Today’s guest post comes to us courtesy of Monica Flink. She’s a long-standing and very dear friend who is also struggling to get away from the day job environment through the power of the written word. She’s been published on AOL.com, Lifescript.com and eHow. She has guest lectured at colleges and is a regular contributor to Squashblossom Literary Magazine. Her blog is Poached Prose.
Recently, a close friend of this author did her a solid. Like a two thousand dollar solid. And thus, in her pitiful attempt to repay him, she made him a cake. Not just any cake, but her best cake. Her patented Demonic Chocolate Fantasy Cake©. It is made with three pounds of Ghirardelli chocolate, and is enough to bring a lesser man to his knees with its layers of dark fudge cake, whipped ganache filling and fudge frosting.
So of course he had a massive coronary shortly afterward.
Death by cake is not something that the world thinks of seriously. It is reserved for chintzy chain restaurants that want to advertise a dessert that tastes decent but is pulled out of the freezer and reheated when you order it as something worth the extra three dollars. But it puts the idea of death on the discussion table, and how it seems to be easier to accept in fiction, especially the more ludicrous it happens to be.
There are so many ways for people to die. Human beings, though the top of the food chain, are fragile creatures when you think about it. Hundreds of functions go on without our knowing it, and just one of them can go wrong and kill us. If a heart stops beating or a kidney fails to cycle out waste, our lives are snuffed out as easily as a candle under an industrial fan. Sometimes without us even realizing that there is something wrong. But natural causes aside, there are also so many ways to stop those functions with resources.
The oldest books in the world, whether you believe it is the markings of the Pyramids, or the Epic of Gilgamesh, have touched upon death and have done so with plausibility. Albeit with swords and bird things that come to collect us all to the Afterlife, but it worked for those time periods. And there you have the heart of the matter. Plausibility in death. Harrowing up the feelings of readers for the payoff you so desire by giving the protagonist, antagonist, or hapless bystander the right send off, so to speak.
Making the death of characters believable is difficult at best, and mostly because so few of us have trouble not only imagining such horrible things, but have been given such a skewed idea of it from the media. I need not name names, but let’s face it, those Hostel moves are shit on a stick, and younger generations of writers are going to see that garbage and assume people who are tormented like that will not just die of shock unless they are medically treated.
Luckily, fiction lends its self to this problem, because fiction is just that: fiction. It need not be as realistic as other visual media, but then again, it may make things more difficult. A writer might think it cool to have someone die while crushed by tap dancing giant iguanas wearing feather boas, but even if circumstances in a work of fiction lend themselves to that kind of end, it is still hard to write. Just as it is hard to imagine someone dying by having a piece of cake that no one should eat more than a single sliver of.
Proof that truth is stranger than fiction, even with death involved?
Perhaps. Yet, it reveals not only how difficult it is to make death in fiction plausible. It is easy for us to accept that a magical spell can rip the heart from a person’s rib cage, or light them in a pillar of unquenchable fire, but only if the story lends its self to such ends. If a piece of fiction has been all about guns and car chases for a hundred thousand words, to have it end with someone falling in a river and drowning, or perhaps just being strangled to death, is not only anticlimactic, but the exact opposite of what would probably satisfy the audience.
In the end, it comes down to how well the characters are written, and how well the story lends its self to death. Will it be more satisfying to have the main villain die when he goes careening off a comfortably placed cliff with a few sharp spikes at the bottom that just happen to be there, or have an aneurysm in his brain splatter across the gray matter when he samples a piece of cake that should have never been made in the first place?
Coming up with a quote about writing about death would have been an excellent way to end this. Instead, I leave you all with the idea that writing about death does not have to be horrible, difficult, or even creative. It just needs to be believable.