world, evil people get away with evil acts. In my world, a pirate is spaced or a psycho runs into werewolves.


#8

In my urban fantasy/mystery, I’m always all about character and exploring all the facets of the people involved, usually with a twist. I’ll go into detail about the serial killer, their MO, how s/he picks their targets and then the targets, what makes them interesting, whose lives they’ve affected etc (they could be a major a*hole disliked by the whole city but I’ll be sure to include the perspective of the one person who saw good in them and vice versa) and then the detective character and how the killing affects them and their search for answers etc In this one I kinda looked at grief and the different ways different family members/friend respond to a death.

In my short about a whimsical deity, I show a variety of different deaths with the message that all is not always as it seems and sometimes a second chance for a bad guy is all he needed etc. Sort of. Good people as often as ‘bad’ ones. This one’s sort of about life after death.

In my YA fantasies, few people seem to actually die. Well, there’s that one revenge subplot where a kid accidentally (uncontrolled magic) triggers the deaths of the people who killed his mom. So there, they’re usually bad guys, but even then I have some of them treat the magic kid nicely.
In terms of important people within the plot, there’s the one person who I’m planning to eventually kill off interestingly because their existence is in the way of some main characters’ happiness. And theres an upcoming war too, so some named characters will have to die with appropriate levels of grief from the rest of the cast.


#9

Well my fantasy-fanfiction amalgamation is pretty content with killing off characters, even MC’s so that means death is all around. The exposition is based on death, the future is built by death, people come back from death, it’s a big part.

That means i have to make it serious WITHOUT readers being desensitised to it, that’s why MC deaths aren’t too common but death is EVERYWHERE (Mind rotting, flesh eating viruses and dead children just to name a few, but the first one is only in the later books for one of them) This means everyone still alive deals with it in their own way, be it becoming a hardass after a while, crying for a few hours or finally learning independence from the lying 11 year old that everyone carries on about like they’re God’s gift to humanity or whatever (Yes i’m talking smack about my own stuff)

As for readers caring about the characters that die, well, the first major character death is in the 3rd book’s 4th part and, well, let’s say it’s real sad boi hours especially with the plot twist but it’s certainly someone the reader’s meant to care about. If a death of an MC is something the readers feel nothing over, it’s a testament to that character not being well written enough, or the death not being good enough. That’s why death in my stories are punishments for both sides of good and evil. Not everyone is completely heroic

As for attitudes, that differs too, death is a very dynamic thing, it’s hard to find a general consensus on how it should be portrayed aside from traumatising


#10

Death actually has a rather odd role in the story that I am writing on right now. My main character is a necromancer who has time and time again been used as a tool to evade death. Because we see the story from his point of view, death starts becoming a relative term.
The first view we get of resurrection is that he thinks it can be cruel. He’s in a situation where if a hostage is killed, he will have to bring them back. In this instance, death is an escape.
Then there are the people who want to keep him around so that they themselves can avoid death altogether. One particular character in the story has abused him for that ability in an attempt to make him obey. In the end, the abuser is murdered by the necromancer. Death becomes the consequence of his actions.
The practice of necromancy is also stigmatized and criminalized within the story. It is viewed as unnatural and as something they don’t want a free citizen to have the ability to do. Law enforcement is very keen on capturing the main character for this reason, as what he is is demonized.

The main character in a way represents the line between life and death, which is something many don’t want to face in their day to day life.

#deep


#11

A very important main character dies in my story. Hopefully, the readers care about her. She’s integral to the entire piece. :slight_smile: I do not reserve death as a punishment b/c that’s just not how life works, sadly.

Grief and mourning are dealt with peripherally in my story (so far.) The family members are emboldened by grief and demand answers b/c they’ve already lost someone else near and dear to them. They don’t crumble in the face of it. They put on boxing gloves. Readers get a sense of who gets hurt in the process of their grieving period. But, again, all this is dealt with peripherally.

I’m very blunt with how my character dies. It hits you right in the face. I think some readers are shocked by it, and it takes about a chapter to realize what happened, judging by responses.

Afterlife beliefs feature prominently in this story. Death is the theme and point of this story; or, rather, what do we do with our lives when we realize our time’s up?


#12

The M.C. I’ve been focusing on is still privately coping with her own history and the death of her mother for the entirety of my first work, and for at least half of my second work. She’s been able to survive and at least somewhat thrive and be productive through sheer brute force and the refusal to simply lie down and tank out of life.

Two more deaths (one, a minor character – her father, and another, a major character I spent years and a lot of energy building up) also happen ‘off camera’ while the M.C. is either away, out of town, or doing main character things. We only hear about the second death secondhand which severely upsets her.

In other words, I hadn’t exactly planned for some of what happens in my work, but I chose to handle mine entirely ‘off-camera’ for the work I’ve put up here. I’ve focused on how the characters have reacted to each of the events in question, and I’m still somewhat in the air whether it’s been effective or not.

I don’t know. I used to write a lot of military space opera immersed in worlds of technical details where Anyone Can Die, but knowing firsthand what it’s like to experience death has definitely changed my writing.


#13

I killed a lot of characters in my book. Death plays a major role in my book because life loses meaning without it. It can take on many forms. My book begins with an injustice, an assassination of an important figure whose death triggers a series of events.
I guess I would say that most of the Deaths that happened in my book was because Death is an aspect of life we try to forget and because Death teaches us a lesson.
Some of the deaths in my book were:

  1. Death of a beloved princess who has been disowned by the royal family for being ‘too wild’ while it was her wildness that saved the people. Her death was an act of revenge from rebels and marked the start of the war. It was also punishment to her father who disowned her and treated her horribly and punishment to her cheating lover who did nothing but harm her while she gave him the world.
  2. Death of the Queen’s ex-husband who sold her out to the rebels. He then rallied against the rebels, knowing they will kill him and he welcomed death with open arms, as a form of repenting.
  3. The villain realizes his mistake, after sending people to assassinate another leader, he stands between the leader and the assassin, taking an axe to the heart and therefore, sacrificed his life for a better world.
  4. A girl looking for her lost uncle, seeing him for the first time but he was a dead body hauled out of piles of fallen soldiers. So death here represents misfortune and regret because she had chances to meet him but she refused to because she was abandoned as a child by her parents (now dead)

The attitude towards death in my book is usually heart-wrenching grief but sometimes when a character dies you feel nothing, not even joy, just hollowness…

My personal views never affected how I portray after-life (or lack of) or even how funerals are executed.

I made a variety of reactions to death of beloved ones in my book like:

  1. A character becoming suicidal after his lover died before he could confess his love to her.
  2. A friend getting angry, knowing over objects and tables because the world was unfair to his friend and they still died a horrible death
  3. Another character turning his sorrow into anger aimed at everyone, especially those who hurt the dead person while alive
  4. A character that tries to burn away their memories with the dead person, to over come the pain, burning pictures, clothing , etc.

and many many more…

So yes… death plays one of the biggest roles in my book


#14

I make it as traumatising as humanly possible.


#15

When I think about it, the story (sci-fi) I’m finishing by now has four major deaths of “light side” characters, even though one of them happened prior to the story. I try not to kill off characters “just because”, so I try to have at least some reason behind it.
The first one was the guy who was among two main characters for the first two books and I’m sure it’s the death the readers won’t forgive me. The main villain slain him before the MC’s eyes because he knew too much and was a threat to her plan. His death drove the plot forward and buit up a ground for the final book - and also created a solid (I hope) plot twist since I suppose he’s considered one of the “plot armor” characters.
Another one is the death of MC’s mother which happened prior to the story and the MC learns about her death later. She was brutally lynched to death by a mob of KKK-style thugs. It helped me illustrate the true nature of this movement and gave the MC more intense and personal motivation to go after her, so it’s not just “guy bad must die”.
The third one is a girl who dies after the MC makes her choice - she can either leave the girl, who is one of her best friends, for dead and catch the villain who would otherwise be responsible for a high-scale catastrophe, or save the friend and face the consequences of the villain’s acts. The MC decided to catch and arrest the villain, saving many lives, but sacrificing the friend who is then beaten to death by a group of the villain’s thugs.
And the final one is that kind of “heroic sacrifice” deaths made by the old mentor character. He holds off an enemy, allowing the MC to do her job and continue the mission. He defeats the enemy and attempts to escape the battleground, hoping to reunite with the MC later on. However, he’s surrounded and overwhelmed by the enemy army which was originally sent to stop the MC and her team from escaping.


#16

My book kills a ton of people, actually, there are only three that I’m 100% certain will make it to the end

A little bit of both, sometimes on the same character

I try to portray it realistically, during the first deads there is a lot more pain and grief than during the last chapters, where for the most part dead is now normal because a full-scale war happened. Despite that, depending on the character their reaction to deads are different, some characters are more “Oh, that’s a shame” and others start full crying, depends obviously on what the other character meant to them. Also, a scene that could be considered disturbing that I have planned during the first/second part of the book involves a character which boyfriend died, and she knows it, but can’t cry until the Authorities tell her because otherwise they’ll know she already knows, and that could be extremely dangerous. Just imagine being in her situation

Depends, for the most part deads are quick, they try to shock the reader quickly before returning to action, a single “Another shoot was fired, and in the blink of an eye, Elena saw how X fell to the ground with a hole in his chest”, they mourn later, at the moment, they mostly worry about the situation at hand. Of course this is not universal and there are some deads that are more dramatic than others, especially the first dead show in the book is mostly dramatic and the thing that shooks the reader “This is not going to be a happy story…”
Also, with the most important deads, I like to do something a little weird, get into the character’s mind during it’s last moments, they are having a fictional conversation with the person they care about the most, it’s all in their heads, but that’s what their brain does when it’s miliseconds away from dead. This actually marks the most dramatic dead on all the story, which would otherwise have been too quick to do correctly, considering it’s a character that during most of the story played an important role and the reader is supposed to yell “NO!” as they get shoot

I don’t think so. Dead happens, that’s life. Though the way the characters interpret the dead of others is somewhat affected by the religion said character has, as the cast of both good and bad guys has multiple religions in it, and atheists obviously

It’s a dark world out there, and characters are playing with fire. Dead is expected


#18

I might be too renowned for killing characters in the very first chapter, and I’ve done it a lot of ways from contemporary YA books to mystery thrillers where people are murdered left, right, and center. I feel like my contemporary stuff is where I’ve done my best exploration on the subject, so I’ll start there, I suppose.

In the very first chapter of one of my works, the MC’s mother dies and really the whole book is him coming to terms with that. There are a couple of things I really loved about that exploration. One of them was he stays with his mother’s best friend after and the dynamics of their relationship is really interesting because they’re both mourning, but they’ve never had a true parent/child dynamic before. The adult is missing her friend and trying to figure out how to handle a teenager who is also grieving. How does she discipline him while she knows he’s acting this way out of pain? So how a loss affects the dynamics of remaining relationships is great to dive into.

One of the most heart-breaking scenes is a moment when the MC just really needs the advice and support of his mother, and in an instinctual, knee-jerk reaction calls her work number and asks the receptionist to be forwarded to his mother’s office. Except she’s not there. And the receptionist’s response is one where you know she realizes what’s happening and she can’t make anything better. He’s just forgotten in the moment. It was kind of a riff off many, many stories of people saving the last voicemails of loved ones, or continuing to pay the phone bill just to call a familiar number and hear the away message.

Another character’s trauma was entirely different. Her neighbor dies. She’s the one who calls 911. She spends the rest of the book hallucinating the sound of dripping blood. She’s really unsettled by how the rest of her community perceives this death, including how no one at school seems to miss her, and how the realtor approaches selling the dead neighbors home.

In both cases, the deceased characters play a huge role in how the rest of the book plays out, despite how they both die in the first chapter.


#19

I’ve written about death many times in my stories, so it’s not foriegn to me.

In my current story, In the Dark, death plays a major part in it since it’s a murder mystery.

Multiple people die in my story. There’s an overall five deaths in the story, along with showing someone else dead, and the details of another person who is only brought back through memories, not in person—that died before the story started—so seven dead people. Many are supposed to be characters readers liked—or could/would like—so honestly, I try to make it as heart-wrenching as possible. xD

  1. Grief also plays a huge part in the story.

The story is about a group of characters who go to my MC’s (his name is Asher) old vacation home up in the mountains for Christmas. Asher is already grieving because his mother died before the story started, so he dreads going back to this vacation home. Now, this house is placed high in the mountains of Colorado, away from society. So when things stir in the night, they have no cell phone reception, no wifi, the cars become broken, and the closest house is five miles up the road, but they have no idea if anyone is occupying the mansion. Plus, it’s in the middle of winter, so it’s freezing.

During the story, as people are dropping dead like flies, they try to fix the cars and figure things out while they’re grieving over their friends. The grief acts as a subplot and distraction toward the main storyline: how there’s a murderer among them.

  1. There’s a total of ten characters—and that number goes down in time—but each person has shown various signs toward the main greiving process. Depression, anger, denial… you name it.

Asher, at first, is numb to the death because he’s already depressed over his mother’s passing. So nothing much phases him. It isn’t until later on when he begins to show a bit of anger where his walls start tumbling down to make his friends aware that he’s breaking as well.

Otherwise, I have two characters that are angry a lot, and another character who is a bit mopey, and then goes crazy on the others. And some other characters try to keep it together so they could start grieving after they leave.

  1. As I mentioned before, the story is a murder mystery. Originally, it would’ve been a horror novel until I realized the story wasn’t being written as such. So because of that, I’ve tried to make the death scenes as disturbing as possible while also making them sudden and depressing.

  2. Yes and no. In other stories, it kind of had. But this isn’t about the afterlife, so I just wrote it like how we would see it.


#20

My story certainly will involve death primarily because it is about war. Not only are important characters going to die, but I’ll try to have the readers emphasize with the nameless and faceless characters, even the ones that die on the enemy side. A Million Is A Statistic is a trope that’s used quite a bit for massive amounts of death, but I’m trying to have the readers emphasize using The Dead Have Names. I’ll quote from TV Tropes:

[…]a list of a hundred names, often on a War Memorial, hits much harder than “100 people died”.

For the next question:

The characters will have to grieve the loss of their comrades. But they won’t have much time to grieve over the dead since they have to keep on fighting. Of course, only so many can die before the characters reach their limits, but war doesn’t care nor does it discriminate.

Well, if you die then you’re dead. After death is the large unknown that everyone will go to one day, and of which nobody can come back. Whether an afterlife or not exists, it doesn’t affect my writing of death.


#21

Yes, one does. And the readers will be able to get a feel of the relationship between one of the characters one love that has passed. Sadly, I don’t leave death as a punishment for evil characters. Well, atleast not for my current story. :sweat_smile: