Death in Storytelling

I, like many people, love stories. I read books, watch films and television shows, play games, listen to music – all sorts. There are stories everywhere. Growing up, they obviously had a big effect because now I’m an aspiring writer.

One thing I’ve never really considered until recently was death in the stories we read, watch, play, listen etc. It’s always there, sometimes in a small way and others a lot more significantly – even when I was younger. I never had a reason to question it before but now I’m beginning to wonder; are we numb to death in our stories?

Oh, there will be some spoilers coming up but nothing too recent.

Death isn’t unusual

I spent some time reliving a few childhood memories. Purely academic of course, but I found that death is all around us. Despite this, no one raises an eye. Remember, I’m particularly fond of the sci-fi and fantasy genres but death isn’t limited to these subjects. Maybe I expect it more in adult stories than I do children or young adult fiction but nevertheless, it’s there.

Should this be allowed?

Well, it already is, although there are rules to follow, it seems. In adult fiction, there are fewer to follow – and less consequences if the rules are broken. For younger audiences, there are two main rules I’ve identified. Not everything follows this and there probably more but these are two I’ve noticed the most.

Firstly, the death has to mean something. It can’t be an afterthought; it is used to teach a character something – even if it takes a while to do so. It acts as motivation, a turning point, a way to break and rebuild. Ultimately, this is a popular or well-loved character; a mentor, guardian or parent, for example, but not limited to them. It allows characters to reach their ‘coming of age’ stage and then go on to surpass them.

Alternatively, deaths are used to indicate scale. They are minor characters; soldiers in a war, brief acquaintances, villains or monsters that heroes must defeat to complete a quest. They can be likened to an obstacle, wall or challenge that has to be overcome. As we never invest in them, or are made to think of them as evil, their deaths are seen as insignificant. It’s only looking back that I realised just how many there have been.

Beloved franchises

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This happens a lot, so I’m going to list some examples. Again, if you haven’t read/seen/played any of these, spoilers are coming. However, I’ve chosen older titles so don’t blame me.

Harry Potter. I grew up with these books. My feelings are mixed but that’s another story. Harry’s parents are dead before the books begin but throughout the series, key characters die. Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape and Lupin are core characters to Harry and help develop his character. Voldemort is the villain to overcome but wizards, witches, Death Eaters and muggles all die throughout the later books. Pretty grim, really.

Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t escaped. Avengers Assemble killed off a very important character, popular with other characters and audiences alike. This was

Chaos Walking Trilogy

Chaos Walking Trilogy

rectified later, to mixed reactions from what I gathered, but it was a shocking moment. Again, it followed the first rule. Plenty of deaths, both innocent, ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’

Star Wars. Almost every film has an example of this. A New Hope saw Obi Wan die, while in the most recent film, The Force Awakens, Han Solo bites the bucket. The first example is a turning point for Luke Skywalker while Han’s demise will have repercussions we’re yet to fully experience. With war being a common theme, you can see death in all seven films.

I could list some hugely shocking moments here, and I may well do in the future but not tonight. I’d like to point you to Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy as a great example, though. Gamers will probably know the Final Fantasy VII example, which is still a powerful moment almost two decades later. The list is endless. Maybe I will sort something later.

And then there’s A Song of Ice and Fire

ASOIAF - A Game of Thrones

ASOIAF – A Game of Thrones

I left this until the end because it’s one of the most recent, mainstream and popular series around. Unfortunately, that applies more to the TV show Game of Thrones rather than the books. While I could happily and easily dive into THAT debate, we’ll leave it to one side for now.

Death is probably the only thing you can expect in both the show and the books. No one seems to be safe, from minor characters to major, popular to unpopular. George R. R Martin has done well in making readers invest in the characters, even the ones you don’t like, before pulling the rug from under you and killing them.

The series hasn’t finished so we don’t know how it will end but it’s one of the most popular franchises at the moment where death is so prevalent. The deaths are also epic in a lot of cases, which makes them stand out. When I say epic, I mean brutal. Shock tactics galore.

Does this numb us further? That’s something to think on but some people don’t mind it, while others hate it and then the third group love it. It’s always going to divide opinion but that’s just one of the great things about stories.

A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones Review

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

So, I’m a bit late in arriving to this particular party – and I’m not really sure why. I’ve had a lot of reading to catch up on and from what people have told me, these are really good books. Knowing that, I wanted to get most other titles finished first, some trilogies and series’ that I hadn’t had a chance to finish before diving in to this one – and I’m glad I did.

A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic series of seven books but only five have been published thus far (at time of writing) although two of those five are split into two making seven. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s about to get a lot worse and very, very quickly but I’ll try to ease you into it, starting with the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones.

On a side note, I’ll make some references to the television show, Game of Thrones, in this series but this is mostly about the books as I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now.

Getting to grips with the cast

Fantasy and science-fiction books are especially guilty of often being one thing – and while this can apply to any genre, it’s most common here – and that’s that they become too big too soon. Rather than easing a reader in, we essentially blow their minds and expect them to remember every name, person, place, term and such right from the get go, because it will be important later.

This happens in A Game of Thrones too, and because the cast so large and diverse it makes sense that each chapter is told from a different character. Where this falls down is when the story leaps to the other side of the country or a certain amount of time has passed and this isn‘t made clear until later chapters.

What this does, and it does well, is let you invest in a number of characters for different reasons. There’s a lot of death in this book – and the series as a whole – so focusing on one character wouldn’t work because you’d know he or she would survive. George R. R. Martin’s ability to make you care about a character and kill them will infuriate you but again, there’s such an influx of new characters that you’ll keep reading.

The plot

There are fights, politics, intrigues, betrayals and deaths. Lots of deaths. And a lot of sex. Do the people in Westeros ever wear clothes? Well, they do but sometimes it really feels like they don’t.

Ned Stark is visited by the King, who happens to be his old friend and the two fought in the war to take the crown. He’s called to the capital to serve more directly as Robert’s Hand and this is where it all starts going wrong. Bran is injured and there’s a mystery around his attacker, Jon Snow is going to the Wall. Ned’s daughters are joining him in the capital and his wife is going on an epic journey of her own from north to south and back again in search of justice.

On the other side of the waters, the last of the Targaryen’s – whose family held the Iron Throne before Robert – are looking to forge new alliances and raise an army to take back what they lost.

There’s more I could say but this is just an introduction for you. I think it’s important to point out that’s no good and evil in this book. Everyone has their own goals and agendas and they all believe in what they’re doing. Everything is grey here, rather than black and white. While you may disagree with one character or family, every action has consequences and the fact they have such conviction is refreshing.

Conventions of the fantasy genre

I’m not going to go into huge detail on this – although I think it may be worth a look at in general in the future. What you’ll discover with A Game of Thrones, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series in general, is that certain things don’t happen as you would expect. The thing is, you might not even realise you expect them to happen and this is why people are so ‘outraged’ by the amount of deaths.

Let’s take Jon Snow first. He’s the bastard son of the Warden of the North, who rules the region for the king. Fine, but because we don’t know who the mother is, and the fact that we share his point of view for much of the book, we know he’s important so we expect him to live and do great things. Then he goes to the Wall. You can still be great but it’s not what we’re used to, with such characters ending up as a ruler or with the gorgeous princess.

What about Snow’s half-brother, Bran? He’s thrown from a window and made a cripple. This generally doesn’t happen to our heroes unless they have a chance to ‘fix’ their problem. This, so far, is not possible and we’re faced with a much grittier world and story. This is quite refreshing and removes the idea that the worst injuries our protagonists will ever suffer are token scars over their eyes to make them look tough and cool.

And the TV show?

I held off from watching the TV show for a long time – I wanted to read the books first or at least at the same time – to really see the differences between them. Now, I’ll hold my hands up and tell you that there are very few times where I’ll say the books aren’t better. It’s different art forms, yes, but I’m allowed to have that level of bias – especially on this blog!

I then rushed through and watched the entire thing by the time I finished the first book of the third book (keep up!) and it is a great show but there will always be changes. Saying that, the first season holds true to the book for most of it and that’s really good – it’s not often I can say that. Going forward though, that does change.

Just a Quick Update

Hey y’all! I’m sorry I’ve been pretty quiet this last month or two – it’s been pretty busy on this end. I thought I’d throw a quick update out for you guys so you know I’m still here and have an idea of what’s coming up over the next few months.

Life has been pretty shit recently – and what I mean is that I’ve just had no time! I like to relax on an evening; do some writing, blogging and gaming etc but things have just been out of control and while it’s fun for a little while, it annoys me after a while, hence why life is shit right now.

I’ve been working hard looking for publishers and agents for my novella, A City in Grey – if you’ve been following my series on The Road to Getting Published, you’ll know a bit about it and I’ll have a few more posts on that coming soon. I haven’t had great successes yet but I’m still trying – I won’t give up. I’m also getting ready to get back to redrafting my novel and I want to have the next draft ready by the end of summer so that’ll keep me busy.

I’m half way through the third book of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and I’ll be blogging about those soon as well.

I’ve been to a few gigs and shows so far this year and I’ve got more lined up, including a weekend at Silverstone for the F1 in July. I’m also looking for a new job, so as you can tell, I’m a busy bee right now. Like I said, it’ll all settle down soon, I hope.

For now, life is busy – very busy – but it’s not stopping me!

A competition!

You all know I do love a good writing competition, and I have one for you! It’s called The Novella Award and asks you to submit a novella (who’d have guessed it?). The deadline is on Friday 5th June so not a lot of time left to enter and if you haven’t written one yet then you’ll probably miss it this year – but there’s always next time.

If you have a novella ready – or close to it – then get to work right now so you can submit it. It’s a great opportunity and not one you should miss out on.

I’ve got blog posts planned to make up for my absence over the last six weeks or so and hopefully things will settle down soon and I can get back into a stable routine – but if not, I’ll make sure not to abandon you again.

See you soon!