(Warning: This post may contains spoilers for Star Wars, Final Fantasy, The Land Before Time and To The Moon. If you are either planning on watching or playing any of the above, please read at your own risk)
For some reason, I’ve been a little down recently (insert violin music here) – so I figured what better way to cheer myself up than making everyone else depressed! Don’t worry, that’s just a joke.
Seriously though, today I wanted to talk a little bit about a scene that, in fiction terms, many consider somewhat overused and clichéd – but in actual fact I still believe that this is one of the most powerful writing tools that a storyteller has at their disposal, if it’s done correctly.
The death of a character is something that can be both shocking to the reader and upsetting – especially if it’s a character they are heavily invested in. Sometimes we get so attached to a character that when something bad happens to them, we feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves – and that is one of the things that makes a character death so powerful, moving the reader to tears when they realise that their favourite character is no longer going to be with us.
One example of this that I can use is in the video game Final Fantasy VII. Perhaps everyone knows of the shocking death of Areith halfway through the game at the hands of Sepiroth. I was SHOCKED when I first saw this as I never saw it coming and it took me by surprise. Areith may not have been the most powerful character of the bunch (In fact I rarely had her on my team), but she was genuinely likeable and so it did make her death rather sad. What’s even sadder is that she STAYS dead – making her death all that more powerful. But, I will admit, Cloud does kind ruin this scene a little with his dialogue. It just sounds too cheesy and silly.
But at the same time, it doesn’t always have to be a main character – sometimes the death itself can bring on huge emotions. I recently played a video game called To The Moon, which dealt with a dying man reliving his childhood memories and his dreams of going to the moon. This was a really emotional video game and one of the first to REALLY move me (proof that video games can have emotion), mainly because we get to see the man’s life, all the way back to his childhood and saw the struggles he went through in life. And the ending... well, let’s just say you will need a box of tissues for it. So sometimes, just a way a character dies (ie, old age, cancer, etc) can have a big effect on us, especially if they have gone through an experience like that. In the case of the above example, death is something we ALL have to face – and I guess the scariest thing about death is how we will face it when the time comes, and did we live our lives the way we should have?
For my Top Five Memorable Death Scenes blog (see
for the original post), I mentioned one of the most memorable death scenes in film was the death of Littlefoot’s mother in The Land Before Time – and I still do. Main reason being is that Littlefoot now has to complete the journey on his own, and he’s still only a kid. Prior to this scene, Littlefoot’s mother sacrificed her own life to protect him from the villain, Sharptooth, so it makes this death all the more sadder. We feel for poor Littlefoot in this case, because I think a lot of us can relate to this kind of death. We’ve all lost loved ones and family members in our life so this does affect us emotionally – I’ve never watched anyone I loved die, but even so I know that some people have and I’m sure these types of deaths in films/books/etc can have a great impact on them.
But the one thing that really get me is when a character dies and then gets brought back to life (usually through convoluted reasons). I always found this a cop out – although, again if it was a character that I really liked, I loved the idea of them coming back into the story – and in some ways it completely negates the emotion behind their death the first time. Sadly, this is all too common in fiction these days and this is one of the reason why the death scene has become less impactful. I’m actually with George R R Martin when he said Lord of the Rings would have been a much more interesting story if Gandalf stayed dead, seeing as he was pretty much overpowered. I’m not saying this is wrong, I just think it undoes the character death a little. I appreciate that sometimes, for the sake of the plot, a character has to be brought back, but I’m just not a fan of it. Myself, if I kill a character off, I try to make sure they stay dead and if they DO come back, it’s usually temporarily. The exception to this rule is villains. They are usually deceitful and so it makes sense that they would deceive people into thinking they were dead.
Now onto one of my biggest pet peeves – storytellers that try to shoe-horn in a death scene just for the sake of it. Sadly, many Hollywood blockbusters do this in the hope of showing that their movie has substance. Sorry, but it DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY! As I said before, for a death scene to work, we have to care about the character and be emotionally invested in them. But if we never cared for them in the first place, then why should be care if they are killed off? One example of this is in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, when Qui-Gon-Gin n’ Tonic (sorry, Qui-Gon Jinn) gets killed off. At the risk of upsetting Star Wars fans, I REALLY didn’t care for this character. He had no personality and only really served as a plot device for bringing Anakin into the story, though in my opinion the story would have functioned just as well without him. So when he died, I was like “meh”. But that’s not the reaction you should have to a character death!
Worst still, in some stories, sometimes a character dies and then they are forgotten about. A death of a character should have lasting consequences – so when I see a character die and forgotten about, to me this just screams lazy writing. I actually read and reviewed a book once (of which I will keep the name and the author name secret) and in one scene one of the main characters was killed off – quite an important character as well. After that, never mentioned again – the hero didn’t even seem that affected by it! This annoyed me because why would you kill a character off and then forget about them? It just didn’t feel right. I think that when a character dies, you should honour them and show how it effects the rest of the protagonists.
That being said, as a writer myself, I will admit that these scenes are – for me personally – the hardest scenes to write. As a writer, my preference has always been for Fantasy/Science Fiction with a lot of action, larger than life characters and exciting storylines – but I don’t consider myself good at doing emotional scenes. That’s not to say that I won’t try every now and then (because I believe emotion is just as important as comedy), but I do have worries when I write a character death scene (for example) and wonder if I will capture the emotion perfectly for the piece. There is a death scene in Trapped on Draconica that I was worried about when I first wrote it, worrying that it wouldn’t come across with enough emotion. Thankfully, a few reviews I’ve had seem to like this scene, so hopefully I did it right.
To sum up, a character death should have a lot of power and impact behind it – but it just seems to get overused these days to the point where sometimes it just comes across as laughable. But I still believe that a character death can have meaning – as long as the character is cared for enough for it to work. In the hands of a talented writer, it can be equally as moving as the death of Romeo and Juliet. In the hands of a band writer, it’s just another Qui-Gon Jinn.
Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below if you agree or disagree or have any further thoughts to add. Just to give you guys a heads up, due to certain circumstances in my life, I’ll no longer be able to blog three times a week like I was doing before (due to thousands of commitments that I have at the moment, not at least reviewing and, of course, writing). So I’m purely just gonna blog once a week, usually around Friday time. Pandragon Reviews and guest blogs will still be on Wednesday as and when, but regular blogging will be restricted to once a week from now on.
Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!
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