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March 29, 2012
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Many writers state that they are very connected to their characters. This is not surprising, for writers we build worlds, we create people and animals and imbue them with a form of life. We let them live in our heads and think on them often.

Often I have day-dreamed into my written world, sat on a log watching my characters around the campfire swapping stories. I've seen them laughing, passing around skins of bad wine and spiced meats. I've seen them sink into sorrow at those they have lost, those they couldn't save. Whether any of this gets written is a different matter because it is all designed for me to learn more about my characters, so see them react.

We begin to know them intimately, their moods and habits and loves and fears. We can read their facial ticks and subtle body poses. So why wouldn't we become connected?

When you write stories especially long ones were you have a larger amount of time to learn about your characters and allow them to develop they do become something important to you.

So then the story takes a turn and a death is required. Suddenly someone important to you has to die and you aren't watching it, you are writing it. Most writers have fallen into the trap of allowing one of their characters (something THE main character) to miraculously pull through. It can work, but it can also turn a powerful and emotion gripped story into something that just doesn't have the same bite.

Some of my favourite novels have deaths in them, usually of the main cast of characters. In that even as I re-read them there is that tiny irrational part of my brain telling me that THIS time when I read the book, it will end differently and they won't die!

It is always a good idea to know if a death is required. If you are writing fantasy and there is a war or a battle or a plague then someone has to die. It is all well and good flinging non-characters into the breach to perish but even Star Trek knew they couldn't only send red-shirts to die! Every now and then a main character had to perish and it would shock us (especially if they were stood NEXT to a red-shirted ensign!)

Good writing is about emotion, anger, hate, joy, humour, love, passion, fear, sorrow... readers will cling to a story, ride alongside the heroes, watch the villainy over the shoulders of tyrants and FEEL so many things. A good book can take you on a gamut of emotions and new writers should not shy from this.


To Kill or Not to Kill
So, to kill a character – first is there a reason? It does not have to be some all powerful prophecy that comes to pass. Like I mentioned, if there's a war or a plague and your main characters are involved or even just passing through how likely is it they will get through unscathed?

Even the strongest warriors tire eventually, even the best archers can be caught by a "lucky shot". Make sure there is some reason for the kill. Where they always a target? Was it an accident? Was it self-inflicted? After all a character maybe struggling more than the other characters realise.

Like anything connected to your main characters everything should either move the plot or define/develop the character and/or story. A death is no exception and should not be flung in randomly without thought as this can get your readers pretty pissed!


Bowing to pressure
I often see this with romance story lines more than death story lines with both amateur writers and professionally. In a series of stories there will be sexual chemistry between characters usually in some triangle. There then becomes the big "who will character A get with?"

Say Character A was always destined to get with Character C and so this happens. However a nice group of readers has decided they prefer Character B and are leaving comments, notes / contacting the writer stating so.  

Often it can be VERY messy and pretty clunky writing to suddenly cause a rift between character A and character C just so character A can get with or have a fling with Character B. Unless that was the plan the whole time otherwise it can get awkward and you can end up pissing off ALL your readers... I personally don't recommend it (but that is just my opinion).

The same can be with killing off a character. You write a character, they get a plague and get sick or maybe captured/tortured or whatever. This is one of the strong main characters and has a nice following of readers who love this character. So you get notes and comments and letters stating they want him/her to get better.

Do you cave?

It is up to you as the writer however if you already have your ideas and how the character's death ripples through the book then you should stick to it otherwise you are causing yourself more grief as you attempt to re-write the new plot to fit.

Remember even if you have readers who love characters, the character's death will be an emotional rollercoaster for those readers. It will rarely have them turning their nose up in disgust at your work and vowing never to read it again.

When I speak to others who read and we discuss books, many describe parts of a book where a character died or another character lost someone. These feelings are important and they should be felt! Don't edge around them and keep everyone happy and healthy!

In fantasy stories there is usually some evil or darkness or tyrant around. There is usually a challenge or a quest or a journey. These are not picnics in the park, they are difficult and they will tax your characters. They will push them to their breaking points and passed. Some will emerge a better person, stronger, wiser. Some will emerge broken, shadowed and scarred forever. Others will not make it. It also adds a taste of realism.


Death's far reaches
The death of a character is not a singular event. If you decide that yes one of your main entourage has to perish then it is not just the slicing away of their life.

Death affects people. Does this character have family or friends? Do they know? Will they be told the truth or a nicer lie?

Where the characters friends/family/comrades with them? Or did they die alone? Was it quick or slow? Painless or painful? Was it touch and go and did everything think for sure they would make it?

All these questions should not just be asked regarding the death of the person. How about the one who killed them (if it was a death like that)? Was it an accident? Was it a trained killer? A random arrow shot from across the battlefield? Was it friendly fire? How does the death affect the person who caused it?

Then there is family and friends, are they glad it was quick? Are they glad the character died the way they wanted? Are they grief ridden because the character died alone and in fear?

Does the death have an effect on the story? Did that character have the only knowledge of the safest way through the dreaded swamp? Did they keep everyone else together and without them there is dissention in the ranks?

For those who may have seen the death how are they affected? If it was an illness or a condition are the friends/family/carers guiltily relieved that they no longer have to take care of them? Are they traumatised by the method of the death (such as an execution or the horrific ravages of a virus)? Does it spur them on for revenge or into a blind fury where they themselves become something that kills? Or does it wipe away the idea of taking life – eg a soldier may drop his/her sword and decide he/she can see no further bloodshed.

You don't just have to show the ripples that come from the death in those connected to the character or the incident itself. What about those who happened to see it but where not connected, never met the character – are they changed? What does (if anything) it do to them?


Death scenes & beyond
Understandably I have known writers who didn't WRITE the actual death scene, unable to put their characters through that. Like sex scenes, these can often be just hinted at while we don't need to hear the death rattle, or the fall of a guillotine etc.  

However if you are fine to write a death scene there are ways to do it. As always consider the mood, the character who's dying/dead, the other characters around. How would they react? Remember not everything will react the same nor do they remain in their normal ways. E.g. a calm rational man may become hysterical when his brother dies!

If you do write a death scene decide if you want it to be on the soft side or more real. Death is not often dignified, with bodily fluids being released when the muscles relax. Bodies begin to decay and smell pretty quickly so will you have your dead character remain in the camp while the others drink solidly in his /her honour for five days. There will be insect activity, a change of appearance etc.

If you want real then think about researching topics like rigor motis or lividity these can help to create a more real sense (if you want it) and will give you better description for the more gruesome aspects...again if this works for your story.

My grandmother often told me of my grandfather's death. It was swift, one minute washing the car ready for a holiday next minute collapsed in death. It was due to shrapnel in his body from the war that doctors had been unable to remove. Anyway, his body was put in the house while they waited for it to be collected. While sitting in the living room (body under the window). My grandmother received a fright when his body groaned and partially sat up.

The cause? Gases in the body built up due to the bacteria (such as those in the gut that don't die the instant people do) breaking down stuff still in the body and increasing the amount of gas.

Now researching death and dying is not exactly something enjoyable but again it can give you knowledge of what does happen and then can be built into a story.

Remember many death rituals like the Wake / Embalming etc came about due to ignorance of what happened in death. Maybe your characters have a culture ritual such as watching the body for three days (until the soul has left.... this is a common thought in many religions that the soul remains close by the body for three days) and then the body is burned...maybe so nothing unholy could claim it? Maybe as a form of purification? Maybe to stop the spread of disease etc

These are all additional thoughts when a character is killed off that you can add/ think about if you feel the story would move along / benefit from such detail.

However there is also no problem just making it quick, clean and focusing only on the emotion of the dying and the grieving.
Sorry for the uber delay people, here's one of my pending writing tutorials I've had partially written for AGES. Am struggling to get through the black cloud that appears to be my shadow right now.

Maybe that's why I decided to write one about death of characters.

I hope you enjoy it.

Remember all my Writing tutorials are linked [Here]


NOTICE TO ALL WRITERS
I am starting a writers blog (date set for it to begin is 1 July 2013) I know some of you will have heard about it from me before. Now I am scheduling time to get it started. The blog will have all my tutorials, including a load of others, drop in features for people who want some help with particular scenes they have written, notes on preparing manuscripts, competitions and much more.

If you are interested in this, please can you drop me a note with your email that way I can send a blanket email to everyone with the link when it's up and running. I've had so much interest shown, it's hard to keep track of who wants to know about it!
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:iconyurian-miku:
yurian-miku Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2014
This is sooo helpful.. THANKS!! Well do you have some tips about romance? Coz I don't read romance story that much and I don't enjoy watching too. But I think it's a good idea if I put I little bit of a romance in my story. If you can give me some tips.. Thank you :D
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:iconcrapcarp:
Crapcarp Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've got a bit of a dilemma here concerning killing off characters, particularly the main ones.

Saying my story is about war is the king of all understatements, and the main characters are smack dab in the middle of it all. So realistically and sensibly, some of them should die. I have no real qualms about killing off my characters, even ones I'm really attached to, so long as their death has meaning of course. In fact, it kinda makes me uncomfortable to not kill at least one of 'em. And there's 16 of them in total so it shouldn't be too hard to kill one of them, right?

Wrong.

Thing is, my story is also a fanfiction, Digimon to be specific(that's why my main cast is so large). Because of that, I am unfortunately tied to a specific type of story. While I do have a lot(and I mean a lot) of freedom, killing any member of the main cast is unfortunately a no-go. Can't do it, it's a strict limitation of the material I'm basing it off of. Side characters and extras are free game, but as you've said before, I can't just blast off a few nameless faces every time.

I need deaths, and meaningful ones at that. Ones to shock the audience and show the desperate situation everyone's in. But I have to keep the main cast alive(not unscathed, mind you, I'm gonna torture the hell out of 'em because I can't outright kill 'em). So what to do?

Well, I came up with an idea for a solution and I wanted to ask your opinion of it. I thought of coming up with meaningful side characters that would get the axe in place of the main cast. But these side characters aren't just anybody, they are kinda like doppelgangers of the main cast in a sense.

See, being a Digimon fanfic, the main cast are a group that form together and become heroes that save everyone in true Digimon tradition. I can't kill off any of these guys, but what if before these guys came to together, there was another previous group of heroes. These guys would be fair game, and I was also planning on perverting their original positive nature to a negative one as a result of loss, so they would also serve as cautionary tales of sorts to the main cast.

What do you think of this "solution"? Do you think it would work? Do you have some other idea that could possibly work?
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:iconwarriorcats16678:
warriorcats16678 Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2013  Student Writer
I'm writing a story and I've already set up the death of one of my main characters. It's kind of sad to think about, but he was in a romantic relationship with the heroine and since I can't write romance It'll be good.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2013
lol that is one way of dealing with romance, end it before it fully beings :D

Good luck on the death scene
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:iconwarriorcats16678:
warriorcats16678 Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2013  Student Writer
Thanks. I'm still pretty far from it, though.
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:iconliciandragon:
LicianDragon Featured By Owner May 4, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I love authors that are smart enough to kill off their characters, aside from those stories where EVERY main character dies(why wolf's rain whhhhhyyy????!!!).
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner May 5, 2012
I'm with you there, killing characters is a great way to pluck the heartstrings of readers. Although I do love watching them when the read the death and they have this completely stunned look as if I just hit them in the face with a brick! :D Thanks for the fave.
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:iconexoticjackal:
ExoticJackal Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2012  Hobbyist
What if they did I what I did when my fave character died and chucked the book across the room?
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2012
lol I have done that in the past. Then got upset when I realised I'd damaged the book (it was a chunky hard back). But that it still good that you did that. It means the writer was good enough to really get into your emotions. ^-^

PS: I love your avatar.
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:iconexoticjackal:
ExoticJackal Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2012  Hobbyist
:lol: I love it too, Toothless is so damn cute.
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:iconliciandragon:
LicianDragon Featured By Owner May 5, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I know!:giggle: My friend volunteered to be a betta reader for me and I can always tell when she hits a death scene cause she'll always go "Nooo!!! :saddummy:" let's me know I've done a good job if I've created a character worth caring about. =D
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:iconkjods:
kjods Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you this is really helpful :)
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2012
I am glad you found it useful. All my tutorials (written and pending) are listed under a link in my main journal page.
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:iconkjods:
kjods Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Hehe, that's where I found this one..
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:iconpika247:
pika247 Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
What about killing two characters off within a short period of time, like in one battle. Say one character dies, and another goes into a frenzied rage because of this, but their rage gets to them and they make a fatal error which results in them also getting killed? Is that a good way to write, or should I think about reworking that scene?
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2012
That is a great way to write, especially because most readers are never expecting more than one character to die in a short space of time. So, say a character is killed in a battle and another goes into a frenzy, I guarantee that most readers would not expect them to die... especially if when they first entered the frenzy they did exceptional damage to people and appeared to be unstoppable. At this point the readers would not be expecting them to burn out, or get swamped or take a stray arrow or miss a swing of the sword etc.

Put yourself into the frenzied character's mindset, feel that hot rage and how it would blind them. What could kill them?
Would they see only one opponent at a time?

Would they see everyone as opponents and attack indiscrimiately and possible attack/kill one of their own and so their OWN army/soldiers have to stop them?

Would they be killed by a simple mistake, tripping over a body they didn't see and falling onto someone's outstretched sword or just caught be a stray arrow etc?

This does give you a lot of scope to strengthen the scene.
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:iconpika247:
pika247 Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Alright, cool, thanks for the advice
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2012
Anytime.
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:icongoblinprincess:
GoblinPrincess Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2012
Another great tutorial; I missed them ^_^ Although I should spend more time writing and less reading tutorials ^^;

"In that even as I re-read them there is that tiny irrational part of my brain telling me that THIS time when I read the book, it will end differently and they won't die!"
Wow, and I used to think that I was crazy for starting crying long before the character actually dies :D

Also, I think that the more realistic the death, the more impact has on the reader. Although I haven't had to write a death scene yet, I've read lots of books and played lots of videogames, and the death that shocked me the most (even thinking about it makes me sick right now) was the simplest one: he's there, he gets shot, he's not there anymore. Maybe it was so for all the "it-takes-me-five-hours-to-die-so-let's-talk-about-the-meaning-of-life" fake deaths in the anime and manga that I got so used to, but still...
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2012
Thanks for the comment and the fav ^-^ much appreciated. (I will be writing another this week)

lol I know what you mean I spend more time watching Author Q&A sessions on You Tube than I do writing my novel. Though I did spend like 5 hours planning one section yesterday (though I think by the end I was less organised and more stressed and had added 2 new characters...not my goal!)

*nods* yeah quick sudden deaths that don't even give you time to realise what has happened work really well. Or ones where the character is struggling and you can see death hovering but maybe because they are a big/main character you assume they will survive and then splat... gone! And you feel cheated almost.
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:iconsarafan206:
Sarafan206 Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012  Student General Artist
i had a character named ignatius who had a terrible childhood; his mother beat him and his brother ran away when he was only eight, his father was never in the picture. even though i gave him a group of friends by his side, he just didn't have the support he needed to get through even the beginning of the writing process, and he killed himself. i had to go back to his childhood and change a few things, so he could have a real best friend. it was hard to see him die in my minds eye and i just couldnt bear to let him die like that, when i could save him and make him a better character as well.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2012
Aww. It is hard to kill off characters, specially tragic ones. Yet the power those deaths have on the readers' emotions is so strong and can let those characters become so much bigger, so loved.
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:iconsarafan206:
Sarafan206 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2012  Student General Artist
yeah :)
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:iconhurricaneclaw:
Hurricaneclaw Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I love this, it's very well written.

I love all my characters and I really don't want to kill some off... even though it's part of the plot ^^;
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2012
Thank you, I'm glad you like. Believe me I know exactly how you feel. I KNOW that the death of certain characters is necessary and will get the reader going OMG NO!!! and that powerful sense really helps to keep a hook in a reader.... but at the same time, I hate the idea of killing off characters! :)

I have read books over and over, where characters I like die. Even though I've read the books before there's always the weird sense that maybe THIS time...they won't die.
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:iconhurricaneclaw:
Hurricaneclaw Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yeah, it's like I start to think of the character as a person... so when I have to kill them off it's like... 'THIS IS MURDER ;A;' And I get really sad...

A couple times I would come across a really good book that I love, but one of the characters die. Since it's such a good book, I can't help but read it again and when I get to that part it's so sad ;A;
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:iconrolzine96:
rolzine96 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2012
It's lovely =D thank you do much for putting it up
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
Glad you like it :) Hope you find it useful.
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:iconrolzine96:
rolzine96 Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2012
oh I will once I get there lol xD
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:iconerinm31:
ErinM31 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012
Very good points! :nod:
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
Aww thanks hun ^-^
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:iconsarafan206:
Sarafan206 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012  Student General Artist
i dont have time to read this right now but i know it will be amazing and im just going to fave it now :D
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
lol thanks hun
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:iconsarafan206:
Sarafan206 Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012  Student General Artist
yw ^^
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:iconespalion:
espalion Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012
Hi :) I'm so glad to see you posted a tutorial, I love your tutorials. This one is interesting, I really liked it. Though my stories aren't developed enough to be thinking about writing character death yet, it was still full of great pointers.
This isn't a suggestion, more like an overture, but what do you think about not killing, but maiming main characters? I was rereading the Hunger Games yesterday and I'd forgotten that Peeta was missing a leg at the end of the first book, and I was surprised at how much the fact he was missing it bothered me. Same thing with Katniss's hearing. Few authors choose to permanently handicap their heroes and I just wanted to know if you had ever done so, or what advice you could give on the subject :)
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
Hi hun

Thanks for the comment, I am glad you enjoyed this tutorial and find my others useful. I am hoping to get more done.

Maiming is okay, I don't think it should always replace a death (if a death is needed) but definitey use it. I have characters who have been maimed. Many of my fantasy stories have involved wars - people don't come out unscathed. I've had characters severely scarred, lose limbs and one who became a different person due to a head trauma.

Whether you introduce the character with this or have it happen, will depend on how you write it. If you introduce it, then it is more about how the character received it and how they manage now. If it happens in the book, then there "coping" of such a change is a bigger aspect as well as how others cope.

Few people ever cope well (at least at the beginning) after such a big change. Say you have a char lose an arm, you have to consider:
* how it happens
* the pain (or numbness...shock?)
* will there be a scar
* does this cause other issues (eg: a warriors sword arm is lost, will have to learn to use his/her other hand)
* difficulties of everyday life..(try dressing yourself with only one arm...or cutting your meat)
* how do others view the injury
* did they lose only a hand but then the rest of the arm got infected and had to be cut off?
* does the character resent help they need, crave independence?
* does the friends/family etc of the character resent having to help?

There are loads of things to think about. If you are going to maim a char, think about how it will happen and then spend a lot of time mulling it over in your mind. How do you think you would feel, then put yourself in the character's head, their personality you know and think about how it would affect them.
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:iconespalion:
espalion Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
Thank you so much for your reply, as usual full of great pointers...
I guess maiming is hard to imagine, because all in all, death is more present in people's lives today than handicap... I mean, I've lost several people I loved, and I can imagine that pain and write it, but no one I know personally has been permanently "damaged" (I know how that sounds, its just a figure of speech).
I guess it's just much harder to imagine. I'm planning on my heroine loosing an eye pretty soon, and I hope I'll be able to pull it off.
Meanwhile, I just wanted to say, I read your journals and I know life is tough on you at the moment. And what I just wanted to say is, your tutorials are great, and they help people, and you are amazing for posting them on here and sharing your knowledge and skill. So thank you.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2012
That is very true, most people have had to deal with death in some form but maiming is different. As you write, the closer you are to a character the better the writing comes and you do start to "feel" what they might feel so I think you will do fine putting her through that trauma and writing it well. Good luck with it (if you would like me to read the scene regarding the loss of the eye, I would be happy to.)

Thank you so much for your kindness regarding my personal situations. It is nice to know people do read journals and know when you are struggling. It really does make me feel good to know that so many people enjoy my tutorials, and I truly appreciate such comments - they really help to keep me going.

I wish you all the luck in the world with your writing and please feel free to comment or note me if you ever need advice or have questions regarding writing. I will do what I can to assist.
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:iconquavera-tava:
Quavera-Tava Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2012
I think it was very well written, and something I can use here in the not so distant future. I've been planning on hurting a character really bad here soon and this kinda helps me. In the way future I do plan on actually killing one of my main characters, but it's still in the stage of development. Tell me, if I were to have the death scene from the victim's point of view and written right, do you think it would bring out a more emotional response from my reader? Or should I write it from another character's point of view as they watch the arrow fly into their friend? OR, (yeah I like the word or) could I somehow do it from both of their views and just kinda switch back and forth between them? (I've done the switching back and forth a few times in my writing already.)

Oh wow, sorry for the big comment, I know you got a busy life, and I didn't intend to write so large. My apologies. ^^;
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
It is hard to say which would create a bigger response in the reader. I've read books where you are in the head of those dying and ones where youre in the head of those watching...each time I am moved.

If you do the flick back and forward you would be better doing it in large chunks. For example
, you end a chapter with one character getting shot and dying. Have it from their point of view.

You start the next chapter either re-doing the scene from another point of view, of just straight in with another character at the moment of death and have their experience as a flash back. The sight of the arrow, moving almost slowly, inching towards their friend...can't move, frozen, unable to help.

If you aren't sure what works best, write all three versions and compare.
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:iconquavera-tava:
Quavera-Tava Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2012
I see, large chunks, got it. I like the idea of actually ending a chapter from the victim's point of view and starting the next from their friend's perspective right after said victim is dead/dyeing.

Writing all three versions is just to much work. I think I'd rather just decide on one and do it to the best of my capabilities.

Thank you so much for your advice and help. Now I have a better idea of how I wanna write my character's death. Kinda sad that I'm already setting in stone the death of a character. Makes me feel like I'm taking their free will away or something.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2012
:) Yes, writing several versions of the same scene is a bit of a ball-ache, but it can be useful if you really aren't sure. If you do choose one and are happy with it, that's good.

It is a little strange when we start to think of the death of a character. I always find it weird when I've killed a character and then I'm going through my (terrifyingly massive binder of novel notes) and find info about them that I'd forgot... it's like finding a photo of someone whose died and you forgot you even took the picture.
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:iconquavera-tava:
Quavera-Tava Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2012
OK.

I have personally never really killed off a character that I developed to that extent and it saddens me that that day might come here soon. I have, however, remembered planty of characters I made up but let them fade away, wondering whatever did they do to deserve that? So yes, I'm sure that experience will come to me soon and it'll be very strange indeed.
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