I love that scene. I love how Hayley Mills tries to work that in her mind, how it shows on her face, and how the entire town squirms... and then how a little girl teaches a big man about the joyful passages in the Bible... and changes a town.
Does death really come unexpectedly? Well, yes and no! We all know there's only one way off the planet, so let's acknowledge reality, but we get used to our "normal". And when healthy people, or young people or folks we know encounter sudden death by accident or foul play, we are shocked. So the timing is unexpected... because, like a Common Core math problem, our normal didn't include the variance. But in a book you have to treat death with respect because it is as natural as life... just not as celebrated.
I'm sure you've all been touched by stories where death made you weep... at least I hope you have. And I'd be happy if some of those were mine. (I remember a review for "His Mistletoe Family" and the reviewer said, "THREE PEOPLE HAD TO DIE TRAGICALLY to set up this story, and I still loved it.") I gotta say, I'm proud of that review!
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings "The Yearling."
"Anne's House of Dreams" by Lucy Maud Montgomery
John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars"
Lucy Maude Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables"
"Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Patterson
Wilson Rawls "Where the Red Fern Grows"
And these are two personal favorites on film.... "Christmas in Conway", and amazingly emotional and heartfelt romance of a love that's ending as Mary Louise Parker's character goes into hospice... and a new love begins as Mandy Moore's hospice nurse (ala "Winter's End, Love Inspired, 2010") finds love with the landscape architect working nearby.... Here's a Youtube clip, but you should watch this whole movie for a beautiful image of death done right: "Christmas in Conway" clip
And another favorite of the lingering effects of guilt, morose, sorrow and pain as Ian Bedloe strives to make things right after unthinkable... and unintentional... wrongs in Anne Tyler's "St. Maybe", a novel that was also a Hallmark Hall of Fame. Here's a clip I love... Interestingly enough, Mary Louise Parker is in this one, too.... which means she does death well! :)
For those who love enduring stories, most of those book titles are familiar, and one thing they have in common is that death affects the story's outcome at some point. Hero or heroine or both suffer grievous loss, and each one of these stories does a masterful job of taking us on that roller coaster ride of emotions.
Not everyone likes highly emotional story lines. Not everyone wants "reality-based romance" and that's okay! I get that sometimes you just want a sweet, fun read that takes you out of the everyday grind and into something that feels good. Having said that, I rarely remember a "feel good" book. I can't envision the characters, I don't necessarily slump when the last page looms... and I rarely re-read them. When I look at my "keeper" shelves, they are filled with strongly emotional books that make me want to be a better writer.
We're all writers and readers here, we understand that the natural dance of life is intrinsic to good story-telling, but what makes a death scene important?
How you handle a death scene is as crucial as your budding romance, your love scenes, kisses, and humor.
Like the entwining romance, your protagonists' ascent toward death doesn't have to be obvious. Remember the old joke about weekday soap operas? How actors knew they were being written out when the screenplay said (Amelia coughs three times)... The actress playing Amelia knew she better start looking for work!
Your death scene may not be obvious for good reason. A sudden death or accident is a steep curve in a story, a sudden stop, banked with inertia. The reader comes to that dead stop with you.
They stare at the page in disbelief.
Their throat goes tight.
Their eyes water. Their hands grip. They may cry, they may get mad... But there has to be a VERY GOOD reason to put them through that!
If the death is important, you've got your work cut out for you. You need to shade everyone's emotions (and not just for a few pages, usually for the rest of the book) through points of view that are clouded with sadness or grief or gravity.
Kids will react differently than adults and differently from each other. Parents' reactions can be disbelief, grief, guilt, anger, and torment.
We've seen the outcome of Luke Skywalker witnessing Obi Wan Kenobi die before him. (And poor Luke took a BEATING here earlier this week, where I just thought he was young... Aren't most young people a little wet behind the ears? I'm declaring this a be nice to Luke Skywalker day in Seekerville!)
Watching his mentor fall to the evil Darth Vader strengthened Luke's resolve to harness The Force. We can see it here in this Youtube clip: Obi Wan confronts Darth Vader
The sacrificial nature of Obi Wan's death is one facet of writing a death scene. Aslan in "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" dies in Edmund's place, another example of giving one's life for another. Their deaths meant something not just in that moment, but by changing the other character's arcs forever.
Should you weave the natural dance of death into your stories?
Well, that's up to you. But to do it well, you have to nip and tuck each action/reaction sequence to build the reader's emotions along with your characters. There are no short cuts. There can't be. This actually IS life and death, right?
|My debut novel has a beautifully constructed death scene when the hero loses his father... and life goes on. Eventually.|
Tell me about scenes that have foiled you or scenes that have made you cry... Let's see what it is that wraps our emotions around the arc of a fictional character until their death is akin to saying goodbye to our own.
And I'm in a particularly good mood this week, so I've got a $20 Amazon gift card to give to one delightful commenter! This is not a good day to lurk, my friends!
Come on in, coffee's on and there's fresh peach pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for an old-fashioned summer fair type feel!
Let's do it. Let's talk gripping emotions......... together.
Yankee Belle Cafe today, too, where she's posting this peach pie recipe again because A. It's peach season and B. There is no time to cook right now... :) But you do get a glimpse of Ruthy's very most absolutely favorite peach pie recipe and that's never a bad thing!!!