Recently I’ve been surrounded by talk of death, life in relation to death, and afterlife. (mostly due to Sunday’s sermon God’s control over death) Besides getting me thinking about those aspects in my life, I began to think of them in regards to my characters. So this post is about death and writing.
Death is something we all face, as a result of sin. I’d venture to say many people fear it. Some welcome it. Some couldn’t care either way. Supposedly us teens live as if we’re immortal. (Which I do, btw. Although I’m not stupid…)
InAmerica, we like to distance ourselves from the stench and horror of death. Teens seem to have most their lives ahead of them-death is what happens to old people, right? Many teens seem to live without fear of death. Many Christians do too.
In writing, we generally like to depict our characters as realistic. (I’m sure there are exceptions) We want them to be relatable.
Something military personnel know is that training to kill is very different from actually killing on the battlefield and seeing your comrades die beside you. It used to be we’d dehumanize the enemy so they’d be ok killing them, but we’ve now realized that’s only a temporary fix. (it builds up until they can’t take it) When someone dies who is close to you, they take part of you with them. We get uncomfortable around death. Who wants to go to a funeral?
Hollywoodlikes to sterilize death. (again, there are exceptions.)Americalikes to sterilize death. (notice the bodies in coffins for viewing are never decaying or bloated, etc)
People do certain things automatically to avoid death. (for example, driving on the right side of the road)
[pauses to kill gnat that’s buzzing in front of him]
I’ve read books where adult characters seem like teens but without an explanation. What I mean is that they live like death will never come for them. And I don’t mean ignoring the reality of death, like Americans like to do. Now if there’s an explanation (for example, an immortal, untouchable character-but where’s the fun in that? Or perhaps a dude who has had everything taken from him so he charges recklessly into danger to destroy evil-although you would think he’d have some sense of avoiding death in order to take out more evil. But in that case, he doesn’t care if death comes for him, he may even welcome it.)
Anyway, I was challenged to look at my characters and see if they’re realistic. In my current series, I have six teens who work as a special unit within a space military organization. They’ve built for themselves starfighters with systems that are hard to penetrate. They would prefer to avoid death. And yet in a couple situations, they act recklessly. I will be checking the consistency here. (I feel almost like Thrawn, judging a character by the way they design things. ) The leader is rather fearless with the teen sense of immortality, but it is tempered by his desire to look after his friends and a love for his twin. Another is very fearful of death but a good friend of one of the team and ends up getting dragged into the battlefield. With them fighting in machines, it’s easier to be less personal when killing the bad guys, but it does affect at least one of the characters.
Another character in the same book is a black-ops bounty hunter. He does strategize, but his confidence in his abilities often gives the appearance of fearlessness of death. He sees the death of the enemy as a necessary evil.
The villain detaches himself from it, excusing himself with the: ‘they’re just pawns/inferior beings’ argument. (somewhat like the Nazi)
How do your characters cope with death? (possibility of their own death, death of loved ones, death of enemies) Are they consistent in their view?
p.s. to clarify my previous statement, death doesn’t bother me much because I know where I’m going after it-it’s just a gateway to glory. However, I respect the lives of others, and I do not want to be mutilated because of stupidity. I wouldn’t like to die of a sickness though, or old age. (I work in a retirement home, I can say that, even if those who live there are really sweet. They’ve told me not to get old on many occasions.)