Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to Kill a Character

Recently,  I went to a holiday-themed gathering with some of my theatre friends. At some point, very casually this question was brought up: What is the worst way to die? The first person said drowning; the second, being burned alive; the third, drawn-and-quartered. Now, as you might have guessed, right about then the subject was changed. I didn't have a chance to say mine (eaten alive by rats).

~So, have I just made your stomach turn for no reason? Of course not!~

See, this conversation got me thinking about deaths in literature. Even if the story says a character must die, what the author has more freedom over is how. I believe that how a character dies says a whole lot about how we're supposed to feel about them, as well as their death, the thing that killed them, the overall message of the story, and so on.

One thing I've noticed is that if we're supposed to remember a character as beautiful or any sort of attractive, they've got to look good when they die. (The Great Gatsby shows an example of both.) So,I guess that means for your good guys, no burning alive, no lopping off facial features, no dragging through the streets. You can try it, but there's a reason these and all the crazy, fun-to-write deaths are usually reserved for the villains (in real life, too- Mussolini, anyone?).
Good guys do have to die sometimes, yes, but that'll take some more thought. Poison's got a pretty good market on them. (Unless you're in Harry Potter, in which case it's usually a bloodless spell.)

 Even the most gruesome good-guy deaths always seem blanketed in some kind of aura. Maybe it's the reverence that does it.

Agree, disagree? Can you think of anything that breaks this mold? What do you think is the most painful way to die? Do you kill characters? What's your favorite death you've written?

(As I'm sure is apparent, I'm pretty intrigued by this. We know these characters aren't real, but we get so attached to them that their deaths truly matter to us! Fascinating, isn't it?)

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