Legit Tip #152
Death scenes are easy to write. However, they are incredibly difficult to write well.
One of the most common mistakes writers make with death scenes is not understanding how to appropriately write the reactions of the other people involved in the situation. This happens to new writers and experienced writers alike.
Among the more problematic depictions of death in fiction include copious amounts of weeping and wailing. The living fall across the bodies of the dead and shakes their fists at the heavens and scream, “WHY?!” The thing is, that may happen before or a little ways after the death has occurred, but is rarely something that happens in the moment.
Death is, on the whole, a very quiet affair. When you know it’s coming, it’s all just a matter of waiting for it and watching as time ticks by. I know - I’ve been there.
One of the things that a lot of writers miss out on is the strange sensation immediately following a death where you’re dealing with this tremendous impact and the world just keeps on moving all around you. There are tons of practical matters that need to be attended to on your end, and everybody else is just going about their daily business.
Anybody who is planning on writing a death scene at any point MUST watch these scene the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer titled “The Body”. For that matter, if and when you can watch the entire episode. It’s one of the most brilliant depictions of death and the emotional fallout I’ve ever seen.
Now, sometimes death scenes occur in the heat of battle. Again, stopping everything to have your characters curse the heavens just doesn’t work. Even when your character DOES have that kind of emotional reaction to a death (for example, when Sirius Black dies and Harry flips out) remember that there are still practicalities to be attended to. The world doesn’t and can’t stop at that moment. Think about the final battle in Harry Potter for another example - mourning is something that occurred afterwards.
In short, can the melodrama. Pay attention to the feeling of shock that occurs immediately following a death - something that is for the most part universal - and pay a lot more attention to the inward reaction rather than the outward reaction to make your death scenes more realistic.