Death is kind of on my mind a lot recently. My grandfather (who I wrote about here), died on February 9 and the loss of him and how it has impacted my every day thoughts had really made me think about death in relation to a lot of things around me. In my author-esq head, it’s not surprising that literature found its way into the mental ramblings (or should we just be honest and call them distractions from reality?).
It seems many times we don’t take “dead” very seriously in literature. Unless it is gruesome (Hi, George R.R. Martin!), or the other characters are seriously changed because of it for the worse (Seriously, why did Little Nell have to snuff it?), many times it seems to float past us as a plot device. Is it because we have a long history of people returning to life in books so it doesn’t feel as final? (Aslan, Gandalf, every comic book character, and most religious stories, etc.) The corpse is rarely there in a story, unless it has just happened; that could be part of it as well.
Death in writing is a plot device. It is a tool both sharp as a knife and as a blunt as a sledgehammer. We cheer when bad guys die. We look at a death sacrifice as heroic, not thinking of the final end that just happened to a character.
Is it simply because we don’t see characters as “human?” So maybe it is more a fault of us writers that a readers feels, or doesn’t feel, the loss. There might be something to it. I wrote a book, MEGAN, that is built around a death and I tried to show a character from being told of the death of another with all the initial stages of acceptance over the course of a day. Hmmm… Probably why the work isn’t as popular on amazon.com than my time-traveling adventure, My Problem With Doors. So clearly, death is not a selling point.
There is a lesson there I learned that you will not need to now. You can thank me later.
Sometimes a death can slip right by, almost as an afterthought. My favorite example of this is the first Harry Potter book. One thing I love to point out to people is that Harry Potter begins with a double homicide. Yes, we see the scene later in the series (We get a little description in the first book, just a taste). And while JK Rowling does her best to take a light approach to that first chapter (Vernon in all his heavy-set foolishness), it doesn’t change the fact the story really started the evening before when Voldemort went into the home of the Potters and slaughtered them gleefully. Continue reading