Let’s face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It’s the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people’s lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story.
In previous posts, I introduced my plan, then went on to look at deaths in books, movies, television and video games. This week, I’ll be putting forward my own views on character death and how it can be used and abused, with reflection on my influences. Some of the work I’ll be mentioning is currently published, while others are not. Please bear with me.
Crystal and Sin, my science fiction story focusing on the clashes of five individuals with wildly varying personalities, features several instances of death. These include side characters and secondary protagonist and antagonists, many of whom drive the plot forward through the events which in turn lead to their deaths. Assassin Jirou faces her father – who trained her as a child soldier in the Mars Wars – and abandons her capture mission to kill him. She succeeds, defying his psychological abuse, but finding out things about him and make her deed harder to bear. Main character Aiden Jonas is slightly different; portrayed as a sociopath, a flashback reveals that he watched the woman he loved cut to ribbons, and his then-unstable mind focused on killing those responsible, resulting in a notorious killing spree and his reputation as a psychopath. One element of death that is not overly emphasised is the origins of main heroine Crystal; as she was essentially a cloned version of the daughter her ‘father’ never had before his wife’s natural death, it was only through the creation and disposal of multiple early failures that he created Crystal. This process also saw the creation of main antagonist the Empress of Sin, who is technically Crystal’s older twin and seeks revenge against Crystal’s creator for his actions.
In The Leviathan Chronicle, my recently completed fantasy story, the tone is considerably darker and death appears in more unsettling forms. The massacre of Astarte’s family, which sets her on her path of vengeance, is one of the milder things there. Elathan’s guilt over the death of his lover Paimon forms the core of his personal development. The burden of death upon her is the central drama of Uriel’s crisis of faith concerning her role as “Sinbearer”. The theme of death and how people respond to it also forms a core part of the overall story. There is also the irony that the gift of Concord, a magical contract made by the god-like Powers with many of the main characters, is triggered when people are on the edge of death. It also shows how futile and pathetic death can be in the middle of a war where everyone thinks they’re in the right.
In my current adventure project – working title Helena – my titular heroine is brought into the fold of events by two things; the murder of her close friend Nariv, and how this connects to the death of her father when she was young. Her father remains a powerful influence on her life, reflecting her choice to uncover the past and face off against the mysterious organisation that attempts to stop her. She also follows a trail of clues left by her father to ancient sites across the world, unpicking the riddle he left for her piece by piece. In this case, the death of Helena’s father is not only a catalyst for what she does in the story, but also how she was formed as a character, and gives her a deeper reason to continue pursuing the mystery in the hope of finding answers.
It’s still pretty early in my writing career, so the number of variations on death I’ve experimented with is limited. But those I have used are types I found appealing; death as a meaningful demonstration of what the story is about, how the characters can change in the face of trauma, and what death can mean for others.