On Themes: How To Write About Death

Death is part of real life as it is in fiction. The main difference is that we have the power to kill our characters whenever and however we want. We also have the power to bring them back, if our novel allows it.

When it comes to writing fictional pieces, I think we often forget that we don’t live forever and neither should our characters.


Common themes about death:

  • Circle of life
  • Grieving
  • Illness
  • Age
  • Immortality
  • Early death
  • Homicide
  • Accidental death
  • Escaping death

There are more death themes, but these were the ones I came up with for now.

Why writing about death is important

We don’t write about death to be a downer to our readers. We write about death because it’s part of everyday life. People get sick, people get old, freak accidents happen, some people are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is the same for your characters. If you’re writing about war, then some of your characters are going to die. Yes, your story may be fictional. However, unless you state that all the good guys in your novel are immortal somehow, then there must be death.

Grieving is a big part of death. Seeing characters grieve can help readers relate the situation in real life.

How death can help your characters grow

Your protagonist’s grandmother can’t be 90-years-old forever. If the main character’s grandmother passes away, what happens? The grandmother is gone physically, but not mentally or emotionally. Your protagonist will be sad and grieve, but will eventually move on. Remembering the good times and life advice from their grandmother develops your protagonist and teaches the readers something.

Death is beautiful

Yes, that sounds weird, but hear me out.

When writing about death, you’re not actually talking about death. You’re talking about life.

Think about it: When you go to a wake or funeral in real life, people have gathered to comfort each other, talk about and remember all the good memories of the deceased. You’re celebrating the deceased’s life.

What was it about the deceased’s life that was so special?

Make the deaths count

Don’t kill characters for the sake of killing them. Let their death be a lesson to your characters and to your readers.

Let the deceased leave something behind for your characters and your readers to hold onto, to remember. Something that makes them really miss the deceased, something that makes them feel real emotions for the death.

Keep in mind your genre

If you’re writing a murder mystery, then the deaths are a little more loose and most likely have less meaning behind them. They may not be someone close to your main character, they may not be someone that your reader will get to know before their death.

However, if you’re writing a coming of age story and a dear family member or close friend passes on, how would your protagonist react?

In conclusion

Death is an interesting topic because some people are averted to talking about it. It seems like a difficult subject, but it’s easier than you think. Don’t be afraid to put emotion behind it. Don’t be afraid to really express how you, as a writer, a reader, a human being feels about it.

What’s your advice on writing about death in novels? Let me know in the comments below!

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