We discussed how to write a death scene in a previous blog post/video. In this blog post/video, we shall focus on some of death’s consequences; more specifically, on seven unusual consequences following a death scene.
Nevertheless, before we look at the different types of unusual consequences of a death scene, we must first determine what constitutes a usual consequence following a death.
Usual Consequence – When Death Forces The Main Character To Move And Pursue Justice
In a classic revenge-inspired story, the death of a character close to the protagonist makes the protagonist realise that he cannot stay in the same place any longer. Indeed, the death forces the protagonist to begin his journey to get justice for the fallen one.
Example 1 – Uncle Garrow’s Death in Eragon
In Eragon, shortly after the eponymous character’s dragon hatches, he returns home to find that uncle Garrow, his de facto father, has been murdered. Then, Eragon decides to find those who killed his uncle, and he goes in search of them.
Thus, uncle Garrow’s death sets Eragon on his quest to eventually bring the villainous King Galbatorix (who bears ultimate responsibility for Garrow’s death) to justice.
Example 2 – Harlon Thrombey’s Death in Knives Out
Usually in a crime story, at the start of the narrative, a body is found in mysterious circumstances. Subsequently, our protagonist gets on the case to get to the bottom of it.
This is what happens in 2019’s Knives Out. Harlon Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his house. Soon afterwards, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is brought in to solve the case and find out ‘whodunnit.’ This, he does, by the end of the narrative, and the culprit is arrested.
Unusual Consequences of A Death Scene
Now that we have discussed what constitutes a usual consequence for a death in a novel, we shall discuss what constitutes the first of the seven unusual consequences following a death scene.
1 – When Death Inspires The Main Character To Change Course
Death can hurt a character emotionally and make him determined to see those responsible, face justice. That is an expected outcome. But when a secondary character dies and the protagonist has a 180-degree turn because of the other character’s death, that is not expected.
To make your protagonist change course because of another’s death, the fallen character must touch a nerve with his words and actions prior to his death.
Example – Boromir’s Death on Aragorn
Boromir’s death in The Lord of the Rings is not just a pivotal moment for the character because it shows his heroism and redeems him in the eyes of the audience. His death impacts Aragorn as it makes him change course.
Throughout The Fellowship of the Ring (particularly in the extended edition of the movie adaptation), Boromir urges Aragorn to overcome his fears. He urges him to help save Gondor, rather than accompany Frodo via the marshes to Mordor. Aragorn rejects Boromir’s advances on the matter until the latter’s death. Subsequently, Aragorn does not follow Frodo to Mordor. Instead, he fights to save the world of men, including Gondor.
Thus, because of Boromir and his death, Aragorn becomes the man he was born to be and is crowned king of Gondor in The Return of the King.
2 – When Death Exposes The Ruthlessness Of Certain Environments
Certain jobs are notorious for being dangerous, with the threat of violence and death being a daily occurrence for people within the industry. When a death occurs in the story within these particular industries, it highlights just how ruthless those industries are.
Example 1 – Manon
In the ballet, Manon, the eponymous main character is sold into prostitution by her brother, Lescaux, in 17th-century France at a young age to a rich pimp, Monsieur GM. Manon likes the life of diamonds and riches that her pimp gives her. But she soon falls in love with a pauper called Des Grieux, becomes conflicted as to whether she would rather remain a prostitute or marry her love.
When Manon and Des Grieux confess their love for one another, her pimp finds out. He arrives with the police, who arrest Manon for being a prostitute. A struggle ensues and her brother is shot in the melee.
Lescaux’s death demonstrates one of the nastiest elements of 17th-century, French prostitution. Manon gets hit doubly hard after her brother dies. As punishment for her alleged crime of being a prostitute (and because she has no brother anymore to fall back on), she is shipped off to a penal colony in New Orleans (which, in those days, was a French colony). There, she endures horror after horror.
Example 2 – Angel’s Death in Scarface
Scarface is about Latin American drug lords and their dealings in Miami in the first half of the 1980s. Early in the film, Toni (Al Pacino), our central protagonist, is sent on a mission with three companions to buy cocaine from a Columbian drug dealer. But the deal goes awry, and one of his three companions (Angel) is dismembered by a chainsaw.
Angel’s death makes Toni suspect that he was set up by his superior. It is another of the unexpected consequences of a death scene, and kicks off Toni’s paranoia that is part of his undoing for the rest of the movie.
3 – When Death Reveals A New Side To The Fallen Character
After a character dies, the protagonist (and the audience) may subsequently learn something new about the dead character. This is another of seven unusual consequences following a death scene. The death can have the effect of changing the perspective of how the fallen character is viewed by the protagonists (and, by extension, the audience).
Example – Professor Snape
A great example of this is Professor Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series. For pretty much the entirety of the series, Harry believes Snape to be a villain; more precisely, a mole in Hogwarts, in league with the Dark Lord.
But in Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Harry learns in the Pensieve after Snape dies that Snape was actually on Dumbledore’s side the whole time; that he had been protecting Harry all along; and that Snape had only killed Dumbledore because Dumbledore had told him to do so.
This completely changes the way Harry (and the audience) views Snape, as we realise that he was never a villain at all.
4 – When Death Leaves The Main Character Vulnerable
The fourth of the seven unusual consequences following a death scene comes from when a powerful figure dies.
When a powerful figure dies (whether naturally or otherwise), the main character is likely to be without a protector. This can leave the protagonist (and his friends and/or family) vulnerable to his ambitious rivals, who are invariably more politically cunning than him.
Example 1 – Marcus Aurelius’ Death in Gladiator
In Gladiator, the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius has terrible consequences for General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe). Marcus’ son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), was always envious of how much his father loved Maximus over him. And Commodus’ envy worsens when Marcus Aurelius tells him that Maximus will succeed him.
Unsurprisingly, Commodus does not take this news well. He murders his father and seizes power. Subsequently, he arrests Maximus, and gives the order to kill Maximus’ wife and son. Maximus slays those guarding him and flees to save his family, but he is too late. The next thing Maximus knows, he has been enslaved and is sold to be a gladiator.
Thus, Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ death effectively results in General Maximus being bound into slavery and his family being murdered.
Example 2 – Robert Baratheon’s Death for Ned Stark
In A Game of Thrones, the first volume in A Song of Ice & Fire, King Robert Baratheon’s death in a hunting ‘accident’ leaves his friend and loyal advisor, Lord Eddard Sark, susceptible to the low cunning of Cersei Lannister.
When the honourable Lord Eddard refuses to bend the knee and swear fealty to the false king, Joffrey, Lord Eddard is imprisoned and later beheaded for treason.
Example 3 – Dumbledore’s Death for Harry, Hermione & Ron
The death of a character does not necessarily need to have such drastic and/or severe consequences for the protagonist as per the previous two examples; especially, if the writer is catering for a younger audience.
In Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth instalment in the Harry Potter series, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Dumbledore, is slain by his longtime ally, Professor Snape (seemingly in a shocking act of betrayal). Throughout the series, Dumbledore had been the bulwark against the dark forces trying to take over Hogwarts. His death leaves the school and Harry (plus Hermione and Ron) in a vulnerable situation.
Dumbledore’s death effectively means that Harry cannot stay in Hogwarts any longer. So, throughout the next instalment, Harry, Herminone and Ron are on the run and searching for help.
Example 4 – Cinderella (1950)
In Cinderella, the death of the titular character’s father at the start of the story means that she is without a guardian against her (evil) stepmother and (brattish) stepsisters. As Cinderella has yet to come of age, she is at the mercy of her stepmother.
Cinderella is in a powerless situation and can do nothing as her stepmother turns her into a maid and forces her to lives in the attic. This is despite Cinderella’s high birth, and her being her father’s only heiress.
5 – When Death Enables Others To Become More Powerful
Gladiator is an example where the death of a powerful figure results in another seizing power in a coup. Yet, someone need not arrogate power swiftly in a narrative. Sometimes, one of the more unusual consequences of a death scene is that the death of a powerful person results in a power vacuum that leaves others jockeying to fill it.
Example – Lord Tywin’s Death
At the end of A Storm of Swords, the third in instalment in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire, Tyrion Lannister ignominiously murders his father, Lord Tywin, while the latter sits on the privy. Lord Tywin Lannister was the most powerful (and feared) man in the Seven Kingdoms. His death opens up a power vacuum.
His daughter, Cersei Lannister, as Queen Regent to the boy king, Tommen I, tries to fill the vacuum herself. But she is not the only one who believes that his/her time has come. However, the Tyrells, the House that Queen Margaery comes from, sniff the same scent of opportunity. (And believe, with some justification, that Cersei is unfit to rule). Moreover, the same is true for the Sparrows, a band of religious fanatics, who are led by the High Sparrow.
It is to Cersei’s shame that she turns to these fanatics to try and rid herself of her perceived enemies during A Feast For Crows. Still, the Sparrows would never have risen to prominence had Lord Tywin lived. He would have crushed them without a moment’s hesitation.
Therefore, his death is crucial in their ascent to power.
6 – When Death Causes Uncertainty & New Alliances
The fifth of the seven unusual consequences following a death scene is when death causes uncertainty and new alliances.
Another corollary of a death of a powerful figure is uncertainty. This, in turn, can result in some interesting, brow-raising new alliances.
Example – King Renly’s Death On The Tyrells
After King Robert Baratheon dies in A Game of Thrones, the War of the Five Kings breaks out. One of the claimants for the Iron Throne is Robert’s youngest brother, Renly. He is backed by House Tyrell, one of the most powerful families in the Seven Kingdoms.
But Stannis, the middle of the three Baratheon brother, is furious, believing that Renly has betrayed him. In his eyes (and those of the law) his own brother has taken away his right to be King. Via dark magic and a shadow, Stannis murders Renly.
Renly’s death leaves the Tyrells in an awkward situation. They will not side with Stannis as he murdered Renly, and they seem to have no interest in an alliance with the North. That means their only options are either: to stay neutral for the rest of the war, or beg the Crown (i.e. Lord Tywin Lannister) to forgive them.
Ultimately, the Tyrells side with the Lannisters. They help to defeat Stannis at the Battle of Blackwater Bay, thereby gaining revenge for Renly. Plus, the Tyrells agree that Margaery will become Joffrey’s queen and that Lord Mace Tyrell will have a seat at court.
Renly’s death highlights that a crisis for the protagonist can end up improving his situation (and that of his family). If he is shrewd.
7 – When The Death Of Another Shows A Different Side To The Protagonist
The death of a character can tell us a lot about the protagonist. When the audience considers the circumstances surrounding the death, viewers can learn a very different side to the POV character.
Example 1 – The Mad King’s Death for Jaime Lannister
Early on in A Song of Ice & Fire, we learn that Ser Jaime Lannister earned his nickname ‘the Kingslayer’ because he stabbed King Aerys II (aka the Mad King), in the back. This leads many to draw the conclusion (with good reason) that Ser Jaime is dishonourable and treacherous.
But in the third instalment, A Storm of Swords, we find out that Ser Jaime did not kill Aerys II out of dishonour or treachery. Rather, he did it because the Mad King was going to set the capital on fire, burning everyone within it. This makes the audience realise that Jaime is a more complex character than we presumed.
Moreover, the explanation for his most notorious deed shows him to be a conscientious man. That he desired to save people when he killed the Mad King turns him from a villain into an anti-hero.
Example 2 – Jake’s Death for Roland Deschain
Conversely, the death of another character can also reveal a darker side to a protagonist. Towards the end of The Gunslinger, the first instalment in Stephen King’s seven-part Dark Tower saga, Roland Deschain faces a conundrum.
Jake, a boy he is looking after, is falling off a crumbling bridge and crying for help. Roland wants to go back to save him. But if he does, Walter, the Man in Black and Roland’s foe, will not give him the answers he needs to reach the Dark Tower. And reaching the Dark Tower is Roland’s ultimate objective.
Roland decides that the Dark Tower means more to him than Jake, and he lets Jake fall to his death. As a result, the audience realises here (chillingly) that Roland is a determined sociopath. So long as he breathes, no-one and nothing will come between him and the Dark Tower. And that he will sacrifice anyone for it.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post and video. In addition, I hope it helps to make the writing process a little easier for you as well.
I have mentioned seven unusual consequences following a death scene here. What do you think I have missed out?
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