I’ve written tips on writing sad scenes before, but now I’d like to take a look more specifically at scenes involving character deaths. (Note that I’m focusing on the deaths of “good” characters here, rather than villains—that’s for another post!) Many writers will have to write a character death at one point or another, but it’s a challenging moment to tackle. Too much emotion can feel overly dramatic, while too little won’t evoke the right response in the reader. How can you write meaningful character deaths with the right amount of emotion? Here are my tips:
- Emphasize the character’s qualities
One of the things that I think makes character death most emotional is a reminder of how unique they are. What are your character’s primary good qualities? What are the other characters (and readers) going to miss most about them? This is what will elevate your death scene from any other—a reminder of what makes this particular character so special.
- Remember the character’s journey
Similarly, it can be very emotional to remind readers how much a character has grown over the course of the story before their death. What were they like at the beginning of the book (or series)? Remembering how far they’ve come can provide a sense of bittersweet satisfaction as their death marks the end of their journey.
- Show close relationships
Remind readers how much this character meant to the other characters. Anyone this character was close to should, ideally, be present for their death scene. Character deaths are sad not just because of the loss of one character but because readers realize the effect it will have on the rest of the cast. But remember that showing a close relationship doesn’t have to involve a dramatic reaction to the death scene—it can be a quiet moment, like one character finishing another’s sentence, or whispering a quiet goodbye.
- Remember less is more
On a similar note, keep in mind that deaths don’t have to be dramatic to be impactful. Of course, some deaths can be dramatic, if that’s the right tone for this particular moment and your story as a whole. But keep in mind that they don’t have to be, and that less can often be more. A single tear can be more heartrending than outright sobbing, and a single word can be more impactful than a lengthy monologue.
- Show burials
Often, the saddest moment when a character dies isn’t the death itself but the burial afterward. This is a great place to show the close relationships the other characters had with the deceased, and also a cathartic scene for readers to grieve too. And the more unique the burial or ritual is, the more likely readers are going to remember it long after they’ve closed the book. The Hunger Games has a great example of this: The scene where Katniss covers Rue’s body in flowers is one of the most memorable and emotional moments in a series that’s full of death. It’s a moment where Katniss pays tribute to the girl who died, showing their close relationship, and through her grief the readers grieve too. Note that it’s also a very quiet scene, and all the more impactful because of it.
- Think of their legacy
One of the other things that can make character deaths impactful is showing the legacy they leave behind. How are they going to be remembered? Why are they going to be remembered? In what way did their life affect the lives of others? Emphasizing their legacy can often make a death more meaningful.
What do you think? How do you write character deaths? Which death scenes have you read that were particularly meaningful, and why? Let me know in the comments!
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