Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Death Scenes

So I just finished a conversation with Mike the Conquerer about his little brother Ken's new movie, and he said, "Ken needs death lessons!  His death scene was pathetic.  He just flopped down and out came this little 'Ungh...' Nobody dies like that."

As I pointed out in Ken's defense, most real life deaths pretty much do happen like that.  The victim may suffer nobly or ignobly, or not at all, but when the moment comes, the average person will flop, maybe twitch a little, then they die. The average death wouldn't make the cut on screen or in fiction.  That's good, because fictional deaths tend to be bizarre and painful.

One reason for that is because the characters most likely to die are villains.  They deserve to die, after all, and die they do . . . in droves.  I've seen a fair share of real-life deaths, a couple of them gruesome, and none would be too gruesome for a fictional villain.  The crowd at a Roman circus would be less bloodthirsty than readers determined to see a villain meet a bad end.

For a writer, there are few moments more satisfying than killing off a good villain.  My best literally disintegrates the guy, though I'm also proud of the man who's magically turned into a stag, brought down by his own dogs, and gets his throat cut by his best friend.  I killed Lorant in Captive Hearts with a rock precisely because being killed by a rock is pathetic, besides which Gaspar was not exactly famed for his prowess as a warrior, hence the rock.  Another of my villains, Lukacz of Dangerous Beauty, died off-stage . . . but only because none of my POV characters were present at the event, which occurs in full and bloody detail in the opening chapter of a sequel.

Heroes and heroines, on the other hand, tend to die handsomely.  If their deaths are bloody, they're also noble or, better yet, tragic, because readers expect a worthwhile reward in return for the beloved character's suffering.  I'm proudest of the way I kill off one of my favorite characters in a book soon to be published: he suffers greatly at my hands, but he pretty much saves the world.  It doesn't get much better than that.  I cry every time.

In fiction of any kind, a truly satisfying death is seldom passive.  That's where Ken's death scene failed.  He didn't flail, or rage, or get in a good blow.  He just flopped down and died.  Anyone can do that.

6 comments:

  1. LOL. Very good point and a great post.

    I try to keep my deaths varied and creative, if it fits the story. One was electrocution by magical lightning, another a mauling,I had one minor bad guy's body melted from the inside out from acid in his bloodstream. My favorite protagonist death includes the male lead merging magically with his father, grandfather, and an ancient device. Their joining sent out a subsonic sound wave that hit every alien on the planet and vibrated them to pieces, saving their race from being subjugated.

    Honestly, the only place a quiet death really has in fiction seems to be emotional pieces where readers are really meant to pity the character and identify with them. In some ways, the more horrific a death an author uses, the easier it is for readers to enjoy I think. It's not likely anyone is going to vibrate someone to pieces, but dying from cancer is a possibility for many and more disturbing.

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    1. That's part of the reason people can enjoy those horror movies that are basically snuff porn, like the Final Destination movies, where the fun is in how creatively the characters can have their lives ripped away. The viewer has a greater chance of winning the lottery than meeting a similar end, so that creates a buffer. Truly realistic deaths often hit home.

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  2. My apologies for just now commenting on this. :) I' m a dark and twisty sort of girl and absolutely love writing torture and death scenes. Although many of them have yet to see the light of day as so many of my stories are unfinished, my favorite thus far was the killing of an ex boyfriend. I' m sure i' m not the only one with some pent up anger over a past beau and destressing with a death scene really showed I guess.

    The hero stabs him in his genitals with a nice twist, stabs him in the chest, cuts his fangs out, runs a sword down his throat, and then tops it off with a good old fashioned beheading. In the end though, I guess he did just flop to the ground. What famous last words can you say without a head?

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    1. Dark and twisty you are, and crafted quite a death there for your ex (he was a villain, I presume, as exes tend to be). Sometimes a good death is beyond words. :D I too have used an ex for negative inspiration. They're perfect for it. Mine has died a thousand deaths beneath my pen.

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  3. Haha, my kids and I are huge fans of Alan Rickman who plays Professor Snape in the Harry Potter stories. Not only does he have a wicked death scene in part 2 of Deathly Hallows, but the way he dies in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, with his stumbling around and practically throwing himself out a window while being skewered, is deliciously over-the-top.

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    1. Oh, Rickman is delicious as Snape. Best Potter character, in my opinion. :D Now I have to go watch that death scene in Robin Hood!

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