I write a lot of horror. In horror people die, often in the most gruesome manner, at least if I’m doing it right. However, I too often read death scenes that, while highly visual, are hardly believable. I don’t refer to the old ‘There’s a monster in the basement; let’s split up and look for it’ or the ‘I know you said wait here but I want to
wander around aimlessly, totally unaware and unarmed’ ploy. I mean the ‘Rip my
guts out and I’ll still kill you’ ploy.
I’ve never fought a war but I did work in several hospital emergency rooms. I’ve seen lots of death and severe wounds. People rarely suffer a severe wound and drive themselves to the ER. In cases of severe wounds, the body goes into shock. It’s a defense mechanism. Blood pools around the injury and the victim often passes out.
The same goes for head injuries. I know Arnold S. or Sylvester S. can get beat up, hit
over the head with a metal pipe and have both eyes pulped, then find a hidden
reserve of energy and defeat the villain, but most people can’t. Equally, the
can get shot in the shoulder, the leg and possibly the side and still chase
down and kick some ass.
Get real! I know this looks good on TV or the movies and might read well, but it ain’t so!
Don’t get me wrong. I love making things up. That’s my job. But I try to get as many facts correct as I can, whether it’s location, dates, or fights. Then I go off on a
tangent and let my imagination go wild. To me, at least, it seems more believable,
unlike early comic books (Graphic novels) which depicted epic battles that
should have killed both participants and any onlookers.
I’m not naysaying writers who like to stretch the boundaries a bit: To each his/her
own. Being more realistic in fight scenes, explosions, etc. makes the
characters more real. No matter how good a shape you’re in, you can’t dodge a
bullet, block a well delivered blow from a steel pipe with your forearm, or
grab a thrust sword blade between your palms (Ref: Mythbusters).
If your character is important enough to write about, he/she deserves a believable (If ignominious) death scene. Deaths, like dialogue, should serve to advance the storyline or build or change your characters. Death scenes, if done properly, can evoke emotion (Love Story), revenge (Collateral Damage), fear (Alien) or satisfaction (See Alien again). Handled improperly, it can detract from an otherwise enjoyable
One of my early mentors, Jonathan Maberry, instilled in me the desire and the logic to inject reality into my fiction. A careful balance between the two enhances the
story, builds more believable worlds and defines character. This is especially
true of location. As a Tucsonan, I’m horrified to see movies with Giant
Saguaros in the background when the action takes place in Boliva, or a
character in a novel enjoying the scent of Magnolia blossoms in South Dakota. I
know I might be nitpicking, but it takes my mind from the read to the error.
Give your characters an honorable death. Make it real.