Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Making a Reader Cry over a Character's Death - Part 1
About a month ago, I answered this question on the OYAN writing forum:
I have an ally. He fights for the goal alongside the hero because he is the hero's best friend, because he loves the hero and the hero's sister who is at stake (although he is not in love with said sister...that's another dude) and because he believe it is right to do so.
This ally dies near the end of the novel, fighting (physical fighting, here) along side my hero to save said sister. He dies at the hands of one of the villain's men (or possibly the villain himself...can't remember) and it's all bloody and sad and all that good stuff.
What I was wondering was how I could make this really, really hard on my reader? My intention from the start with this character was to kill him to show some of the price that must be paid to attain the goal. In the end, though, I don't think I pulled that off. I want to know how I can make my readers love this character so much that they're really upset (and shocked) when he dies, but also how to do that without making him more lovable, admirable, ect. than the hero.
Any tips on how I can make his death heartbreaking to the reader, and unexpected?
I started dissecting possible reasons for the unexpected and hard death of someone in Forest of Lies. This is what I came up with. I am splitting it into two posts. Hopefully it’s helpful!
One warning: this will probably ruin a little bit of Forest of Lies for you if you haven’t read it already, though I never mentioned who exactly dies or exactly how. If you want to read it, it’s here: Forest of Lies.
This is an interesting question to me, because the ally that I have die is also a "faithful friend" kind of type. He's not really what you could call quiet and simple, but more of a mix of faithful, eccentric, funny, and gentle. Which sounds odd juxtaposed like that, but that's a pretty good description. So I'm going to philosophize on why his death was unexpected and why about every person who's read this books says: WHY DID YOU KILL ____?!! I didn't necessarily do this stuff on purpose. I'm just guessing that parts of it are why it worked out that way.
-I didn't want to kill him. He wasn't a character "marked for death" from early conception; I had ideas for his future; I thought he was awesome. My first reaction when I thought of him dying was: "NOOOOOO!" and then I kind of denied the fact that he was going to die right up until he did. Also, it never really sunk in for me that he HAD died until I started a sequel and realized I couldn't write him anymore.
---- So think about that. If this character survived this book, what would happen to him after it ends? Why CAN'T he die? (He has a future, my hero will be devastated, my hero needs a friend, etc.) Don't think of the character's worth stopping at his death. Think about how his life would have gone on if he hadn't died. Then you'll get some of the "he still had so much life to live" that's so painful. If you can make yourself feel that, likelihood is that your readers will too.
-Coming from that, I just plain knew this guy. I knew how he reacted to things, I knew how deeply he loved other characters (faithful friend bit coming in there), I knew his past, I knew his (cut off) future.
---- Get to know him better (I know this has been said a lot). Know what makes him tick, know his past and his (cut off) future. Why is he faithful to his friend? Don't just tack "faithful friend" onto him like a job title. Make us FEEL that job title. The friend everyone wants to have. I think this character of mine was like that. He was killed being faithful.
-His death was unimportant. He wasn't going to stop what was going to happen anyway, but he still stepped in between his friend and his friend's enemies. Plot-wise and conflict-wise, it was an unimportant death. He didn't die saving somebody. He just stood in the way for that moment. It was sort of like throwing his life away: a waste.
---- So, I don't know, maybe make it so even if the ally dies, the bad thing still happens. We lose the ally, but we lose the battle too. It's not fair. This could add a bit to it being unexpected, and an "unjust" or "wasted" death will irk us more.
To be continued!