Anyone who enjoys reading or writing stories knows all the common plot points that make a book memorable. These points range from a love arc, a happy ending, subtle foreshadowing, a twist, and so on. For the essence of a book to linger in my mind I need one pivotal plot point – death.
That sounds pretty morbid, but hear me out on this. I don’t like the death point because it’s dark; I like it because it creates a ripple effect that the other characters can’t ignore. A death in a book is something that can change the entire pacing of a story or the personality of the protagonist. It brings forth a twist with unforeseen consequences. This is the point where the author is able to test just how well he or she knows the character they’ve written. It’s like shaking up a can of pop and seeing how big of a mess it will make once you open it. Will the chaos be explosive or just a dribble? Who gets soaked? Who stays dry from a distance? Whenever I write a story I tend to plan killing off characters left and right just to see what will happen. I always end up becoming too attached and keep most of them alive, but I still walk away with a better understanding of who these characters are. Which brings me to my next point…
It takes a lot of courage to kill of a character in a story. If you plan to kill an important character you have to make sure the story will still carry on the way you intended it too. You have to wonder if this death will create plot holes or not. Once a character is dead, please, for the love of all that is good, keep them dead. I applaud authors who can kill off important characters and still maintain a manageable story line with feeling and emotion. A death shows that the author isn’t afraid to take risks which is something I admire in writing. Yet, I do have a problem if a character dies and then comes back to life.
If you use death as a plot point in a story, you should make sure it stands for something. The whole reason I appreciate it in stories is because it creates a strong emotion that draws the audience in that they can latch onto. The audience is alert now and starting to show a real care towards the other characters. The death made an impact and when an author brings a character back to life or has one of those “Psych! I’m not dead, just resting” moments, they’re taking that impact back. All of the meaning starts to unravel unless the, what I’ll call the “Living Dead Dilemma”, is for a good reason and is necessary for the story. Unfortunately, the Living Dead Dilemma effect is rarely used for a proper purpose and normally there only to gain more marketing from fans of the deceased character.
A good use of the Living Dead Dilemma is in Lost. Now, if you recently started following me, it’s handy to know that I talk about Lost a lot and I am not at all ashamed of it. In Lost we have a character named John Locke who *SPOILERS* dies, but later comes back to life after his corpse is brought to the island due to the island’s healing abilities and fate. Later you find out that he didn’t come back to life at all and that the smoke monster had used his empty body as a shell. This fact ends up answering a few mysteries regarding the island in one of the most depressing plot twists I have ever witnessed. John who loved the island more than anyone, who held an incredible amount of belief in destiny, who wanted to protect the island and be a part of it died in a dirty hotel room back in California. His lifeless body was then used by the island’s monster who was bent on destroying it along with the people John grew to care for. *END SPOILERS* That is the Living Dead Dilemma working as a pivotal plot point and not as a marketing tool. If the Living Dead Dilemma doesn’t serve a purpose in the story, then either keep the character dead or don’t kill them at all.
The same could be said for any plot point in general. Each one needs to be handled with care or else they’re nothing more than a marketing tool. I understand that it’s tough earning money and even more tough to earn that money through stories. Novels have gone downhill in recent years because authors are focusing on the marketing value instead of the purpose of their story. Why write if you don’t have reason? Same goes for plot points; why put one in if there is no reason? If those plot points aid in your message then have fun with them, be artistic with them. If you choose to use the most delicate (well, in my opinion) plot point, death, then use it to the story’s advantage. This point can come across on paper in the most tragic and beautiful; the audience will cling onto these characters tighter and walk away with a deeper and everlasting meaning, but – this only happens if it’s executed with purpose.