I tend to laugh during movie death scenes.
There, I said it. (My resolution will be to try and stop laughing during death scenes.)
Last week, I joined some friends in viewing a film that was kind of 'meh' for me, but what really got me was the storyline. It was neatly tied in a bow and everyone lived happily ever after. Oh, except for the one guy who got shot by the drug cartel and died a slow, chatty death. And I couldn't help but laugh.
After watching the film, a friend who'd been sniffling behind me during the death scene called me out on my inappropriate behavior during such a poignant scene. Oh, for shame! He had leftover tears in his eyes, but a smile on his face when he asked, so I knew he wasn't really angry at me. But, I did have a moment of "Oh, I'm a horrible person!" And I hadn't realized I'd laughed. I guess it's become second nature when it comes to certain scenes I watch (by "certain" I mean unbelievable scenes that make the story seem cheesy).
So, why did I laugh?
Well, it goes back to that chatty character shot through with a bullet. He just wouldn't stop talking and die already. Maybe that sounds callous, but in reality, chatty deaths are not the way to take your character out of the story. It prolongs the scene as your character stands on his/her soapbox one last time, when you're almost sure he/she would be dead by now. It boils down to suspension of disbelief for the viewer or reader.
Then the question may be -- "What is the best way to kill off a character?"
Well, that depends on your genre. Even in the murder mystery realm there's a difference of opinion as to how to knock someone off right. A hardboiled crime novel will have no qualms of shooting things up as a character walks down the street. No one bats an eye when the body count rises. And the more expendable characters, the better. But, then you get into your cozy mysteries and the blood and gore is left off the page. Characters tend to "happen upon" the murder victim, and from there clues are meticulously sought out while the body is quietly removed from the scene. Literary tends to go either way. There could be a very public, gory display of death, or it could be a story centered around a mother slowly dying of cancer throughout the length of the novel. It all depends on genre and what the audience is expecting.
But, here are five things you don't want. These will leave your readers rolling their eyes:
- Chatty Cathy Deaths -- As I mentioned above, nobody enjoys a chatty corpse. These are death scenes where it's obvious the victim is on death's door, but for whatever reason the author has decided that a long, lengthy soliloquy is needed. Unless you're Shakespeare, a drawn out, more than "merely a flesh wound" death is unnecessary. Don't let the character keep pulling his own string!
- The Incredibly Overworked Death -- In these deaths, characters are fatally wounded, but they flail and carry on. They just won't die. A 1973 Turkish film, Kareteci Kiz, was voted in 2012 to have the worst death scene ever. (You're intrigued now, aren't you?) I didn't add the clip, but you're more than welcome to hop on over to YouTube and check it out. You'll see a useless bystander, some tragically horrible karate and knife action, about five random shots fired, lots of badly placed fake blood, and death in slow-mo. Sounds believable, right? You'll get a good laugh!
|Look at all that fake blood!|
And I thought the bullet wound was
- The "No, He's Not Really Dead! It Was Just a Dream!" -- One great television show comes to mind when I think of this one: Newhart. This show pulls off what could be seen as a death that didn't really happen (I was never really sure if Dick was supposed to have died in that final scene). After Dick is struck on the head by a golfball and the scene fades to black, we see that Newhart was nothing more than a dream during The Bob Newhart Show. Sound trippy? It kind of is if you've ever watched it. Although Newhart pulled this off beautifully, deaths that end up becoming dream sequences just don't work anymore. They've become clichéd and are seen as an easy out for the writers. Nobody likes to bid adieu to a favorite show, so why not make it seem like it was all a dream? Just ask the folks over at Roseanne. They tried to pull off something similar, only they didn't fare as well in their final episode.
|One of the best season finales ever,|
only, I wouldn't try this in your
- Fatal Cliffhangers That Fall Flat -- Arguably one of the best "will he or won't he die" cliffhangers ever comes from Dallas (the 1980s version, not the more recent one). During one hot, feverish summer in 1980, fans of the show barely slept because one question nagged their thoughts: "Who shot J.R.?" Although J.R.'s life hanging in the balance at the end of Season 2 is one for the record books, chances are many of you can't even name his revealed shooter. As spectacular as the shooting may have been, it's best if a main character goes out at the hands of someone important, someone who holds a lot of meaning in that character's life. It took the show two months to reveal who-done-it, and it turned out to be a jealous mistress shooting him in a fit of anger. Hmm...With so many other characters out for J.R.'s blood was this the best move? That one is up for debate! Oh, and the shooter's name was Kristin Shepard.
|Fascinating show, but I'm not so|
sure about the shooter's reveal.
What do you think?
- Killing the Most Beloved of All Characters -- This final point pertains more to who you take out and not how you take them out. We've all read a book or two where a beloved character gets killed off in the end. Mainly, these are stand alone novels, ones where the stakes are high and you know there is potential for death for the MC. But what happens with a series? For instance, in Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, I was pleasantly (but also horribly) surprised when Cinna, Katniss's much-loved stylist, gets killed right before she's scheduled to enter the arena. I was pleasantly surprised because Collins pulled that one off very well. (Sad, because, you know, it's Cinna.) But, let's say you take your readers through the entire trilogy and then BAM! You take out the MC? Not many series do this, but those that do tend to get angry reactions. Why? Because of the investment the reader has made. They are connected to this particular character and they want to see the best for them in the end...not death. How would you have felt if Katniss had met a random death at the end of Mockingjay? My point exactly.
|Rewrite this ending:|
Are there any death scenes from either books or films that just send you rolling on the floor? Are there any other pointers that come to mind for you? Share with us!