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Bazz's Musings on Writing (1 Viewer)

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bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
Contentiously: Every good story starts with a death.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean the opening paragraph. But somewhere in between the start and end there is a death that everything pivots on. It might not explicit but it is there.

Disney use parental death constantly.

It isn't a 'rule,' just a natural consequence of a story. Part of the writing task is to cast light on the human condition and in doing so you need a change of state. Something to 'pop' the characters out of their 'groove.'

While I maintain that referring to 'rules' while writing is a bad idea. I also maintain that there are a few' tricks of the trade' that make life easier. The impact of a death can be as liberating as it can be debilitating. It is worth considering when plotting.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'll be the first and perhaps last to challenge that 'trick of the trade'. In fact, I constantly question, "Why are authors so obsessed with death?" You say it makes life easier, then a perfect reason for me not to choose it.

When I read, I like to read about things I can relate to and that make me feel good. I have no relation to murder or what it would feel like to have someone close to me murdered. And my only direct experience with death usually involves grieving a loved one. So why would I want to read or write about it?


Perhaps this will be my failing as an author. :)

 

Terra

Senior Member
I'll be the first and perhaps last to challenge that 'trick of the trade'. In fact, I constantly question, "Why are authors so obsessed with death?" You say it makes life easier, then a perfect reason for me not to choose it.

When I read, I like to read about things I can relate to and that make me feel good. I have no relation to murder or what it would feel like to have someone close to me murdered. And my only direct experience with death usually involves grieving a loved one. So why would I want to read or write about it?


Perhaps this will be my failing as an author. :)


because death and breathing are two things that are common for ALL humans ... it's the 'how' that is different
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
because death and breathing are two things that are common for ALL humans ... it's the 'how' that is different

But they are not the only things common to ALL humans. And lots of things are different. How one may choose to live their life...mistakes that are made that have consequences...how one plays...how one loves...how one grows in the face of challenge. And most of what we experience while alive....does not involve death.
 

Terra

Senior Member
But they are not the only things common to ALL humans. And lots of things are different. How one may choose to live their life...mistakes that are made that have consequences...how one plays...how one loves...how one grows in the face of challenge. And most of what we experience while alive....does not involve death.

I didn't say they were the only things, but death is inevitable, no matter who we are. I'm not saying you need to change your writing style to include death, but only to point out that ALL humans will die ... it's factual ... a fact of life.

When I think about it deeply, there is no life without death - they go hand-in-hand. Maybe this should be in the philosophical thread I've been following;)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I didn't say they were the only things, but death is inevitable, no matter who we are. I'm not saying you need to change your writing style to include death, but only to point out that ALL humans will die ... it's factual ... a fact of life.

When I think about it deeply, there is no life without death - they go hand-in-hand. Maybe this should be in the philosophical thread I've been following;)

I am trying to understand your point as to why death is prevalent in fiction. Because it is inevitable and the various ways it can happen are very different and should be fascinating to read about. Am I close?
 

bazz cargo

Retired Supervisor
Like all things, it is good to examine things closely and choose to try something just because it goes against the established expectations.

What is a story made of? A cast of characters and how they interact and grow. A plot is a way to challenge each character and give them growth. The death of a parent and the child learning how to get by on their own is an old method. The awareness of mortality is a good motivator. In drama, especially melodrama, a death is a way to heighten the emotional impact.

Yes, death is a 'trick.' It is an old, tried and tested trick.
You won't fail as an author if you don't use this trick.
Good luck
BC
I'll be the first and perhaps last to challenge that 'trick of the trade'. In fact, I constantly question, "Why are authors so obsessed with death?" You say it makes life easier, then a perfect reason for me not to choose it.

When I read, I like to read about things I can relate to and that make me feel good. I have no relation to murder or what it would feel like to have someone close to me murdered. And my only direct experience with death usually involves grieving a loved one. So why would I want to read or write about it?


Perhaps this will be my failing as an author. :)

 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Like all things, it is good to examine things closely and choose to try something just because it goes against the established expectations.

What is a story made of? A cast of characters and how they interact and grow. A plot is a way to challenge each character and give them growth. The death of a parent and the child learning how to get by on their own is an old method. The awareness of mortality is a good motivator. In drama, especially melodrama, a death is a way to heighten the emotional impact.

Yes, death is a 'trick.' It is an old, tried and tested trick.
You won't fail as an author if you don't use this trick.
Good luck
BC

I love the "Good Luck". Sounds like you have your doubts. :)
 

Terra

Senior Member
I am trying to understand your point as to why death is prevalent in fiction. Because it is inevitable and the various ways it can happen are very different and should be fascinating to read about. Am I close?

Oh I'm not saying death should be fascinating to read about, I'm just pointing out that using something that is common to humans to easily understand, is inevitable, as well as factual can make fiction become 'real' to the reader.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Interesting that this popped up today. I keep some notes on the wall by my desk to remind myself of the shiny bits of writing advice and craft that I'm finding and I put this up not long ago:

Death in the story note.jpg

ETA in case the Blurrycam didn't catch the words well enough it says, "Where is the DEATH in the story? Write about death (people, ideas, beliefs, sacrifice, etc.) because it is always with ALL of us."

Not great grammar but I realized that the stories of mine that I felt worked included a death that held promise of renewal (Running Water) or past death and impending death (Dead Spot) or even a lack of activity that was a metaphorical death (one of my WIPs that Olly inadvertently inspired).

I would argue that writing about death, acknowledging it, pulls on more than the finality of death but goes to the powerful plot point that we universally feel: great loss. And this has to do with the 'stakes' of the story. If the characters risk little and gain little the story isn't as powerful, sweeping, riveting as big risks, huge losses, crushing defeat, massive comebacks.

So what this says to me is don't write small. Swing for the bleachers. Don't leave death out of the story.
 
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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
My first reaction when I'm told I "must" do something is to reject any demand on my creativity. So far my novels are all heroic fantasy, sci-fi, and the last one urban fantasy (or magical realism, or some other label that doesn't really fit it just like those don't LOL). So they all have conflict and beings perish. However, in the sci-fi book, I killed two characters, off screen, who never appeared other than in conversation. The loss devastated my MC, but I could just as easily rewrite the scene to let them live and the reader's experience would not be substantially different. I think it's the only book I've written where there was no death among characters directly in a scene.

Admittedly, there is very little I read which doesn't have death. Murder mysteries? Certainly. Heroic fantasy? There'd better be. Sci-fi? Not always, but very common.

I think I have to go back to the mysteries I read as a kid (Hardy Boys, Brains Benton, Three Investigators, etc.) for it to be absent. Even in Swiss Family Robinson, Wyss kills a donkey.

In my latest, the bad guys blow up the south end of Central Park and kill 10,000 for the net gain of one dead good guy (actually gal). They were trying for two but only managed to kill one.

Do we overuse it? Very possibly. Do it even halfway competently and you move the reader. Some devices are simply too easy. Want to make your reader cry? Kill a dog. Let it whimper for a while in the arms of the grieving owner. Slam dunk. It wasn't popular, but I gave Of Mice and Men a bad review for just that. Steinbeck kills not one, but TWO dogs, and one is a PUPPY!! I wrote "Get out the towels, tissues won't do!".

I want to say "Damn it, no one dies in my next book", but someone does in my next three upcoming projects. HOWEVER, in the fairy tale I'm currently writing (about a magic mouse), no one dies. Even the bad guys will just be captured and banished. Oops. Spoiler!

I think the type of work also bears on this. I've read myriad short stories with no death. I'm a big fan of Asimov's short story mystery collections. They're great puzzle mysteries, gripping, fascinating ... very rare to have a death involved.
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
At the risk of pushing the discussion into the philosophically arcane --Arcane is my favorite vacation spot, by the way--is not humankind's abstract awareness of Death the single 'understanding' that separates us from other species? Old animals often crawl off to die alone, which indicates an awareness that something unprecedented is happening to their body and it's a private gig . . .but how can any other animal have an Abstract understanding of the event and projected aftermath of Death without language? Surely it is awareness of Death, of termination of-the-only-state- of being-we-know that fuels and drives 19/20 of world literature. Most "love" poems, in their joy and deep emotion are celebrations of how brief that depth is before Death summons each of us. Whether Death is overt in a work of literature or shimmering far in the background, it is there. I guess the question each of us has to ask of each story/poem any of us ever writes is: is Death literally part of this story? If the answer is "NO!', then it should probably be avoided as a direct character--let the reader go there, if that's where the MC and the plot are taking them. In Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich., I would say 7/8 of this wonderful novella is taken up with tiny details of the MC, his life and work and little domestic chores, one of which results in an apparent petty, annoying injury . . .which kills him. It has little to do with Death until the close, yet Death is its avowed 'topic'. For me--remember Arcane and Diversion (drinking buddy of Arcane) are my favorite vacation spots--I struggle with a terrible habit of turning my MCs into talking heads for this or that 'idea', which can have the effect of imposing a bunch of intell-eck-shul goomph which is just show-off and NOT in character. ​Deus ex machina
 

Matchu

Senior Member
One trick I tried - is a dog. If the story is flagging, slowly introduce the dog every fourth paragraph and let him die slowly. I'll have to re-find my story but whilst the three original paragraphs are/and were garbage the fourth and eighth and the twelfth paragraph keeps the reader engaged a while longer. Then delete original paragraphs, becoming husky adventurer, dog story person novella.
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
vranger -- Yeah. Wallowing in the gore often preambling the moment of death in a story is just as unacceptable as a hearts-and-flowers-tra-la-la-pull-little-fleeces-from-the-gentle-lambs denial of the presence of Death. In Shakespeare's early Titus Andronicus, the bad guys rape a noblewoman, then cut out her tongue, gouge out her eyes, and cut off her hands, all so she cannot identify them. These gory details are REPORTED, not depicted. And the "courtly love tradition" and the "pastoral bliss" often associated with it--exemplified in Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love"--was ridiculed and satirized in structurally parallel poems by Bacon, Raleigh, Shakespeare, Donne (viciously), and Marvel, a LOT of nasty negative attention for one poem lauding a death-free, idyllic life. These "answering" poems say in essence, "can the bullshit--the guy in the black robe ain't goin' anywhere. Live with it . . ."
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I agree that death is an important part of many stories. In my WIP, death (and the avoidance of it) is a central theme, so it has a strong role throughout the story and I try to make all of my characters potentially vulnerable to death.

On the other hand, I spend a lot of time writing short stories for 10-12 year olds. In those short stories, death is rare, and when it does occur, it usually centers around a pet or animal death. Otherwise the themes for that age group typically center around perseverance in the face of the kinds of challenges that age group sees (friendship, bullying, being an outsider, familial conflict, academic or physical struggles, etc.). There are plenty of novels for that age group that include death, but because my short stories for students are pretty much always 10K or less, and for the primary purpose of modeling the traits of writing, there isn't usually time to properly develop a death theme in those cases.
 
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