Friday 5 July 2013

Where I Get All Sentimental And Talk About Death

Over the Easter holiday I spent two days cleaning out my great-grandmother’s house. She moved into the city to be closer to her family since my great-grandfather died last year. Looking around this house that I have so many memories in made me exceptionally sentimental. And then I went out to visit my great-grandfather and it just got worse. I started thinking about his funeral and all the people I would eventually bury in my lifetime and how I would handle it – like I said, it was really bad.

I decided to use the bad, crappy, feelings to use and figure out what my characters would do if a loved one died. Continuing with something I've talking about before with realism in fiction I think it’s essential for a writer to know how every single one of their characters would handle the death of a loved one (especially if that doesn’t happen in the plot). It’s very telling to know how a person reacts first in the initial shock and then the funeral and finally in the days, months and years afterwards. Do they wear their emotions on their sleeve? Do they take advantage of the situation? Do they internalize or get sentimental? Next time you’re creating a character and you fill out a character sheet, add this question to the page:

How does your character handle death?

It’s important to be accurate in the technical aspect of death but it’s just as essential to create a world that honours the emotional side of death. It has become desensitized in reality and it’s all because of fiction.

Death is a tragedy. There is no question about that and every person - every character - handles it differently. I see those New York-style cops on T.V. standing around a corpse making jokes and I find it disgusting. Don’t misunderstand, I think those characters are often essential if not stereotypical, I just think it’s the job of the writer to remind the audience that it isn’t the best way to handle things. Writers are teachers especially in a genre that is so close to reality and you can’t cut corners.

I sometimes think writers create characters who "never cried at the funeral" because they're chickening out; they don't want to feel so they create a world where they don't have to. But that's more telling of the character than the writer. Not every person is a blubbering mess, or the strong, silent type. It's a combination of traits. It's a unique reaction but it should not be considered lightly in fiction. Take into account their childhood, their religious beliefs, even their financial situations. Every little bit of them.

Death is so much a part of life that it is one of the most telling parts of a character's personality. So figure it out with all of your main characters and if you are writing about the death of a loved one or the murder of a loved one: know what kind of message you're sending to your readers.

It is the difference between reality and fiction.

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