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A Meaningful Death

Early yesterday morning, Burleson County lost Sergeant Investigator Adam Sowders while he was serving a warrant.

I was one of the first responders on the scene.  I did not know him personally, and this is not the first death that I have encountered in my line of work.  But as a first responder - EMS, fire, or law enforcement - you take the death of one of your own personally.  I hope that you all can pray for his family and friends, be thinking of them, and, if you are in the area, offer to help in any way that you can.  Especially this close to Christmas.

The experience makes me think about something I have heard regarding authorship:  "Make your deaths meaningful."  In other words, when you as an author decide to kill a character, the death needs to mean something greater to your story.  You shouldn't just end a character arc because you ran out of things for them to do.

In my brief time as an EMT, I can say with confidence that death is rarely meaningful, and it is never dignified.  The most jarring thing about death is that it rarely makes sense to those left behind.  Even when someone close dies after struggling with an illness for years, and you have known that it would be coming, the death is still painful.  A sudden death in an accident or a violent death are even more unsettling, and they can take a firmer hold of the consciousness.

As authors, how can we balance the reality of death with the responsibility to the cohesiveness of our story?  By its nature, death is confusing.  Death is unexpected.  Death, in real, everyday life, rarely means anything, except that there is a dark place where a life was snuffed out.  This is the kind of story some people might be able to identify with, but few would want to read.

Yesterday I was thinking about my story from last year's NaNo, which is a zombie story.  As you might expect, there are several deaths in that story, and many of them are abrupt.  There is no glorious sacrificing of one character for the greater good of the group.  So how can I make sure that those deaths are meaningful?

How do we make sense of the senseless deaths in real life?  We reflect on them.  We grieve as a community.  If we deem it necessary, we take action.  And we make something good out of what is left behind.

In your stories, approach a character death the same way.  The death itself, to be true to reality, should be upsetting to write and to read.  It alone will probably not be meaningful.  The meaning will come from the way your remaining characters react.  What is their response?  How will they bring about good from the destruction of a life?

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