Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Death becomes who? And how?

Okay, sorry for yesterday's slackin'. Today's post is a bit more cerebral... :)

In more modern and domestic genres/settings, death is not always a realistic part of the picture (terminal illnesses and accidents notwithstanding). In fantasy, though, the world is more cruel, the enemies more bloodthirsty, the perils more treacherous--at least, in a literal sense. If we’re being “realistic” in the genre, death is probably something that lingers in most characters’ minds in the story.

But authors are typically loathe to kill off important characters, and death is not nearly as frequent as may be realistic (there’s that word again!). Rightfully so, I’d argue, as the writer spends considerable time, effort, and word count crafting and sharing these personalities. We, as readers, also form a bond with these characters, and reading their deaths can be a shocking, perhaps even infuriating, experience if we are unprepared or if the death is poorly timed or handled.

Even the death of the “Big Bad” of the book/trilogy/saga is something that should be appropriately paced and preceded by the right amount of suspense and danger so that the reader doesn’t feel like the villain’s defeat is inevitable or too easy. And hopefully, prior to that culminating battle, the author has fleshed out the villain enough that we have plenty to hate/pity/empathize before the character is written into the ether.

Dipping this post a bit into the YA section (which is, after all, my WIP’s focus), it seems that death might need to be handled even more gingerly than with adult fantasy. Do we really want to thrust such a permanent, sometimes traumatic experience on a younger reader? Chima’s Heir series does not exactly shy away from death, although the story tends to flirt with the theme rather than commit to it (with a couple big exceptions, off the top of my head--no spoilers!). For Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, targeted at an even younger audience, the author cleverly explains that the ancient Greek monsters magically dissipate, rather than die, upon defeat, only to return another day to plague our lil’ hero. (Cheesy, some may say, but probably a wise move on the author’s part.)

So what is your stance on death in your stories (reading and writing!)?

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