When you write you discover. You discover aspects of your characters, you discover nuances to your plot, you discover holes in your world-building, but perhaps the most fascinating things you discover are the thing you uncover about yourself.
Recently as I have been thinking about my writing processes I discovered that I like writing death scenes.
Now that is different from to kill your characters. Sometimes I have little emotional attachment to a character’s death, sometimes there is more connection and a high resistance to disposing of that character but I follow through if it is what the story needs. No, what I am talking about id when it comes time to put the scene down on paper, the actual thought experiment of the death and the killing is fascinating. I have killed villains, secondary characters, and heroes. I have written the scenes from another character’s point of view, from close third person, and even first person. I am working on a ghost story where I follow the character from living to ghost, hence a first person death scene that is not the end of the story.
What is it about the death scenes that I find so interesting?
Well, for one it is pretty much the opposite of that old piece of advice ‘write what you know.’ I haven’t died; I haven’t watched anyone die, so this is an area of pure imagination. It truly is a place to synthesize practical knowledge such as the body’s reaction trauma and blood loss with pure imagination as you apply it to a particular person and situation. Blending the known with the invented is the heart of writing and that is a good death scene.
Another aspect of writing death scenes is that it is a chance to strip everything away from the dying character and have a snapshot of who they are at the end of all things. It is a theory of drama that I think goes back to the ancient Greeks that tragedy strips away all pretenses exposing the true character and there is no greater tragedy to a character than the final moments of their life.
Done poorly a death scene cheapens the piece, making characters feel disposable and that can alienate a reader. Done properly a death scene is revelatory broadening the reader’s understanding of the characters, the plot, and the themes of the work. Do not shy away from killing characters, but make sure you are giving their final moments the attention they and the reader deserve.