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"Remember Death, if only because it remembers you... " - Phil Grimm
Death takes place in a lot of our writing. My mind wandered when reading a friend's post on Facebook (Past member here "aszreal") where she asked, "Can I end a book by killing off the POV character? As in, we're talking along, it's all in first person, it's all tense, and then they die and the story ends right there?". My first thought was "Brilliant!" then I began wondering how the audience would react. I've read plenty of books where a main character dies but the story didn't end so abruptly. Take Nicolas Sparks' story Message in a Bottle. Many fans disliked (even hated) the ending *SPOILER ALERT* when Garrett dies unexpectedly. I found it heart-wrenching but thought it really fit the story well. I am one of those fans that doesn't require the HEA (happily ever after) ending. I kept thinking about her question long after I closed my laptop though. Death in stories is relatively common, so what separates them and what makes them important or just another part of the story?
I'm sure authors have many different responses to that question and I'd love to hear yours (comment box is at the bottom!), but what really got me thinking was what makes a death scene really affect a reader? Is it how he dies? No, it's how he lived. A reader won't be affected emotionally about a character that wasn't "living" to begin with. The details you put into your character that made them come alive will come back in their death. Mentioning memorable details will highlight what the survivors will have to live without. That is what evokes the emotion in your reader.
Create a character that will live on (and off) the page. A couple weeks ago USA Today ran an article about the author of the comic book Life with Archie and his struggle with issue 36 where he had to write the death scene of the character Archie Andrews. Writing the death of a character that millions of Americans have known since 1941 was stressful. Kupperberg (the author) focused on one of the character's core characteristics, his nobility. Do your characters have memorable characteristics that will help them strike a chord with your readers? If they do, they will live on, long after their death.
Don't drag it out unless it's of paramount important to the story. What's the most annoying death in literary history? Was it Beth in Little Women or perhaps Dickens' Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop? Even Oscar WIlde remarked "Who can read the death of Little Nell without laughing?". Is that the reaction that Dickens was looking for when he wrote it? Somehow I think not.
Poetry is a little different as you don't have the time to build up a 3-400 page legacy. Paul Valery once said, "A poem is a machine for reproducing an emotion." I agree with him and that is a perfect explanation of how Tennyson's "In Memoriam" depicts his grief over his friend's unexpected passing at the young age of 22.
‘Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp’d no more –
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.’
(Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, VII)
His quiet rhythms are consistent in this piece until you reach the distinct change in emotion toward the end with the adjectives 'bald' and 'blank'. Tennyson conveys his feelings very clearly in this piece.
If you'd like to read more on writing a death scene, check out the reference below.
An excellent article on writing a death scene can be found here at the blog of author Livia Blackburne It contains SPOILERS relating to the book on the left:
The YA fairytale "Plain Kate" by Erin Bow
"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will." - Chuck Palahniuk
I couldn't agree more Chuck.
Write and Review on! ~ Brooke
Relive every minute of Alan Ball's poignantly dramatic, unpredictably hilarious masterpiece, from its powerful premiere episode to its critically-acclaimed, haunting finale..
This month's links are educational items that help teach us about different things in our community.
"(Fun)damentals of Technical Writing" by iKïyå§ama
My foray into Technical Writing. Important notes and pointers will be documented here.
"Thoughts on Writing" by Northernwrites
Thoughts, observations, philosophy, opinions, and educational pieces.
"WDC Welcome Center" by Pat ~ Rejoice always!
Help for New Members
" Semantics and Word Choice Precision " by A E Willcox
Great writers know how to use the right words in the right place and at the right time.
"Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor
While editing my novel, I have learned new WDC skills. Here are some of them.
Want to see your item here? Make sure it doesn't show in the non-genre "Other". I won't feature any item that doesn't have a proper genre and correct rating.
She walked over to the sink, and looked at herself in the mirror. Her usally bright blue eyes were red and swollen,from thhe crying. She turns on the cold water tap and catching water in her hands she splashes her face. The water runs down her face and over her chin. She did this a few times then grabs the the hand towel and wipes her face. She turnsoff the water. Grabbing her blue comb she comes her long hairto get the knots out then puts it up into a poney tail. Which was an inprovement, but she couldn't do any thing about her swollen eyes. She grabs some toilt paper and blows her nose, then flushes it in the toilet. When she felt in control of her feeling she returned to her children.
I must keep busy until Ben comes home, he know what to do. She started to prepare the children's lunch, smiling at them as they come to show her there drawings. She took their pictures and put them on the refrigerator, held by a frog magnate.
“She is very nice Larry”
“I like her! Well, except for when she takes off her skin...that just creeps me out!”
“Dude! That is not her skin. She is human. Humans wear “clothes” to hide their real skin cause it makes them get all twisted up together and make strange noises”
Past the thicket and broken branches stands a crumbling memory of human indulgence. Bricks and steel once manufactured and put to perfection now lay waste as a broken relic of dirt and rust, while its organs of furniture and facilities now obtrude out, burnt and solemnly rotting. And all around this dead edifice is an overgrowth of greenery - a true urban jungle. Trees crowd around as pedestrians once did, while weed penetrate through fractured concrete and vines creep up the dilapidated walls. This beast wilts in the midst of nature, and soon, like a distant memory, it will die away and cease to exist.
Life, the most precious gift one could ever receive or give. As I tell you this it's been only a few days since I've died, and as I think I can not draw a conclusion as to why I've died. I can only remember being taken to the hospital and the few minutes I lived upon arrival.
I lay on the stretcher as they wheel me in, "Move! Move! Get out of the way! We have to get her to the ER! STAT!" shouted one of the nurses. I couldn't see much, all was blurry and the ceiling was all I could make out. An immense amount of pain rushed over me and as I recall it was far beyond any limits of what I had once had.
If only she hadn't stepped into that elevator with him after so much caffeine. She was gullible when she was caffeinated; gullible, excitable, and too social.
“Hey!” she said, hefting her grocery bag up to the balance point on her narrow hip. “I'm Jessica, but you can call me Jess. What floor are you on?”
He smiled a little nervously and it vaguely occurred to her that conversations in elevators were awkward by nature.
If looks could kill then I would be deemed a murderer, just like him. I glared at him with more hatred than I knew I was even capable of. The rage I felt within my own soul scared me. I had grown accustomed to his harsh criticisms and overbearing nature. I no longer flinched when he went into one of his jealous rants. But running over my dog? No. He had gone too far this time.
Something was wrong. A clap of thunder rang through the forest, but the sky was not right for it. Clear blue was all I saw through the canopy of green. Not a cloud was in sight.
I settled down low on the river bank, where I was fishing. I devoured each fish as quickly as I pulled them from the river. The aroma of salmon scraps mixed with the musty smell of the rotting log I had hidden them under. I scanned the tree line along the opposite bank for any movement, anything out of the ordinary. Nothing seemed amiss.
Stuart almost tripped on the hill. His pirate boots were long and pointed at the toes. He felt more like a jester than a fearless mutant-cowboy-space-pirate. The breeze nearly blew his hat off his head. “Wait up!” Jimmy called behind him. Stuart slowed enough to glance over his shoulder, breathing hard. The pumpkin in his arms was getting heavy.
The red belt holding up Jimmy’s blue pants were slipping. His pant cuffs lopped over his shoes. An old red towel he used as Superman’s cape flew in all directions. “We don’t have to run!”
“Sure we do slow-poke; we have to get these pumpkins out of here.” Terrence raced after him.
“Food is just food! It's something you can eat. It has bits and pieces that go together well and some that are just wrong. The only thing people care about now are how fast it goes together and if it fits their fad diet." It was a really good thing her editor was calling from New York or she would never have his attention through a whole rant like this. "A year from now people won't care what low-carb, non-dairy, paleo diets even were. They'll be convincing people to pay them to say eat bread smothered in cheese is a health diet!”
Rita wasn't sure it was the phone reception crackling or the saute of peppers and onions she was tossing in her skillet as she waited for his reply.
“Rita, if you feel that strongly about it, then write that! I don't care what it is, but if you don't produce something soon no one will remember your first book and you can kiss this wave goodbye.”
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I received some wonderful feedback to my last newsletter [#6018] "Avoiding Stereotypical Characters" and I'm proud to share it with you.
From Avalyn with "The Hunt"
"The Hunt" is intended as the opening chapter to a fantasy novel. One-sentence plot summary: An orphan girl and an unwanted prince find themselves in an unlikely alliance to battle an ancient evil threatening their world. I am looking for feedback on the clarity and pacing of the piece.
A note for newbies. I began to read all the newsletters when I was given the opportunity to post on the PDG announcement page. At first I glanced at the Newsletters just to find the PDG members who were promoted. As time went on I began reading them for their content. Some I liked better than others. I no longer have to post for PDG, but I still read the newsletters and have learned so much from not only those writing them but from those who respond. Newbies, get them all. Make a folder in your port called Newsletters and save (+) the ones you connect with there. They make excellent reference material when you're stuck or need help quick! I have quite a list.
Thanks for sharing that with us
From BIG BAD WOLF with "Anthros Versus Zombies"
It helps to have something unusual to offer the readers.
You are correct!
Wonderful NL, Brooke! I love the way you pack so much information into each editorial!
Thanks Jeff. You're always so encouraging. I hope you're having fun in Brazil!
out of eight stories I have only one story not rated or review. I went back after reading your newsletter, to see if I gave it a age rating and I did, said it was family with rated 13+ but its never been has been review so please tell me what I did wrong, as i love feed back, as my grammar and spelling are not up to strach which has stop me putting stories on here, but love reading other stories and learning from them.
I'm not sure why it hasn't been reviewed, but I highlighted it above so hopefully that will bring some reviewing in for you. Thanks for writing in!
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