Writing a good death: Part 1

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Have you ever wondered when the timing is right for your character to die?

I read an interesting blog by Autumn M. Birt the other day. It was about the death of a major character. It started me thinking about famous stories/plays/novels that have the main characters die. So this series will explore a different death each post. Morbid, but useful.

So let’s begin with the classic Romeo and Juliet. Firstly it’s a tragedy and we know they die. The opening scene makes this clear:

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

Why do these deaths work when the reader is not caught off guard by these beloved characters dying? In fact, in some twisted way the deaths bring a measure of satisfaction.

1. The twist.

Although the audience knows they will die, the expectation builds because we don’t know how or when they will die. As the crescendo builds the audience move to the edge of their seat. How will it happen?

2. It’s a stage production.

Although now often read. It was never intended to be read, it was intended to be watched. This makes a difference in its effectiveness. The ability to see how much Romeo loves Juliet and vice versa is important to believing they would die for one another or because of one another.

3. It has a greater theme. 

The production is not about Romeo and Juliet, it’s about their love. The forcefulness and violence of it. The sheer audacity of it. Their death serves this theme, it strengthens it rather than detracting from it. This is key to any death. Does it serve the greater purpose of the book or does it take away from it?

So in summary, Romeo and Juliet works by building anticipation of their deaths, by their deaths serving the greater theme rather than detracting from it and by it being believable. Of course, we also have to believe the sheer genius of Shakespeare helped make the sell.

I hope you enjoyed this read and I look forward to exploring this more in the future.

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