Taking a Walk with Death

DeathIf I’m writing, Death usually shows up. It’s just the way we work together – he deals it and I write it. And, as a rule, we work quite well like this (I’m better at death scenes than love scenes – that’s why Cupid doesn’t hang around much). Now, in most cases if you’re writing about people (or animals or creatures of any kind), you’re going to have to get along with Death. Them’s the breaks.

I am currently writing a death scene. It’s tragic… it’s heartbreaking… it’s meaningful and brimming with emotions…

Well. If I’m honest, it’s a bit squiffy.

It’s a bit too… death-y.

Death and I have a certain understanding – I won’t complain when I have to kill off my favourite character, as long as I get to kill them off in the most awesome and gut-wrenching way possible. But this time, it simply isn’t working. Death and I seem to be on different pages here.

Writing about death is never going to be easy – there’s too many clichés to fall in to, and often death is either too ambiguous or too superfluous to the plot. It can be terribly over-blown, or drastically under-played. And I can guarantee the character you’ve just offed is going to be vital to a plot point a couple of chapters on.

That’s just the way it goes.

You’ve got to take a walk with Death… understand what death entails and what it looks like before you can plausibly write a death scene (they’re never as clean and tidy as they make out in the films). But at the same time you don’t want to distress your reader in to putting the book down and running away.

So, the trick is not to make it too death-y. It’s not classy.

My favourite kinds of deaths in stories are the surprise deaths (not the ones where someone yells “surprise” just before, as a friend suggested). The deaths that you don’t even see coming – George R.R Martin does this particularly well in the first few Game of Thrones books. And they’re just juicy with character development (hello, grief, anger and fear).

But the death I’m writing is none of the above. It won’t behave, and not because I don’t really want that character dead (I don’t), but because there’s just too much death scene to make it a good death scene. I need to take this scene, and my character, by surprise. They keep having deep-and-meaningful, I’m-about-to-die-and-this-is-my-last-wish conversations with those around them, which is completely inappropriate. But the problem is, my character likes to give good advice, so why shouldn’t they die doing so?


I need my remaining characters to be filled with grief, anger and fear (see above), not well-adjusted, but-at-least-we-have-their-memory characters. I need to get them to that sodding plot point two chapters on so I can realise I mistakenly killed off the character I needed and then have another rant about my WIP on the blog until I realise a get-out clause that works and keep going. All this death-y death is not helping!

Even my love scenes are faring better than this! (Whatever Cupid might say).

So, bloggy folks, I need some inspiration and help explaining to Death what to do.

It’s over to you…

What makes a successful death scene?

How do you go about writing about death?



Filed under Writing, Writing Curves

2 responses to “Taking a Walk with Death

  1. I agree about Martin. He does do death scenes well, because they are about the only brief scenes in the books. lol. I like it when a death scene is short and to the point, not long and drawn out, like blood letting George Washington. I was thinking of when Gandolf the Grey died randomly while reading this post. It reminded me of how Death is usually some expectedly unexpected force you contend with, that nicks you in the butt right at the last minute in the lest expected way. At least, that’s the type of death scene that I feel works well. I am sure there are others too, but they are escaping me right now.

    Being that I haven’t read the character you are working with and that they like to give advice. Maybe consider killing him off in a way where he is doing something, rather than talking, so that it is about the action, not his words. “Actions speak louder than words.” lol. Also, maybe go read a couple really good death scenes from a few books you like and emulate them. Another idea, is make death trivial, somewhat like that proverb about the man who heard he was going to die in a day, met death in the market where both were shocked to see the other, got spooked, and ran as far away from death as possible, only to realize, that he ran straight to the spot that death was supposed to meet him the next day.

    Just thoughts. Good luck. Death can be really despondent as a writing partner sometimes. :p

  2. Pingback: Do Not Disturb Take Two | Inkings and Inklings

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