Tips for writing death scenes

Alright, this is your usual wattpadder…

Mimi right here :woman_genie:

And today I wanna ask everyone how to write the most heart-wrenching, impactful death scenes. I have a total of three death scenes in my book and I have settled on how to write one, but the other two are the most impactful. And now, what techniques can I use to write them? Thoughts?

internet has a lotta tips but I wanna hear from all of you too! and then see how to incorporate them :slight_smile:

Deaths are always a little tricky to figure out because you want it to wrench the readers heart and make it an integral, essential scene that pops out in the narrative.

  • This goes way before the death scene itself but make sure you’ve developed the characters and the relationship they share with each other to a sufficient extent that the death makes a big difference to them. If the audience doesn’t care about the character, no amounts of fancy writing is going to give you that reaction. So make sure that your main character(s) and by extension your audience sees the character who will eventually die as being really important to them.
  • Take 'em by surprise. The death scene happening in an unexpected place in your story is a sure way to kind of wrench the reader out of a lull and be put into shock about what they just read. Maybe it happens after a fight scene where they seem to be winning. Maybe they’re hit by a car while on the phone with the main characters. Whatever it is, if it comes from an unexpected place, it’ll be impactful.
  • Don’t overwrite it. A sort of convenient fallback for many writers is to really ham up the emotions or exposition in death scenes and other ‘important’ scenes. This sort of amounts to holding your reader by the collar and telling them what to feel which is a big no-no. Be as subtle as possible in the flavour of your writing. If your character work and other elements are done right, that would be more than enough.
  • Realism. How realistically your characters respond to the death adds a huge layer to how your readers will respond to it. This is where some research would come in handy. If its a death in the family, read up a little about the psychology of people who have recently lost family members. Watch scenes from movies where the death is similar to what you envision and try to spot the little realistic details in how they act. Do they sit down in stunned silence? Do they cry? Do they get angry? Are they in denial?
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@calmwolf is great at them. I’m still feeling her scenes.

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thank you for the recommendation! i’ll check her out.

wow that is a nice list of tips! Love it, thank you!

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hmmm. i usually go humorous with the sparing deaths in my books. so mine usually build into a certain victory hack and then they open the door and the character pours out as a smoothie and there’s a one liner like “nope, we were wrong…you cannot survive that. Paper-rock-scissors to see who gets to shop-vac the people-soup?”

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oh well mine’s a dark deep book so I can’t do that but I love that approach! might use this for my parody book someday

work-in-progress 8 season space comedy that thinks it’s a TV show. lot of noob deaths and very droll sarcastic crew who’s used to it. lot of one liners that speak volumes like “Is that a finger?” “…hope so.”

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:joy: a finger

For a death scene I’d say getting it right is the lead up to the death scene so building up the suspense or however you call it that leads up to the dead scene, if its a surprising scene or a scene where you can smell it from miles away, if it was murder or natural causes. The emotion through the dead scene. The emotion is what will really sell the scene i think as well as how realistic it is. If someone murders someone, how do they feel before and after that?

I don’t know lol I’m probably the least helpful here

well, of the list of potentially severed alien parts that got flung from the sword fight, a finger was the least disturbing possibility. there’s a character that loses fingers a fair bit.

I think the first thing you want to figure out is how exactly do you want to describe their death. Like, do you want it to be vague and focus the most on the emotions and thoughts of your surrounding characters? Or show the gruesome details and try to gross out your audience?

I prefer finding a balance between them both, but I do love grossing out my audience so I try to make the death seem realistic and gory.

Otherwise, once you have which direction and mood you want to take, then my advice would be:

  1. Give the characters a proper send-off.

If you want your readers to be connected and feel something toward this character, then you need to make sure they are developed well enough and are relatable before they die. Readers aren’t going to care about someone they just met or someone they hardly know or can hardly relate to. So, if you want to kick them in the stomach with this harsh scene, then developing those characters is the best thing to do.

  1. Show every character grieving.

Another thing you want to do is to make sure that all of your characters (who has a good relationship with the one who’s dead) are grieving in some form of way. But this may also depend on the situation and character as some people will focus their energy on getting things done rather than taking the time to properly grieve their loved one.

  1. Make sure it advances the plot.

Death scenes should give your characters and your plot a reason to move forward in a way. It needs to have a purpose in your story other than being there to just be there.

  1. Use it as conflict.

Death is a major life event, and with it comes a lot of hard decisions. Because of this, it can cause a lot more conflict in the background than you might think, so you can utilize the death for future conflict.

  1. Build the tension.

And finally, you don’t want to write a scene where all is good and then something came up to make it feel odd, then boom! Character dead. You want to build up the suspense and tension throughout the entire scene.

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very interesting information

I would say the number one thing to heed while writing a death scene is to make the death really mean something to the characters and story. Never kill a character just for shits and giggles or the shock value, the audience won’t be shocked, they’ll be angered or annoyed. And make sure the death makes sense and had to happen, in a sense. Which can be either technically (there was no way this death could have been avoided) or thematically (this death makes sense in the themes of the story).

I’ve got kind of a weird example though. I have exactly one death scene in my WIP so far.

Spoilers, btw, although not sure anyone here cares:

The protagonist (Navon) is the evil chosen one, and a memory-stealing villain. His parents are pro heroes, and while his father proved himself trustworthy, was informed, and decided to help his son, Navon’s mother proved she could not be trusted on something else, so Navon chose not to tell her, at least yet. Well, she catches them committing a crime, having found out her son is this evil chosen one, and proceeds to absolutely wreck Navon and all of his friends, with a little help from her sidekick. Navon is convinced she’s kidding, and only slowly accepts she’s really trying to kill them, until she suddenly reveals, yes, she actually was kidding. She wasn’t planning to kill Navon, she was trying to make him prove he’s still human through his reaction to such a dire situation, which he very much did.

Then she turns right around and shoots her own sidekick to death so he can’t report her son.

In a technical sense, this death was pointless, and Navon points this out as the sidekick is bleeding to death: his memory could’ve been wiped, that’s what Navon does to all his other victims. But his mother’s response is “I didn’t know.” And this scene and the whole fight that resulted in the death establish something: This is what happens when Navon doesn’t trust his mom, making her a huge threat he has no choice but to humor, even if he’s spiteful and terrified of her, because she is stronger than the entire rest of his villain organization combined, and if he or his friends ever genuinely cross her, she will kill them without hesitation or remorse.

It’s not about the sidekick’s death being sad, the reader hardly knew him, and most of what they knew is that he thoroughly believed Navon wasn’t human and should not be treated as such. It’s about the scene showing how merciful Navon is, even to someone who’s not merciful to him, and how cold his mother can be when she sees someone as a threat.

Sorry to ramble, just wanted to get some thoughts out about the topic.

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Hmm… I was writing something up when I realized it was hard for me to give advice because I feel like it depends on how old they are, what their relationships with others are, and how they died.

Maybe my examples can help?

Pinti is 14 when she loses her entire family and clan to her enemies. Her father gets trapped under the beams of a house and he dies while his head rests in her paws (cat anthro). The weight of his head stays with her after that. Denial, devastation, and then anger. After that, she spirals into “why didn’t they kill me, too?”

Eryn is 16 and witnesses the sacrificial death of two great friends. One of which confesses his love before he dies. The other takes a bullet for her. In both cases she’s sad and cries, but they are in the midst of a battle against an evil so she can’t dwell on it.

Another story, Valerie is 16 and witnesses the disownment of her brother Henry which she blames herself a bit for. Kind of like a death. She also sees her mother’s dead body (in a Christmas box…uh…I won’t go into the details). Her mother’s death she’s just horrified. They weren’t very close.

Cypur is 15 and he witnesses the death of his bully. Very soon after he gets framed for the bully’s murder so doesn’t have much time to dwell on it. Besides, he hated that bully.

=======
One thing I specifically did for Pinti, because she had time to dwell on it, was to slow the scene way down and just really show her emotions being out of the control. She’s not going to notice anything else. Not even the muddy ground she lays on and curls up into a ball.

For Pinti, I also made sure to give her a personality that would really contrast with her in these moments. She’s got a bright, fun-loving, quirky personality that just gets shut down after this massacre.

Also, I made a point to show her close relationship with her father. So, the death is more impactful because of the previously established relationship.

I think that makes it all the more heart-wrenching.

Sorry for not being able to summarize, but I think there’s some good tips hidden in here :stuck_out_tongue:

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A good combination of long, slightly irrational sentences followed by blunt, to-the-point lines.

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To me, it is never death itself that needs to be written, but what died with the person and the damage left behind. I usually spend just a paragraph or two over the death, but you can bet I’ll write the aftermath and drag readers along crying for a long, long, long, long, LONG time. That’s the whole point. It bugs me to no ends when writers just kill and move on. We never completely move on from the death of our loved ones. They’re always there in our conscience. I think that’s what needs to be written.

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hmmm if i remember “The Fault in Our Stars” focused mostly on the aftermath too, like you were saying. a funeral scene always gets me. that was one of the few books that actually made me come close to crying.

i think because i’d gotten so attached to Gus, too, just thinking of Hazel not having him in her life anymore, his parents, his friends, etc., was what did it. in that book i don’t think there was an actual death scene? i could be wrong, it’s been a while since i’ve read it :disappointed_relieved:

what death scenes have you read that made you cry, OP?

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This right here, I just hate when characters pop and pop off, it doesn’t make a story engaging. As a rule, I personally don’t like to kill characters off until about half way into the story, it changes the narrative harshly and helps build the climax. I think building up the reasons for their deaths is better than just doing it rando too.

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Death is my midpoint. I get what you mean haha

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