Tag Archives: death in fiction

When the Protagonist Dies

12 Oct

Announcements:

Zoe Mortez, an avid reader, reviewed Take Me Tomorrow on her blog, “When I’m about to flip over to the next page, my mind kept saying things that really determined me to read more and more and more until the last page of this story. I’ll be rating 5/5 for this book and it’s highly recommended for those who love Young Adult Dystopian Genre novels!” You can read the entire review by clicking here or check out Take Me Tomorrow by clicking here. Thank you, Zoe!

When the Protagonist Dies Introduction:

Shannon, here, but only for a minute. Today is a guest post, and as many of you know, I pick out guest bloggers by your activity right here on ShannonAThompson.com. This particular guest blogger commented on my post, Why Are Parents Dead in Fiction, and her comment struck me so much so that I just HAD to have her elaborate today. Cogpunk Steamscribe wrote about how death in fiction continues onto a whole new level during a protagonist’s death, and everything Lynne wrote can be found below. I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I have!

When the Protagonist Dies … a response to ‘Why are Parents Dead in Fiction’ 

Spoiler & Trigger Alert! This is a post about books that have a main character who dies. As well, I’m avoiding John Green and his body of work in this discussion. I really don’t want to give away any spoilers. Most of the books in this discussion have been around for a while.

Shannon mentioned in her blog on that she wrote about absent parents or orphans because that was her experience growing up. Other writers want to throw their protagonists into situations where parents can’t interfere with the unfolding of the story. Disney really likes to take parents out of the situation so that the protagonist – or protagonists – is/are isolated, and this creates more drama and suspense and creates sympathy for the orphaned characters (think ‘Frozen’). When you want to ramp up an emotional response, kill off a parent or two.

But why stop there? Let’s take this one step further. Why not kill off the protagonist? Of course, there is a real risk when you kill off a protagonist that you will alienate the audience. But sometimes, in real life, people you love die. Why should literature ignore this?

The most famous examples of one of the protagonists dying in a Young Adult book is ‘The Bridge to Terabithia”, by Katherine Paterson. The author has openly admitted the book was inspired by the death of one the friends of her own child; she was writing from experience and from her heart. The book created a controversy when it first came out, as the topic of death was considered unsuitable for the target Young Adult audience. I don’t know why, when ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley is studied in schools, and the main protagonist dies in that book, so it isn’t like Katherine Paterson was reinventing the wheel.

Movie still provided by Cogpunk Steamscribe

Movie still provided by Cogpunk Steamscribe

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. The death of a protagonist or a main character has become a part of the tropes used in Young Adult Fiction.

The main character, Tris, dies in the final book in the Divergent series, ‘Allegiant’, by Veronica Roth. Both Bruno and Smuel die in the gas chambers in John Boyle’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. In Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Then’, Felix has to watch his best friend Zelda die at the hands of the Nazis. As well, though the ending is ambiguous, ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry should be mentioned; I was certain Jonas and Gabriel were most certainly dying after finishing that book. All of these books are Young Adult, and none of them flinch away from the death of a main character or characters.

All of these books treated the deaths with honesty and respect. All of these books cover serious topics that are part of the human history, or analogies of the failings of human nature, and use death to highlight the points they are trying to make. The authors are trying to make people think. This is why all of these books have been banned at some point or another.

Not all books let death be the end of a character. Harry Potter, in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, dies as a major plot point, but then lives again. His death and rebirth made perfect sense as part of the plot, and wasn’t just used for dramatic effect. In ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold, the protagonist Susie narrates her own story even after her murder, as an entity from heaven. But these are more the exception than the rule, and aren’t the same kind of books as the others I have mentioned. As well, coming back from the dead is rather Hollywood’s set piece these days.

In the end, I don’t believe a writer should flinch away from the death of a protagonist or a main character, if that death is meaningful. Death is ugly, but like a shadow, it throws everything else into sharp relief. If you only ever paint with sunny and light colours, a painting is rather boring. If you only ever write about happy events, your writing will be bland. I’m not saying kill off your protagonist just for the hell of it, but don’t close yourself off to the possibility.

Bio: Lynne Lumsden Green has an addiction to learning that has seen her collect a B.A. in Creative Writing and a B.Sc. in Zoology. She runs Steampunk Sunday, Queensland Australia on Facebook, and writes the Cogpunk Steamscribe blog on WordPress. She has too many toys on her desk, but her excuse is they help ‘inspire’ her.

Why Are Parents Dead in Fiction?

24 Sep

Announcements:

ShannonAThompson.com hit 18,000 followers! As a surprise, I shared the meaning behind all the chapter titles in Take Me Tomorrow on my Facebook page. Every chapter title is actually a direct quote from the chapter you’re about to read. This is to represent the clairvoyant drug, tomo, since it allows takers to experience the future. For those who haven’t read the story, tomo does not necessarily give you clear visions. It affects all people and all senses differently. Sometimes, you hear it, taste it, smell it, or feel it. In fact, it’s hardly ever clear as to what is happening. Only those who are experienced with the drug are able to interpret what they are experiencing, and even then, everything is just a guess, and the drug itself is debatable. But the chapter titles aren’t! If you go through the novel you will see the titles later on in the prose. Chapter One – Don’t Come Back – is found in this quote, “My heart lurched at his sudden change in demeanor, but I managed a nod toward the north. The forest opened up to the only park Topeka still had. ‘Don’t come back.’”

When Eat Books For Breakfast reviewed Take Me Tomorrow, she said it “was definitely an intriguing read—different from most of the other books in its genre…I would recommend it to readers of young adult dystopian fiction.” Read the full review by clicking here or check out my latest novel here.

I would also like to take a moment to thank Dan Thompson for including Take Me Tomorrow in his post Two Books Are Better Than One. (And no, believe it or not, we’re not related.)

Thank you for reading my announcements today!

Why Are Parents Dead in Fiction?

The other day, I was sitting in a hookah house while attending an online event. (I don’t always have the Internet at home, so I go there to work.) That’s when a good friend of mine came up to keep me company, and I was telling him about a novel I am working on. The main character is an orphan. That’s when we got to talking.

Why are parents always dead or absent?

This isn’t a new conversation. I’ve had it with many people, mainly in regards to Disney movies, but I think it applies to most fiction, especially young-adult fiction, but I’ll get to why I think that in a minute. First, I would like to admit that my stories are no exception. The Timely Death Trilogy involves two protagonists – Eric’s biological mother committed suicide, and his father doesn’t have the best relationship with his son, while both of Jessica’s biological parents died in a car wreck, but she was adopted, and she does have a good relationship with her adoptive parents. In Take Me Tomorrow, Sophia’s father is practically absent due to his traveling job, and her mother hasn’t been in her life since she was seven, but she does live with a mother-sister figure named Lyn. Why did I do this? I can’t speak for every author when I explain my theories, but I will explain my personal reasons for deceased or absent parents as well as a hypothesis from the literary side. Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am (in general) talking about fiction for children and young adults.

Literary reason:

Coming-of-age is a popular topic among fiction for teens and preteens, mainly because they are going through it themselves. That being said, I think a huge factor of “coming-of-age” is finding yourself through independence. This is one of the main reasons I believe parents aren’t included in fiction, whether that is through death or absence, but another reason includes freedom. I know. I know. I sound horrible for saying freedom in regards to an absent parent, but I don’t mean “freedom” as a good thing. I mean it as a driving force for a character to venture outside of their home, to go on adventures, to strive to survive on their own. If they had a perfect family at home, this need for survival or adventure would be hard to justify. But I would like to point out one thing that others seem to forget to mention. Even if a character is an orphan or under other unfortunate circumstances, the character (usually) has a parental figure, and I think that is just as important as having a “real” parent in the story. To me, a “real” parent doesn’t have to give life to a child or adopt a child or anything in terms of a traditional definition. I believe a parent can be anyone who is the main guide and protector for a child. In that sense, I don’t believe we take parents out of fiction. I think we show readers that parents (guidance) can come from many places, which can be vital during a time in which young people are striving for independence outside the home.

From The Write Catch

From The Write Catch

Personal reason:

I am only including this section to give insight to an author’s reasoning behind it (rather than my above section that simply guesses as to why we find ourselves in those instances.) When it comes to dead or removed parents in fiction, I can relate to it. My mother died when I was 11, and my father was a traveling businessman. I hardly saw him growing up. In fact, I saw nannies more, and we never had the same one for long. Mainly because my brother and I were rather…well…angry might be the best way of saying it. The only time we did have another parent in the house was my stepmother, and she was only married to my dad for a year before they were divorced, and we definitely didn’t get along. Whew. Is that enough personal information? I don’t necessarily have a problem sharing it, even if it makes others uncomfortable, because it was my life. My life is much better now. But it’s hard for me to imagine a teenage-life with parents being actively involved, so I personally write about orphans or absent parents because that was my life growing up, and my characters are going to reflect certain parts of my life, even when I don’t realize it. That being said, I still believe that parents are in my fiction (like Lyn with Sophia in Take Me Tomorrow or Jessica’s adoptive parents in The Timely Death Trilogy, not to mention Eric’s stepmother.)

So where am I going with this?

Sometimes authors aren’t writing about orphans or neglected kids for literary reasons. Sometimes they are writing from their heart, and – in reality – I have met more teenagers who can relate to absent situations than not. Having a “perfect” family is…let’s be real…impossible. No one is perfect. Everyone is human. And families will reflect that both in life and in fiction.

The reason that parents are generally dead and/or absent is simple: it happens. But that doesn’t mean we can’t add more parents to story lines. In my little opinion, including them is just as fine as not including them as long as the author is being true to the story.

Feel free to comment below with your reasons or thoughts on this topic! I know we’ve all at least read a novel or seen a Disney movie that includes this debate, so chat away,

~SAT

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