Author in the library with a pen

Author in the library (1)In the fiction I write there are usually a few bodies left in the wake of my imagination. I sometimes kill people off to immediately launch into the story. Sometimes a death is used as a brief diversion or a means to neatly wrap up a climax. In using death this way, I’m not alone.

Like a game of Clue, authors design wildly different places and methods for our carnage. Beaten and strangled in a desperate fight on an Army base in Bosnia. Buried in cement in the jungles of Honduras. Drowning at sea off the coast of an Hawaiian island. Riddled with bullets in a wild gun battle. Slashed and beaten and covered in purple ogre blood beneath the streets of a city.

We’re a murderous bunch, we writers. We kill off whole societies with a deadly contagion. We track down a victim who perfectly matches a serial killer’s pattern. We choose just the right moment, during laughter and commotion, to end the most likable guy in the happy band of soldiers we’ve conjured up, making him the unlucky one to step on the trigger to the antipersonnel mine skillfully hidden in their path.

Should I be worried that we’re littering the ground with bodies purely for entertainment?

I admit to having been endlessly entertained by death. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved violent stories, graphic novels filled with assassins, mobsters, killer aliens and the like. I’ve spent hours reading books about a double-edged ax wielding guy who lops off the heads of thousands of zombies until they are nothing but a mountain-sized stack of dead undead. I’ve also smiled while reading the story of the vengeance-seeking hero who finally ends his enemy in a bloody, action packed battle. He may come out with a few more scars but at least he’s taken the life of the evil dude who caused so much grief. And I’ve cried and shaken my head in disbelief, reading the words as fast as I could take them in, all the while hoping against hope that I was wrong. The author didn’t really just kill off someone I’d grown to love. Only the bad guys are supposed to die. It’s amazing how much it hurts when the good ones die too.

We don’t just write about it, we paint the picture, leaving scorch marks all around, the smell of cordite in the air, the taste of blood on your tongue, the sting of smoke in your eyes. Gotta engage all those senses, don’t ya know, to keep your readers riveted to the action, engrossed in the carnage you’ve created.

We use death as the ultimate plot point. The protagonist needs to avoid death, needs to save someone else from it, needs to deal it out to someone deserving. Do we write this fake, entertaining death to take our minds off the real death that happens around us every day? The old friend who unexpectedly succumbed to cancer. The guy in the bodega down the street, killed in a midday robbery. The young woman murdered by her boyfriend. The construction worker killed in a horrible accident on the job. The young soldier who didn’t make it.

Maybe I’m just reflecting on death as another birthday marches by. Perhaps writing about death reflects a need to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. After all, it is the one ending to the story we all know will be a part of our lives eventually.

Rereading this and jeeze, could I sound any more morbid?? It wasn’t meant to sound that way, I promise. Turn the page. There’s more life worth living.

7 thoughts on “Author in the library with a pen

    • Lol, i had more written and my connection failed (driving in the car) and it didnt post! I wanted to share how i am sort of the opposite, i really get bothered by stories of death, and i hate when characters i like die, i think because i have a lot of undealt-with personal trauma over death. I think this also figures into my hatred of zombies and zombie stories. Its too much in your face death for me. Although as a new writer, im starting to examine this myself. In order for a story to have stakes, i am seeing that characters may have to die for the sake of a story. It makes me nauseas just to consider this. I like using my power to make people live despite the odds, possibly a way to take back the power i lost when people in my real life died, and i was powerless to change their fate. This is a great topic. Have you ever had remorse over a character youve killed?

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      • Writing about it might be the best medicine to face your personal trauma. Remorse over a character I’ve killed? No. Not so far. I think I’ve been very safe, so far, in terms of who lives and dies. I intend to change that a bit and I’m getting inspiration from recent zombie stories I’ve read. I think fantasy writers are accustomed to killing off the unexpected and making the stakes as high as possible. I’d like to get better at that.

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  1. I have thought a lot about why it is that we all seem to love a murder mystery. I think what interests me the most is watching the way that people deal with the stressful situations in which they find themselves. I have seen death up close and personal. It is a strange process and there is no way to adequately describe it.

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    • Exactly. Aside from seeing someone at a viewing, I’ve never seen death and I think that’s true for most of us … and yet, we want to read about it. I do know how I deal with stressful situations. I freeze!! Not a good thing!

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  2. I worked at a hospital when I was 18-20 , because I was planning on being a doctor. My advisor said it was a good idea to start working in a hospital to get an idea of what a doctor did. So i went to work, and saw death all the time. I saw ppl come in to the ER dead, with their family and friends sobbing, asking if we could “fix this.” I watched the dr tell them “no”, and then, as the nursing assistant, it was my job to do the post mortem “work”, and then load the body onto a morgue cart and take them down to the morgue. Then i left the ER and went up to the surgical floor, but when we were low, we got cancer patients. I will never forget the 30 year old mother of three with cancer who grabbed my arm and begged me to help her get better as i held the pan for her as she threw up from her chemo. She died three weeks later as her husband sat silently beside her. And then i wrapped her up and took her down to the morgue too. I saw so much death up close that i changed my mind about going into medicine, and changed my major in college to computer science. Computers were safe, and if the program died, you just rebooted it. Whew. I did see some spiritual things that were cool too. I saw a woman that the dr said was here “to die”, get better and walk out 3 months later, healed, with no explanation from the doctors. I saw an older woman who had been comatose for weeks sit up, hold out her arms, smile, and say “mama!” And then fall back on to her pillow and pass. One thing i did decide on was that i thought every teenager should work a summer or two at a hospital, and see death and dying up close. I do know it made it easier for me to say no to drugs and alcohol. Seeing the ER result of those things did more prevention for me than any pamphlet ever did.

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