Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Child Death in Fiction: Dealing With Tragedy in Your Writing — March 9, 2018

Child Death in Fiction: Dealing With Tragedy in Your Writing

address-child-death-fictionElizabeth-Jennings-poem

I have already written posts about killing off characters, and the grief experienced by those left behind.

I would suggest reading both of these, if you haven’t already, as much of the information is applicable here, and I won’t duplicate everything.  My post about how I approach mental health issues, in my fiction, also relates.

I felt the need to address child death, in particular.

It’s such a specific, and heartbreaking, subject – and one with which I myself deal, in my fiction.

One way in which child death can occur is following a terminal illness, and this is something with which I actually haven’t yet dealt, in my own work.

In such cases, the child, along with loved ones, could have potentially been fighting a long, excruciating battle, which he or she has finally lost. The story may have been following the characters throughout the exhausting process of hoping and praying, and trying out various treatment options. The grief, when the death finally takes place, could be laced with a degree of relief – and, at the same time, guilt, for feeling this way. Of course, all of this would apply, no matter how old the person was, who had died in this way. But something like this happening to a child would make everything that much more intense, and add an extra layer of tragedy to the outcome.

Then there is death by sudden illness.

Again, this hasn’t come up in my own writing. An example that comes to mind, however, is cot death. Shock, and possibly total disbelief and denial, are likely to be reactions. Guilt, blame, and questioning.

Accidents, resulting in death, are an area in which I do have experience, from a writing perspective.

For me, this has generally been in the form of road accidents. In terms of how it will affect loved ones, there is certainly much in common with the sudden death due to illness. Shock and denial are likely – as are the guilt, blame and questioning aspects. Some of the close family members may be witnesses. Of course, that could also be the case with the cot death example. But with a car crash, it’s very possible that some of the child’s family were actually involved. Survivors’ guilt could be an issue, and it may even be that the accident really was the fault, or partial fault, of whichever family member was in the driver’s seat.

Miscarriage is another form of child death, and can be overwhelming, and also isolating.

The effects can be felt by fathers, siblings and others, as well as the mother. And there can be a lack of validation, because people don’t generally regard the loss as a bereavement, in the usual sense. Which it still very much is. A couple in my novel, who later lose their daughter in a road accident, do also lose a baby, prior to this, through miscarriage. The double loss, along with other relationship problems, contributes to the mother’s eventual breakdown, and effectively, the disintegration of the whole family.

Abortion results in an even more complex form of grief, and is one of the most controversial, and deeply painful, subjects out there.

One of my characters does have an abortion. Her pregnancy is the consequence of her being raped, at the age of fourteen. The girl’s own mother bullies her into going through with the operation, believing that she is doing the right thing. However, the guilt, along with the loss of her baby, leaves the young girl feeling suicidal.

And yes, suicide is another form of death, which it is too easy to avoid, as writers.

Again, controversial, dark, and complicated. And, in my view, too important to be ignored – or worse still, dealt with poorly.

When it comes to child death, in its various forms, I believe that we do need to go there, in our fiction.

Research any specific issues that come up, in connection with your particular stories. Also, allow yourself to go deep, and feel the raw emotions. When you find yourself able to do so, you’ll know that you’re doing your characters justice. And potentially, your novel could be a source of support and hope, for many of your readers.

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Killing Off Characters: 10 Tips for Committing Fictional Murder — January 20, 2018

Killing Off Characters: 10 Tips for Committing Fictional Murder

kill-characters

So, time to discuss death: Character death, that is.

Here are 10 points to consider, when it comes to killing off your fictional people.

Whether you love or hate this aspect of storytelling, it’s something that we have to deal with, as writers: that sometimes our “babies” need to die.

This will probably sound disturbing to non-writers, but most of us, to some extent, find it therapeutic, to commit “murder”, on the page.

1. The genre and type of story are factors.

The number, and nature, of character deaths, will be influenced by category and genre, as well as your personal approach and style. If you have a specific target audience in mind, then think about their needs and preferences.

Scenes of extreme graphic violence would generally be deemed unacceptable, in the context of Children’s or YA fiction.

Even within Adult fiction, there are going to be variations. A Romance or Women’s Fiction novel would generally not be littered with fictional corpses.

If you’re venturing into the territory of horror, dark thrillers, or crime, it could be time to bring on those dead bodies.

2. The death of a character – or characters – should advance the plot.

It ought to move the story forward, in one or more respects. If it doesn’t do that, you need to seriously question whether the death is necessary.

It may be that it motivates other characters, thus becoming a catalyst for future events.

Often, you will be able to come up multiple story benefits to a single character death, in which case, you will know that you’re on the right track.

3. Death can create a sense of realism.

This, combined with advancing the plot, is a good reason to kill a character.

If you’re writing about drug addiction and the criminal underworld, it wouldn’t be unexpected for some of your characters to die.

4. Death can sometimes be used to drive home a point, emphasizing the work’s central theme.

This could certainly tie in with my last example, about drug addiction.

5. Avoid killing characters for the shock value alone.

If the only point of the death is to horrify the reader, don’t do it. No-one is going to be impressed.

6. You will sometimes realise that you’ve included an unnecessary character.

In this situation, many writers feel tempted to kill off said character. Almost certainly, not the best solution.

The truth is, there’s no easy fix. If the character never had a significant role in the story, it’s a case of going back, and reworking all scenes in which he or she appears. In other words, delete that character. It’s called editing, right? It has to be worth the extra effort.

7. How about characters who are literally created to die?

No problem, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, if you’re a plotter, as I am, then the aim is to know, in advance, which characters are going to die.

Now, in my own case, this does alter, as I write. I’m not a “synopsis set in stone” writer, even though I do start with an outline. I tend to end up with more character deaths than I started out with, rather than the other way around.

But, anyway – the “born to die” characters are ones whose primary purpose, in the story, literally is to end up dead. As long as the reason for the demise meets the criteria mentioned thus far, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with inventing characters for the purpose of killing them.

8. Research is vital.

Whether a character is stabbed or poisoned, involved in a road traffic accident, or dies of a heart attack, or a form or Cancer, it’s important to get the facts right.

With the internet at our disposal – in addition to more traditional research methods, such as reading books, and talking in person to experts – it’s easier than it’s ever been. Still hard work, but in comparative terms, straight forward – and part of the job, in my opinion.  I find You Tube particularly useful for research.

9. As with other areas of writing, avoid cliché.

You only have to consider a handful of TV dramas, and some cliché death scenes should come to mind. These will jolt your reader out of the story, shattering the illusion, and making it feel fake. So much for the deep emotions that you might otherwise have stirred.

10. Finally, remember that death is followed by grief.

You can choose to leap into the future, skipping the intense mourning period, which is legitimate.

Even then, however, you have to address the issue of ongoing grief, for the characters who remain. The process is not linear.

Everyone goes through grief in real life, and if you truly love your characters, and they feel like real people to you, you won’t shy away from addressing their grief, when people they love die.

Allow yourself to feel their pain, and then hopefully, your readers will, too. We aim to break our readers’ hearts, after all.

 

I hope that these tips will be useful to you, and possibly help you to kill off some characters. If – and only if – necessary, for the sake of your story, of course.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

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