Did you know that Game of Thrones has more than 118 notable deaths throughout its storyline? Yes yes, we know it’s not the death count, but the effect of the characters’ deaths on the story that should be looking for – but still, if you want to know how to write a death scene that makes readers cry, you’re in the right place. Without further ado, let’s dive into our gruesome guide on how to write a death scene that works!
1. Develop a Strong Relationship Between the Reader and the Character
Think about it, why do people cry when family members die? It’s because they had a complex relationship with them. And if you ask them why are you sad? They would innocently say: “Because I don’t want them to die”.
You can take this question as an example. “Care” is the first natural word that comes out as a reason for crying over someone’s death.
This takes us to one conclusion. If you want the readers to enjoy a significant death scene, you have to make the readers care about the dying character.
The most critical part of doing this is by creating an interesting character. There are multiple types of character arcs that develop a compelling relationship with the reader.
You can have the dying character believe in a certain truth or a lie. This gets the reader to be emotionally invested in the dying character.
You should also work on character development. Additionally, you should make sure that readers can relate to the dying character at some point. Don’t be shy about spending some time to develop this character’s backstory and personality.
Another key to getting a great buildup to a meaningful death scene is the character’s motivations. If you perfected the development of the characters up until the point they die, you’re going to have a death scene that invokes tons of emotions.
However, you shouldn’t put all your focus on making the death scene emotional and forget about the main plot. The character’s death must also add meaning.
2. Create an Antagonist That the Readers Hate with Passion
Killing a character doesn’t always have to make the readers sad. Of course, losing a good character can have a strong impact on the plot. Additionally, you enhance the sorrow factor within the readers by killing him. However, you should never forget about the villain, as well.
By developing an evil character who caused a lot of suffering to the reader’s favorite persona, nothing beats seeing him meet his end. To further prove the point, let’s use one of the best examples of a villain’s death satisfaction.
In Shawshank Redemption, the prison warden, Samuel Norton, was a hypocrite who uses his position of power to his own gains. He would also kill anyone to cover up his evildoings. Although being locked up is the same prison would be a poetic end for him, I prefer the movie’s end, where he shot himself, over the book’s end.
To get the most out of killing a villain, you have to make sure that the audience has a great hate buildup toward him. Seeing the character you’re rooting for bringing the villain’s evil to an end never loses its shine.
If you managed to create a genuine villain that readers despise, you’ve got yourself a recipe for an excellent death scene. Remember, making the reader cry over a death scene was meant to leave an emotional blast, not to leave them in agony.
3. Avoid Using a Natural Adversity as Your Antagonist
You should try as much as you can to personalize the antagonist. It’s generally not recommended to have your antagonist in the form of natural adversity like illness or any natural disasters.
These ingredients can act as a great catalyst in the main plot of your story. However, such elements lack the ability to act against your characters on purpose. The intention to hurt the protagonist is one of the core qualities of a great villain.
4. Generate a Chain Reaction That’s Based on the Death Scene
The best way to make the most out of a death scene is by allowing it to lay its shadows on the plot. Getting the readers invested in death’s outcome is great. However, getting the other characters invested gives you the most meaningful death scene.
An effective death scene can add extra layers of depth to your plot. It’s essential to show how the character’s death affected other characters, especially your main protagonist. You should also make time to explore the chain reaction after the death scene. This includes the impact on others and the related repercussions that follow losing that character. It’s important to explore all the lost opportunities and the personal costs to every character’s death.
5. Avoid Spoon-Feeding the Readers with Overused Clichés
A good reader appreciates reminders and hints. However, throwing out tons of details at the reader might make your story predictable and not enjoyable.
This is a mistake that many beginner writers fall in. It’s always tempting for writers to pack death moments with tons of drama, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yet, it’s essential that you watch out for the excessive intensity, as readers might think it’s overdone.
For the readers, it feels like you’re trying to force them toward a certain emotion rather than letting them explore the death impact in them. This can easily backfire at you if you aren’t careful enough.
You should also know that if the readers have a good buildup until the moment of death, they’d be too invested to need a push from you. If you find yourself writing the scene in a way that forces the readers’ emotions, this means that your buildup is lacking.
Revisiting your buildup here is a good thing to do. It’s important to keep an eye on the development of the story. This is another common mistake where some writers focus on the scene more than the story.
If you focused on the writing style and forgot about the story itself, the end result won’t live up to the standard you’d be hoping for.
One example of overused death scenes is when the dying character has a long speech. Even if the dying character is revealing an important piece of information, the long speech might draw the emotions out of the scene.
6. Avoid Killing Characters Only for Shock Value
As we mentioned previously, one of the essential qualities of a death scene is that it needs to have a meaning. Death scenes should affect the story and its characters, as well as the readers.
One of the biggest pitfalls that many writers fall into is when they rely solely on the shock value of sudden death. This results in a meaningless and off-putting death scene, and it doesn’t go well with the audience.
Of course, sudden death is a strong plot twist, but only if it still contributes to the value of the story.
Shock value isn’t about sudden death only. It also includes the elements you use while writing a death scene. For example, in the movie Saw, most of the shock value came from the extreme torture of the characters in the movie. Although you could easily predict the characters’ deaths, it’s one of the most shocking movies in history.
It’s perfectly fine to use these elements to add a shock value to a meaningful death. Yet, when you use them for the sake of shock value alone, they lose their purpose.
To avoid going overboard here, always remember to check if you’re providing more details than the reader really needs. If you think the gore levels are too much, you can tone it down by keeping it simple. For example, instead of showing how much blood is on the ground, you can write about the dying character’s beating heart.
7. Should you Go for a Slow or a Quick Death?
The purpose of the character’s death is the main factor that should influence your writing. You can control how long does it take for your character to die based on the value it serves.
Sudden death can be shocking, you can use it to entice the reader. For example, in the horror novel Desperation, a father who survived most of the events in the book was killed out of the blue.
On the other side, you can use a long death for a heart-consuming scene. One of the best examples of a long death is Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version. In this novel, Barney Panofsky is dying throughout the entire storyline, as the book walks us through his life in flashbacks.
8. Try to Balance Between the Buildup and Shock Value
Of course, using the element of surprise to your favor is a great formula for a shocking plot twist. Yet, sudden death needs a smart balance between buildup and surprise. You shouldn’t give away your shocking death.
A buildup might tell the readers that something bad is about to happen. For example, you’re writing a story about a group of friends who are crashing into an old farm. They start hearing a strange noise coming from the woods. However, they shrug it off and continue to camp there through the night. Even I didn’t mention anything uncomfortable for a few pages forward, the reader is already expecting something to happen. This is an overused formula that is highly predictable, such as in Scarecrow.
A smart way to maintain the shock of sudden death is by suddenly referring to the character as “dead”. This gives the readers the “value” in your shock while allowing for the needed buildup for it.
9. Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes
The best way to write a death scene that touches readers’ hearts is by putting yourself in their shoes. You have to put yourself in the right mindset to write a piece of literature that sheds a tear of your own eye.
This doesn’t have to be literal. However, the more you feel what you’re writing, the more it’ll evoke the same emotions inside the readers. Similarly, if you feel indifferent about the death scene you’re writing, the readers are likely to feel nothing as well.
10. Bad Reasons to Kill a Character
Shocking the reading audience for the sake of shocking them isn’t the only bad way to end a character’s life. There are other reasons that you should avoid while deciding to kill a character.
For example, you shouldn’t torture a reader by exploiting his tendency to feel sad. Readers don’t appreciate making them sad without a clear reason.
Additionally, don’t kill a character just to prove the cruelty. If you want to show that the world you’re creating is harsh and merciless, you don’t have to sacrifice good characters to show it.
11. Good Reasons to Kill a Character
Now that you know the worst reasons to kill a character, here are some of the best reasons to generate a meaningful death scene.
A Character Has Reached a Dead-End
Sometimes, a character has fulfilled his purpose in your story. However, letting them go away suddenly doesn’t seem to work well with your plot.
Killing That Character Serves the Plot
You can initiate a death scene that has a great impact on the plot. For example, killing a character that motivates the main protagonist, such as Uncle Ben in Spider-Man.
Another way to use a character’s death to advance the plot is by having him a victim of the villain’s brutality. It also helps in building realism in your story, such as Schindler’s List.
12. Draw a Connection Between the Death Scene and Early Moments
However you go about writing the scene, you should make sure that you build a connection between that scene and early moments when everything was going well.
Not only does it remind the readers of the good times, but it also concludes the character’s journey in a unique way. This can be a part of the burial scene, or just before he catches his final breath.
The death of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae is an excellent example of this.
13. The Character’s Legacy
Always make sure that the character’s death holds a great significance within the other characters. A great way to show that is by showing how much the other characters miss the dying character.
Additionally, if the plot allows it, you can also provide a new nickname that glorifies the dying character’s legacy. This can be also seen in the movie 300.
Killing a character in your story is a double-edged sword. That’s why it’s important to apply our tips if you want a killer scene! (Pun intended.)
There you have it, a rich guide on how to write a death scene that will bring your audience to tears. If you liked this article, be sure to share it on your social media accounts.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.
Bethany McKay is a multiplatform writer, editor, and social media manager. She has more than a decade of newspaper experience and subsequent work in publishing, editing and organizing a variety of publications, such as reports, college textbooks, and science, law, and business books.