Monday, May 21, 2012

The Scene Ends in Death

Hi. This is my first post ever. I've decided to start a blog, if not for you, then for me. I'm a young writer (16) and I'm currently on the verge of finishing my first manuscript. Well, not finishing exactly--there will still be much work it'll require after I type out the end of the story.
The purpose of this blog will be so 1) I can rant and rant and rant and no one can tell me to shut up 2) I'll have another excuse to procrastinate on homework and 3) so I can see my thoughts and what I've learned in an organized format.
I've never taken a creative writing course (though I hope to one day--it sounds fun) so, like many other writers, my sole teachers are the numerous tomes on my bookshelf.

In my manuscript, I had to kill someone. It's a character that I adore and who has made me chuckle on one occasion or another. Wow, that sounds crazy. You get the idea, though, right?
Anyhow, from the moment of this character's creation, I knew IT (for the sake of spoilers for anyone who might ever read this novel, if that ever happens, I will not post any clues as to who this character is and will refer to it as IT) would die at the end.
I think that because IT's death was so predetermined, I've already come to terms with my grief. Because I've already come to terms with my grief, this death scene is totally unremarkable and will not move a potential reader to tears.
I really want a proper tear-jerking, heart-wrenching death to honor this wonderful character.

I think it's time to crack open the saddest books on my shelves and attempt to discover their secrets.

(Is it fitting that Dumbledore just died on my TV in HBP?)

The few books I've grabbed are Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows (J K Rowling), Forever (M. Stiefvater), Beautiful Creatures (K. Garcia M. Stohl) and My Sister's Keeper (Jodi Picoult)

(**SPOILER WARNING**) If you haven't read these books and don't understand what I'm talking about, either a) keep scrolling down or b) go buy them. (but still scroll down anyway.)

First Book: My Sister's Keeper.
Why I cried: shock (it was a huge twist--there was no way to see it coming), loss (I felt like I knew the character personally), sympathy for the grieving, broken family, and whiplash (There is no pause for the death, but instead the story actually picks up speed and you feel like you've been beaten mercilessly on the ground then told to get up and run a marathon.)

Second Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
Lot's of people die in this book -even Harry himself- but I'm going to try to focus on one death. Or two. The beloved Fred Weasley and the despised Severus Snape.
Why I cried: (Fred) he was funny, he died laughing, it was unexpected, he had a large family to mourn for him, it broke the Fred and George duo in half, Percy's mangled cry. (Snape) I didn't think he'd turn out good after all, he was in love, he suffered in his final moments, he had a sad childhood, shock.

Third Book: Beautiful Creatures
Why I cried: I thought two people had died at first, those two people make up that girl's entire world, her denial, refusal to let go, sorrow, shock.

Fourth Book: Forever
Okay, so the death scene I teared up at turned out to not actually be a death scene, but it was so convincing.
Why I cried: he sacrificed himself--and he was kind of a selfish character, he was only one of many,

Now, after rereading all of these death scenes, I've compiled a short list of ways to make a person cry over a figment of someone's imagination.

God, I'm depressed now.

The rules of death:

1. Shock
You can't let on to your reader that the end is near. Make it a slap in the face. A bucket of cold water dumped on their heads in the middle of a deep dream. Also, let the reader feel all of the unfinished business that character had.
2. Setting
You have to subtly play with the mood and setting. It has to happen in the midst of an already very dark, very grim situation that has your reader on edge.
3. Reaction The character's loved ones when they learn the news. The person who finds the body. The people who see the family mourning. Your own reaction. This is an emotionally scarring time for everyone involved--dwell on that. Take advantage of your reader's shock. Be evil for the sake of writing a good scene.
4. Slight Detachment
That, "I wish I could have known him/her/them better" feeling. This is kind of more from personal experience rather than reading. Once upon a time, I had a close friend. She missed school for a couple days in a row and wouldn't return my calls. I found out through a mutual friend that her brother had died. I didn't know her brother very well--I don't think I'd ever even spoken more than a few words to him (he wasn't at her house much when I was there) but as I walked past my classroom and toward the counselor's office, I was sobbing. (This is also a part of shock.)
5. Insignificance
The character's death isn't important to the plot. That is to say, the character has to die for no good reason and the characters cannot have time to stop and mourn--they have to continue to fight evil. Life goes on, and death is merely a flicker of a pause in the Grand Plan.

And there you have it. There are other ways to go about writing a good death scene, too. Please feel free to share any secrets you have for one.
Here are some other guidelines I found:
My chest aches. Wasn't this just a jolly way to start off my blog? Talking about death. How dark. This will not be that kind of blog all the time. I promise. Now excuse me while I go prepare myself a bowl of ice cream. For IT!

TTFN. (Tah-tah-for-now)

P.S. If you're still emotionally stumped in your novel, rereading old death scenes (or watching them on TV) is a good way to dig up buried feelings.


  1. What a helpful (albeit a tad morbid) post, Elle! I've been pondering the elements of an emotional death scene for some time now, but I think you've hit the nail on the head here. I think an element of personal experience can add to the scene as well -- if you've ever gone through losing someone close to you, you can pour that into your writing. It's painful -- I know from experience -- but you usually end up with something you might not have got otherwise.

    On a more positive note, it's great to hear you've almost finished your first manuscript! Once the first draft is done, it's onto the thrilling stage of editing! And let us not forget Camp NaNoWriMo! Have you decided upon a novel to write yet? :)

    1. Thanks!
      I think so! At least, I've found the legend that I want to play with and build a story around, and I've found a character who seems to have something so say about the legend. I've written down some ideas for it (some while I was even sleeping, apparently) and I'm hoping to finish my manuscript by this weekend so I can get into brainstorming the heck out of this idea to see if it can really be a novel. I will probably be off to a late start with Camp NaNoWriMo. Needless to say, I am very excited about all of it. (:

    2. OOOOH, legends!

      Legends, fairytales, mythology... I love it all :D

      What legend? What part of the world?

    3. Moi aussi!
      Merrows. From Ireland. I have a wee bit of an obsession with Irish mythology...

  2. Nice analysis :)

    ...I think the *death scene* in 'Plain Kate' was one of the best I've read in years.

    1. Thanks! I haven't read that one yet. I'll add it to my summer reading list.(;

    2. It's the same book Livia Blackburne analyzes in the link you stuck at the bottom ;)

      I'd say it goes in my top 5 list of books I read last year. It's like... just everything is right in that book.

    3. Oh. Oops. That's embarrassing. Ooh, I'm excited. Thanks for the recommendation!(:

    4. Hahaha, no worries ;) You had a lot of stuff going on in that post... unlike me, who mostly just rambles until some semblance of a point eventually comes tumbling out...

      I haven't read any of the books on that list... though 'Beautiful Creatures' and 'My Sister's Keeper' are both on what consists as my virtual to-be-read-pile (Amazon wish list) which has bloated up to, hmmm, let me check... 426 items.

      ...maybe I should quit writing and just read instead? Then I might actually have a chance at reading all the books I'd like to before I die.

      Hmmm... decisions, decisions...

      By the way, your comment section is dyslexic-un-friendly :) I normally don't comment on blogs that have word verification turned on 'cause I feel like less of a human when I fail multiple times in a row :)

      By the way, it's very nice to meet you! I was crazy surprised you got that Kim Possible quote :)

    5. It's nice to meet you too! Kim Possible was a great show.
      I didn't turn spell check on on purpose. I'll try to fix it.(:
      I highly recommend all of the books on the list, but excuse me for one second while I freak out...

      Oh, and you should add Maggie Stiefvater's books to your list. I recommend starting with The Scorpio Races as 427 and Shiver as 428. (;

      You know what an even better solution would be? To just write in between the lines in books. Think about it: you can get all of your reading done without feeling bad about not writing. You'll be saving the world by recycling the paper in the books. And, if you want to trick someone into reading your work, you can lend them the book that you've written in. (Cue evil writer laugh.)

    6. Hahaha, no worries :) I think the idea of a dyslexic person with a blog (and writing...) is a little odd, so do whatever you like :) I figure, since you can just delete comments you don't want anyways, why bother with the word verification? But I know a lot of people do like having that auto-spam-filter in there.

      Uhm, I gave up half way through that first enormous book... so, on number 3? I've seen a couple of the movies based on the later books though.

      Ah, I've heard the Scorpio Races are excellent... it might already be on my Amazon list

      Hahahaha... that would be a great idea, IF I could read my own handwriting... Think doctor's scrawl and you're getting close... I truly rely on my computer to write a coherent sentence ;)

      Alrighty, time to get ready to catch a ferry.

      Have a nice weekend!


I'd love to hear your thoughts!