This thread may be dead but I felt like posting on it anyway. If I get a response, yay! If not, I don’t mind.
I have read my fair share of books, but at the same time I feel like I haven’t read nearly enough to get an idea of what good writing is. I myself have been writing since I learned how to read, but I think my skill only picked up about 9 years ago (and my practice has been far from regular, so my craft isn’t nearly as developed as it probably should be…). In the years I’ve been writing I’ve killed my fair share of characters, but I’ve also made the mistake of resurrecting my fair share of characters. I killed for shock value frequently, but in recent times a lot of my deaths have taken place before the story starts.
What were some of the best character death’s you’ve read or written?
The best I’ve read recently is probably the death of Lucy Westenra in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The whole time leading up to her death there is this feeling of dread mixed with hope, as you’re pretty sure she’s doomed but simultaneously hoping the Suitor Gang can cure her before she joins the demonic undead. As to how the death was handled by other characters…Stoker probably could’ve handled that a little better.
The best death I personally have written is probably the *spoilers* death of the focus character in my High Fantasy series. They fall to their death from the villain’s tower, alongside the villain. But the situation was not that they pushed the villain and was dragged down in a Taking You With Me; instead, the hero tried to catch the villain from falling because they related to the villain and didn’t want them to die. And they both ended up falling. The other characters were horrified at this turn of events (well, all except the one with a major grudge against the villain and wanted him dead at any cost) and they all grieved the dead hero in their own ways. In particular the person who was basically the hero’s surrogate sibling carried their dead body all the way back to the foster mother of the hero so they could have a proper burial. And of course none of this was helped by the fact that the character basically had the mind of a child when they died.
What cliches involved in deaths do you despise?
Kinda ignoring the character after the death and also the character coming back almost immediately. Consider Loki’s death at the end of Thor and his return in the Avengers. We hear that Thor and his family mourned Loki, but we never get to see it. Or being absolutely destroyed by someone’s death/disappearance to the point that others can’t function. Even though Edward didn’t die, Bella’s handling of his disappearance was extremely dramatic. It seems that in fiction deaths go one of two ways; either the death and character are forgotten, or they are obsessively mourned until they come back from the dead because the other characters cannot function without them. I hate both results about equally.
What cliches do you like?
It is always impressive when you can tell the death was inevitable but yet there’s still some chance you could be wrong and this horrible thing won’t happen to your beloved character. This can be especially poignant if the character is sacrificing themself for another. I haven’t read anything like this recently, so I’ll use an example from one of my stories. I’m going to assign letters instead of names to avoid spoilers, but here goes: in this world there is an organization of monster hunters (known, appropriately, as the Hunters). As this is a hazardous occupation, they do not have a high life expectancy. A father and son, (father) A and (son) B, are both Hunters. Both expect they’ll die on the job eventually. A is older, nearing the end of his career. B is still young and has quite a future ahead of him. Both are badly injured by a monster and B is dying. So A makes a deal with a Reaper, his life for his son’s. He doesn’t tell B. B recovers miraculously and is able to continue hunting, but A dies of his own, much less severe injuries to the doctor’s bafflement.
What makes a character death sad for you?
Sacrifice, resignation, and inevitability. It is especially sad if the character is aware they might die but it isn’t so bleak as a suicide mission and for a little they think they have some hope of making it out…except they don’t make it out, and they are accepting of this. Ow.
What character deaths made you want to stop reading the book?
This will be spoilers for Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, but Alyss’s death made me immediately want to stop reading the twelfth book. In the previous eleven books she had been built up as a clever and capable courier and spy, and the love interest of the main character Will. Then after a 15-year timeskip we find out she died in an inn fire a year ago and that the cheerful, optimistic, perky Will is now a cold and hardened shell of himself. The death was off-page, which was an insult of itself, and Will had been completely consumed in grief that he rather callously killed someone who may’ve been involved in Alyss’s death in an inn fight without a shred of remorse. This is entirely unlike the kindhearted Will of earlier books who, though he often did have to kill in his duties as a Ranger, never would have done so unprovoked or in cold blood. Rant over, sorry.
Any misc. info you’d like to share?
Generally speaking deaths should have an air of inevitability about them, even if it is very slight. This helps avoid it seem like the death came out of nowhere or was only for the shock value. The right amount of foreshadowing will help with this. Unfortunately though no examples of this come to mind at the moment…sorry…
On a side note though it is very tricky to pull of resurrections and such without cheapening death in your story. I try to combat this by all deaths being permanent, or by methods of resurrection being rather costly/frowned upon. For example, in the example with father A and son B, resurrection magic is forbidden by the Hunters because it rarely ever ends well. In the other story where the hero dies with the villain, an attempt is made to bring them back but their soul looks identical to all the other souls so those trying to resurrect them have to leave empty-handed. There is a way to bring people back from the dead in that world, but it requires you to be present at the death and to have the very rare, very powerful ability to bind souls. Unfortunately, that ability belongs to the villain, so there are several dead heroic characters who have been brought back twisted to fight for the side of evil. People may come back, but they will not come back the same.