Friday, September 2, 2011

Making a Reader Cry over a Character's Death - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

-I put the focus on someone else. Everyone, including both my main character and this ally, were focused on a different character that was just recovering from a close brush with death. The main character was debating with herself over a decision that would endanger this other character (I'll just call him the mentor). Through the last couple of chapters, it was all: "is [the mentor] going to die? I don't want [the mentor] to die! Oh thank goodness, [the mentor] is getting better!! Should I betray [the mentor]?" It got so focused on the mentor that I think it was a shock to see someone else go first, someone who was really something of an innocent bystander--not a person involved in all of the main character's frantic soul-searching. Just a friend of both her and the mentor.
---- Maybe make it look like someone else is going to die, and focus on memories of that person. Then BAM suddenly someone else we love is gone. This helps with the unexpected.

-I kept it short. Actually, that's a lie. I wrote a lengthy paragraph of a death-speech, and Mr.S. suggested I shorten to a "few, gut-wrenching" sentences. And I did. He didn't get to say all that he wanted to, my hero didn't get to say all she wanted to. And he died thinking of his friend. Also, the point in the chapter before where he’s wounded is very sudden.
---- Maybe don't even INCLUDE a death-scene speech. I've always wanted to try that. This character was dying slowly, so he WOULD'VE said something. But I've always wanted to try a sudden death. Those kinds of deaths are hardest to absorb. They feel more unexpected, too, when they're fast.

-I made someone "miss" the death. My main character was with him when he died, but the mentor, his closest friend, was not. This devastated him. The last thing he remembers about his friend is him being there, sticking with him through a nightmarish situation...and then he (the mentor) wakes up, weeks later. His friend is already buried.
---- This isn't touched much on my story, but it's an idea. It hurt my mentor more 1) because he was closer to the ally, but also 2) because he wasn't with him when he died, and he never even saw him dead. It made the death harder to accept.

-Focus on the realities. I don't know if this will do much with readers, but...well, it's like this. My Grandfather died in February. I didn't really cry. He had cancer, so I had done all of my crying when I found out he had it. It was slow and expected. Also, he asked to be cremated, so I never saw a body. All I could think of, actually, was when we stopped in at Christmas and he looked so sick. The night we left, I hugged him and he took my arm hard, looked straight at me, and said "God bless you." I'll always remember that, and it still chokes me up thinking about it. Then, I didn't really cry until the second-to-last week in June. We went into Nebraska, where he grew up, to scatter his ashes in a lake where he used to fish. He'd asked for that, too. It was kind of weird, the box of ashes and the cups, and I couldn't decide if I wanted to do it or not. Then my mom related a conversation she'd had with my 5-year-old sister, Adelle.
Adelle: Mom, where's Grandpa?
Mom: [thinking she might've forgotten] Adelle, Grandpa died.
Adelle: I know, but I thought we were going to throw him in the lake.
It was a funny moment, and my Aunt Lori (Dad's sister) said: "oh, I love that--I bet he's smiling right now." I started laughing, but then I cried. It was all mixed up.
I think I'll also always remember throwing those ashes at the lake. It's a beautiful, gorgeous place. Ever so much better than a box in the ground.
----That's probably too deep, for this character, but I think the plan to "stay real" with death is what makes it ache more. You don't have to be dramatic. Just real.

So...Make him important with a real life to be lived, show his gentleness and faithfulness BEFORE he dies, make his death unimportant, focus on someone else, keep it short.

But most of all: keep it real.

What are you techniques for "good" deaths? Have you ever made a reader cry? If you've read Forest of Lies--did *I* make you cry?

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Yorrick said...


Great points!

I suppose I haven't thought much about how to kill a character simply to affect the reader. Not that I don't kill characters--death is a constant theme in all my writing--but the reader response is not my first goal. If anything, I'm trying to affect the surviving characters, not specifically the reader. People react so differently that, if you're really going for a response, it's better to hit home with the characters the readers will identify with, and assume that it'll hit on some level for them, too.

Perhaps you could do some posts on *why* killing characters is important. I understand well enough, but the justification near to kills me every time I do it. A death is a sacrifice, a turning point, and a harsh reminder that all is not as it should be. There is nothing like death to make you feel how precious life is. Unfortunately, my characters don't always understand, and they try to convince me otherwise. You talked about the death being unimportant to the events in the story, but could you go into unnecessary versus necessary death, in light of the overall consequences? That is: is my novel really better off or no different without this death, and how can I tell? and so on.

As for your death scene in Forest, I must say you handled it beautifully. Though it made me very sad, I was not outraged at you for it; by the end, it felt like the right choice. When things are wrong, things go wrong. If they hadn't gone wrong, I wouldn't have believed that there was anything wrong to begin with. Like saying something's rotten in the state of Denmark, and they all lived happily ever after.

To Life!


Nairam said...


Well, it leads back to the story/OYAN principle of: the goal of every story is to create emotion. I wouldn't say this character died merely for the sake of the reader--but if his death HADN'T affected the reader, I would have done something wrong. While we writers like to stay in our little spaces and type out our little stories just for us, often (though I suppose not always) the goal is to, ultimately, be read.

However, I can see your point about one way of going around it is to notice the affect on the other characters--especially if we love the other characters. Some of my suggestions for the unexpected/tragic death have to do with the other characters, like focusing on the realities, somebody missing it, even the "unimportant" bit.

Returning to that, I'm not sure I phrased this quite the way I meant. I definitely don't mean a _meaningless_ death. It's more of a "that's not right" reaction when he doesn't actually STOP anything from happening by dying. It's still important to me. And, I hope, to readers. It shows his love and courage, especially love. That's so HIM that I KNOW he'd do that. I didn't just kill him because it's OYAN joke that we like to do such things. There's meaning to it, even if there's nothing really "gained" by it.

I might look into that! I'm not sure how well-equipped I am to discuss further, but if I attempted it I'd probably get a better idea of what I think about the whole business. Writing to discover what I think and all...


Taylor Lynn said...

I'm sorry about your grandfather, Nai... it sounds like it was hard for you. HUGS!

In my current WIP, the death of one of the characters is going to be a big thing, and I'm hoping that I'll get people to cry... Thanks for these tips!

Mercia Dragonslayer said...

When I read Forest of Lies, I was sobbing the whole way through that chapter and almost all the way to the end. And I'm pretty sure I was one of the people who PMed you in all caps saying, "WHY DID YOU KILL HIM!?!?!?!?!?" :P

I think the character that hurt me the most to kill off was Kahil. I loved him, I had plans for his life after he helped Fallor and Jeline. I desperately wanted him to live--so much so that I wrote a scene in which Fallor goes back to find his body and it's not there, until Samii crossed it out and wrote the body-finding for me. >.> I think, once I get around to posting it on OYAN, that this death will really affect my readers. In every single story Kahil has featured in, nearly every reader declares him the favorite character. It's a bit strange, really, to think that I've created such a lovable character that people will be devastated by his death.

I do know of one person who expressed, at the very least, righteous indignation over the death of a character. She wouldn't speak to me for a while, as I recall. O.o

As for making a character memorable enough for his death to be emotional--I'm not really sure how I managed that. I suppose it's just that I created a lovable character and managed to kill him off in the same story. I have no idea. >.>

Anyways. Yeah.

Nairam said...

Despite how complicated I make this sound, I do think the biggest thing is creating a character people love. Then they'll always be mad, no matter how you do it.

However, if it's a more minor character, I do think these things could possibly help. Don't know for sure, because I never think too deeply about writing death scenes--I just write them. So this is just looking back and guessing!

Elizabeth said...

YESSSS!!! You had be crying at Much's death--and I've never cried in any other book or movie. In my book, you'd be an expert at character deaths :)

(from OYAN)

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