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Exploiting Death

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 19, 2020
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When a character the story's cast and audience identify and are familiar with dies, the effect is, or should be, monumental.

Not only because that effectively ends that character's journey (and arc), but also because as an event it has immediate ramifications for all the surviving characters.

First off, they won't get to interact with that character ever again (except in dreams/flashbacks), which means that whatever MO they had, whatever routine they had concerning this character, is now gone and will need to be replaced with another.

The character's impact on the others will cease, at least in the form it took when the character was alive: if the character was a pacifier, now belligerence won't be as efficiently checked. If the character was the cohesive element between the rest, now the surviving characters will need to somehow not scatter OR scatter with everything that means. If the character was the strategist of the group then… well, then they are in big trouble.

And that's just the logistics of the matter. There's also the emotional impact.

Everyone will react differently when experiencing loss, but everyone will react, even if that reaction is so subtle others thing there is none to observe.

Reaction to a character's death can be defining for the survivors, because the intense emotions can catalyze them into a different version of themselves, or set them on an arc they wouldn't have otherwise embarked.

So, for a writer or creator, a character's death is a powerful tool which can't be used lightly, but when it IS used, should be exploited to the fullest.

The character that dies leaves a void behind, an emptiness where they stood, which will take time to fill by those who survive him/her, if it is ever filled at all. And this impact has to come across to the audience through definite yet indirect manners: how the survivors' personalities change as manifested in their dialogue (they may become too aggressive or too polite or too quiet, for example), their reactions (they may overreact or underreact to situations, they may isolate or be too social/clingy, they may even develop elements of PTSD, or act out of guilt, or anything in between), their new ‘blind spots’ that weren't there before because the dead character was the one picking them out for the rest, and so on.

Of course, this works on the audience better if the character stays dead. No take-backsies.

STILL… I do believe that if done right, it can work just as well even if the dead character somehow returns.

It might even be the onset for a new arc. When the character returns, he/she won't be returning to the same friends he/she left. They will be changed people, in all the subtle manners previously mentioned- and that doesn't get nixed just because the death wasn't a real death. Things like grief will be soothed and assuaged, but the impact of the trauma will remain.

And it probably should work both ways- the character that returns from death shouldn't be the same either. But that's something to discuss for next time.

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comment

anonymous?

usedbooks at 7:53AM, Dec. 20, 2020

And I like when "henchmen" deaths are poignant as well, the other henchmen notice and are impacted, and/or a point is made as to whether the protagonist (especially if he/she killed the henchman) is remorseful or callous. A death (whether good guy, bad guy, minor, or major) has so much potential to reveal others' characters that using is casually without making some impact is akin to throwing away a big paycheck rather than cashing it.

usedbooks at 7:51AM, Dec. 20, 2020

What I've noticed when it comes to my reaction to authors' use of death is that it really isn't how many people die or who dies or even whether there is a faked death or a revival. The difference is whether the death(s) serves a purpose to the narrative and how much impact it has. Any number of deaths with a purpose are absolutely okay. Deaths just for shock or because the writer is done with a character are cheap and annoying. All deaths should have impact, alter the characters around them, or even function to show how cheap life is in the setting. It shouldn't be used to just conveniently write out a member of the cast. I hold this for both protagonists and antagonists. I always prefer it when a writer comes up with a different fate for "the villain" than a cheap killing off. I am far more satisfied when the antagonist lives to see the consequences.

bravo1102 at 4:05AM, Dec. 20, 2020

In Tarot, the death card doesn't usually mean physical death, but endings, great changes and that often means new beginnings. So a characters death isn't necessarily an ending but a change and even a beginning.

hushicho at 3:39PM, Dec. 19, 2020

I have to agree with this article. I'm so glad someone said it, because it seems like these days, writers tend to use death casually, to manipulate their audience. And that's exactly what it is. It may be helpful to think of it in a very childlike way, as when you kill off a character, you are essentially removing their figure from the play session. With killing off a character, you're attempting to do that permanently...which is a bad idea in most cases. It's almost always better just to sideline a character if you're going to do it, so that you can bring them back later and everyone can have realized in the incident that this person mattered to them...and the story too. It gives them renewed purpose and significance, and it doesn't drive off the people who invariably saw that as their favorite character.

Tantz_Aerine at 7:55AM, Dec. 19, 2020

Name me one redshirt, KAM XD

KAM at 4:18AM, Dec. 19, 2020

But what about killing off redshirts for the LOLs?


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