Apologies for the late arrival of this weekend’s guest post. I guess I wasn’t quite as well caught up as I thought! But read on for a really interesting piece from Kieran Mathers about a pernicious trope of modern storytelling…
I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy fiction recently. This is, in part, to build the style of The Darkness Embraces (still no news from Hydra, I might add) and also just to build my range. The more you read, the better you become as a writer.
I’ve noticed a fashion developing, first in fantasy fiction but now spreading out into the wider literary world. You can see it on TV and movies as well and this fashion really annoys me.
Death is now a reversible consequence.
I think I lost whatever delusions I had with a lot of modern drama when I saw the trailer for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Agent Coulson, the touchstone for all the shared Marvel universe movies, was killed in Avengers Assemble, stabbed in the heart by Loki. It was a brave and tragic death which allowed the Avengers to unite in the face of their foe – poignant, sad and meaningful.
Then they bloody well reversed it.
This isn’t restricted to movies. In comics especially, characters ‘die’ and return all the time. I know that this harkens back to the ancient Greek myths in which, heroes would travel down to the underworld and collect the souls of their comrades fallen in battle. But now, even when you see the broken corpse of a beloved character, there is nothing to stop them returning, safe and sound, in following episodes/novels.
And this robs so much fiction of its essential drama.
As I wrote in a previous article, I love Ysabel, the protagonist of my novel The Witch. But her book series is never going to have a happy ending. Even as I wrote the very first chapter of the very first book, I realised that she is too bold, too brave and just too unlikely to have a long and peaceful life. I would love to give her that happy ending but she’ll never get it. This isn’t because I don’t care massively for the character, it’s because this is what the drama demands.
Not to kill her would be a failure in my responsibility as a writer.
To allow your characters a get-out clause from life’s greatest danger is nothing less than cowardice on the part of the writer. Because writers are invested in these characters, we learn to love them. They become real people and when we choose to kill them, we are murdering those we love.
It is physically upsetting to write these deaths scenes, but we are dramatists and we know implicitly when a character should live or die. The essential drama of a situation will demand it, the character’s arc will demand it. And writing death demands something of ourselves as well. In avoiding it, we rob ourselves of an essential dramatic tool.
For example, I used to play a lot of table-top role playing games, and for a long time I played a character called Nadia. She was spiky, independent and grumpy much of the time, and she despised being dictated to. Her life was her own and she’d spent years escaping the influences that tried to rob her of autonomy. She was her own woman and that’s why she was an adventurer.
As a psychological ploy by an elite assassin, she was informed she had twenty four hours to live and branded with a magical ticking clock on her skin. Chaos broke out as the party attempted to flee. At the end of her escape attempt, soaked, alone, cornered with only seconds left on her clock, she knew she was trapped. There was no escape, nothing but the assassin’s knife approaching.
So she chose to kill herself instead. At the moment of death, she showed who she was much more than any other experience in her life. She wasn’t being dictated to, she wasn’t living by the assassin’s time frame. Her last act was proving to the world who she was – that her life and death were her own.
There was a moment of silence in the room after that. It was a tragic and poignant death, but it was perfect. And if I had resurrected Nadia, I would have undermined it all. So she will stay dead, and I have no problem with that.
God, this got rather serious, didn’t it? Here’s a joke to finish with:
Joss Whedon, G.R.R Martin and Steven Moffat walk into a bar … and everyone you’ve ever loved dies.
So, what’s the most traumatic death you’ve ever watched/read? And what do you think of this new trend of reversible death? There’s a comment box below – let me know!