WHAT IS A WORLD?
For a moment, try to imagine that you’ve been abducted by aliens and dropped off on a foreign, life-sustainable planet. Look around. What would an alien world look like? Would it look similar to ours? Would it boast significant, natural differences? Would it defy all understandings of the laws of physics the moment the first light particles are received by your eyes?
You can have the most incredibly complex character in the universe, but if there’s no world for them to interact with, there will be no interest towards it. Just an empty, white void, and him standing in the center, just waiting for something … anything, to happen.
And the reader is an impatient person.
When you draw your character to show off, a plain white background is simply hypothetical character design. It is NOT your character brought to life. If you want your character to have some life, you absolutely MUST fill that void with a world that it resides in.
World, or “setting”, is key because it sets the mood of a story. It defines the present. It defines the conflicts that the character must endure. It provides obstacles for it to overcome, and it challenges the character with its preset laws of physics and reality. Your character cannot escape it. It must learn to cope with it, no matter what the cost. It gives the reader a much better impression as to what your character must face on a daily basis. It helps them sympathize with your character if they are given such a cruel reality alongside their past.
A world can be subliminal if it’s not incorporated in the plot. Guy in a grassy field. All this crazy stuff happens to him, like a meteor storm rains down upon him or he takes on 200 enemies at once using nothing but a set of fighting knives, but he doesn’t leave the scene. So what’s so significant about where he is at the time? There is no significance. And yet, you can imagine this 200 vs 1 fight happening, right?
If I did not tell you that all this was happening in the grassy field, and told you to imagine the fight, then what would you think? Probably some big white space of nothingness, the character barely casting a shadow on the ground, and a battle that is all but bloody. Just be incorporating that he is within a grassy field adds to the illusion and further stems the imagination. The brain will try harder if it believes that what is happening can be real, or has happened before, and by human experiences, there is no such thing as “nowhere”. Again, even a big white space has been imagined before.
I’ll prove my point. Guy in a grassy field, surrounded by trees, dimmed by an array of dark clouds overhead spilling out torrents of never-ending rain, lit up by the clash of lightning. 200 enemies approach and he fends them off with a set of fighting knives.
There. Exact same story, but doesn’t it just sound infinitely more epic? Even though you had already just imagined it earlier?
Same with Runescape. This is a world. Everywhere you look, there is something. There are farms in Lumbridge, there are buildings and shops in Varrock, there are burnt trees and lava on the Karamja volcano. Standing in the grassy farm field and fighting things would not have the same effect as fighting the same things atop the white wolf mountain, or within the Underground Pass, in that it would look more majestic and interesting.
WHY IS A WORLD?
Why is a dark landscape with rain and lightning perfect for a survival battle? This is a question I cannot directly answer with words alone, because everybody’s experiences differ from my own. Some people may like rain and be soothed by lightning rumbles and flashes. Or some people might be scared of trees or grass. If that’s the case, then I advise immediate psychological help, but you get the idea. Not everybody will see the same scene as epically as you will.
This is why a lot of movies have terrible fight scenes. Because the director has a whole different perspective as to how a fight scene should go. They have a different definition of the word “epic”. They have not seen the same sorts of inspiration as you, the audience, has before. You may think the movie was bad, but somebody else might thing it was the greatest thing ever!
So, with the fear of being criticized for what you believe to be good, why create a setting in the first place if you’re only probably bringing yourself up to humiliation?
Because that’s what storytellers do. They express themselves. They want the audience to see the same things they believe to be epic. That’s all they know, after all. You can’t pretend to know what the audience is looking for, because that would either make the scene horrendously played out, or just plain unfitting, because you are running off of experiences that you have not had. It’s like watching a commercial to hammer a nail in, and suddenly you can pick up a hammer and mimic the movement with your eyes closed?
If that was the case, then our Runescape characters would have gotten full level 99s from day 1, only having to do everything once to advance. Not a fun game (unless the max level was 9999, to which that would be a LOT of effort to make new abilities for).
So why is a world? Why do we see lightning-filled thunderstorm scenes as epic battles? Why are grassy fields just so … tame?
Symbolism, my friend. Everything is subliminal. Yes, this is English class all over again.
Would you go outside, just for the fun of it, into a thunderstorm and stay out there for hours? No, probably not. Why not? Because you’d probably get struck by lightning or drenched and catch hypothermia. That’s pretty general. Lightning symbolizes danger, because that’s exactly what he consider it should we be caught outside.
It also symbolizes more subliminal things like anger, rage, and judgement, depending on the scenario. Loud roar of thunder, meant to make weaker beings cower in fear. That’s the same as rage. Lightning strikes somebody out of a crowd. That’s judgement; fate conspiring against the victim to pick him out of all the other potential targets. You don’t think about it, but it’s there, hidden in the back of your mind, automatically developed by your experiences.
Now, we imagine our character. He’s wearing full metal armor and carries a long iron sword, and he’s in the middle of a grassy field. Again, would you do that? No, of course not, because the sword would act as a lightning rod and significantly boost the chances of getting struck.
You see where I’m going with this? Not only does the character have to fend off 200 enemies, but he’s in the constant danger of getting struck by lightning! Not just that, but he’s in the cold, dark rain, and also have to fight quickly so he doesn’t get hypothermia or a flu from the weather.
You see now? Just by adding the clouds and lightning, you have subliminally added a sense of urgency. You didn’t have to say anything like “he didn’t have much time” or “he might get struck by lightning”. All you had to say was that there were thunderclouds and lightning overhead. That’s it. The reader imagines the scene, and without even a prompt, automatically adds this sense of urgency based on their own common sense and experiences regarding thunderstorms.
And the trees surrounding the field. What about them? Trees are like long bars jutting out of the ground, very difficult to remove. Trees surrounding the field symbolizes a cage. Being trapped. The character cannot escape these 200 enemies. He’s got no choice. Again, the sense of urgency is heightened just by surrounding the field with trees. Sure, they also provide a means of cover to assist in escape, but because this guy is already surrounded by 200 enemies (slightly harder to use them as cover), they instead turn into this symbol, as they are never used or even conceived as cover.
Brilliant, isn’t it?
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
Runescape does this incredibly well. If you’ve done the Haunted Mine quest, there’s some really good examples in there. For a start, we enter, and we see it’s a mine. Train tracks, ore carts, reinforced walls, etc. A mine by itself is not really that creepy. You can say that it looks creepy, but there’s really no merit to those words, as the reader has yet to see reason as to why it’s creepy.
Let’s throw in a few traits to the mine. It’s dark. There is absolute silence. You hear dripping. Creaking. There shouldn’t be anybody in there except for you, and yet you’re hearing all these strange sounds. You can barely see mine carts slowly moving, but nobody is pushing or operating them.
Already, there is heightened effect, and you can feel it. What do you think the biggest effect here is?
… nope, it’s not the possessed mine carts. Good try, though.
Instead, it’s the fact that it’s dark.
Why is that important? Because mankind’s biggest all-around fear is the unknown. Why are we scared of ghosts so much even though there’s no proof that they exist? It’s because we believe them to. Because there is evidence pointing to, but not supporting the fact that they exist. We don’t even know what they properly look like. We don’t even know what we’re looking for in a ghost. The fear derives when we don’t know what to expect, and we’re expected to make a quick, appropriate reaction to save ourselves.
See, when it’s dark, you lose your sense of sight, which is your biggest confirmation to what is real. Seeing is believing, after all. Instead, your other senses, like your sense of hearing, heighten, as your brain puts more focus on that now that it can no longer see. If you heard dripping and creaking in a brightly lit room, all you have to do is look around and see where it’s coming from. Oh, just a stressed support and a small limestone leak in the ceiling. Ah, but when it’s dark, you don’t know what is going on. You don’t know what is causing the creaking or dripping. Maybe the creaking is a large, wooden possessed golem patrolling the mines. Maybe the dripping is blood, and the ceiling is covered with splattered human. You don’t know. And that’s what’s scary!
Why is the possessed mine cart not as effective? Because it’s not unknown! If you see a mine cart moving, just stay off the tracks. Or bash it. You know what to expect in a mine cart. But if the mine cart starts flying off the tracks and rockets at you, THEN we’ve got something there, because something you didn’t know to expect happens. Plus, in that moment of time, since the mine cart has defied expectation, you don’t know what the mine cart is going to do to you if it does collide with you. Maybe it’ll strike and splatter you, or maybe it’s not even there. Again, the fear of the unknown, and the sense of urgency heighten the mood and feel of the scene incredibly!
This is why horror and thriller is a popular movie genre. We love it. We fear it, but at the same time, it’s that adrenaline rush that makes us feel alive that we just can’t get enough of.
Create a character, or use one you’ve already made and grown attached to. The more well-developed, the better, as you will fear for him more.
Put him in a dark building, or an enclosed space with little to no sources of light. If he’s got night or x-ray vision, then let’s put a darkness curse into his eyes somehow. Also add several hallways or blockades. Your character should not be able to see the outer walls all at the same time, despite how dark it is. There must be barriers or blockades here.
Inside this room, perfectly able to see anything, is an enemy. Or several. All of them want your character dead and his blood covering the wall like a second coat of paint as widely spread as possible. Maybe they’re feng shui nuts, or maybe they’ve just gone mental, or maybe they’re vampires and zombies. They don’t need a reason. Yet.
Now, just play with this. Your character needs to either find a way out or find something he’s looking for to save himself or somebody else from something. Maybe a weapon in a dark military base. Or maybe he’s trapped in an abandoned prison. He’s trying to survive and stay hidden away from the enemies he cannot see. Every sound, every breath of air can be felt extremely well. He travels slowly, trying to avoid taking risks, opening doors with precaution and as little noise as possible.
Then suddenly, he hears footsteps. They are approaching. He has to hide! He does so, taking cover, or clinging onto the ceiling, or turning invisible. Whatever. The enemy walks fast, sniffing for him. He’s definitely more than a match for your character. He’s got far superior weapons (claws against fingernails – yeah, that’s “far superior”) and probably even has an infectious disease that’s transmitted by touch. It’s just that dangerous. By whatever means necessary, your character CAN NOT CONFRONT THESE ENEMIES NO MATTER WHAT!
Lastly, be subliminal. To yourself. Yes, it’s possible. Your character is talking to himself, but he doesn’t necessarily tell himself exactly what must be done. He is being psychologically cornered, so his only defence is to go momentarily insane if he’s going to take some necessary risks. Maybe the enemy is calling out to your character, taunting and luring him out. Maybe it’s a cute little girl’s voice, trying to tempt him forward. Maybe it’s an evil demon’s voice, breathing down his neck with every word and attempting to demoralize and destabilize him to make him easy prey.
It sounds boring written on 4-bit ASCII like this, but trust me. Once you imagine this a few times and experiment with different effects, like chasing and building traps (this is where epic and thrilling come into play), you will get it. You will begin to understand why it’s so incredibly fun to come up with these events. And once you have a good one down, write the concept and events down, add a simple-enough developing beginning and end story, mesh it together, and boom – instant horror story.
So that’s fear, tension, and urgency – the making of something thrilling, epic, and simply awesome. How about serene, relaxing, and, if no other words work here, “moody”?
To create the polar opposite of tension, we literally need to create the polar opposite. Everything is bright, easy to see, and in fluid detail. There are huge, wide-open spaces that you can almost run around indefinitely in. Gravity? Get real. Take every desire you’ve ever had to escape reality and just throw it all on a smorgasbord, organizing them and combining them one by one, and just play with them. Do they need to defy physics and explanation? Yeah? Then LET THEM! NOTHING will stop this awesome moment. Let yourself go free! HAVE! A LOT! OF FUN!
Only one problem with this. This is all for yourself and yourself only. Maybe a younger sister and supporting parents would like this, but that’s about it. I can almost guarantee that anybody else who reads a story like that will create a hand-shaped imprint of bruised skin on their temples and think some very inappropriate things about your social status.
So what do you do if you want to share it? Keep it real. You can still have your smorgasbord, but you need to refine it. Spread it out, in fact. Why is your character flying? Because of a reward from something he just fought tremendously hard to appease, or because of an internal discovery.
Drain the reader of his hope for the character with a good story that mostly DOESN’T involve beautiful scenes like this (except somewhere in the beginning or middle, you can throw an idea and concept of one in to foreshadow the upcoming reward), and when your character finally wins, reward their endurance with beautiful scenes like this. Even if it’s short, it will last and be talked about for a long time. Perhaps the moment itself will never die, and on their own, they will daydream about extended variations of the moment.
What is tranquil? What is calm? These are the sorts of scenes in which you can almost fall asleep in. That you bring up in good dreams that you really don’t want to wake up from. It’s difficult to describe them in words. Tranquil is sight. Nature is very good at providing images that are pleasing and lovely to look at. Trees, fields, mountains, flowers, etc. Tranquil is sound. Soft, gentle noises, perhaps a distance away, with hardly any rhythm to or deafening noises. Nothing that jumps out of nowhere. Always fades in and out, very slowly. Tranquil is all your senses, come together to express just the perfect sort of reality around you.
To some, tranquil is different. Perhaps it’s a lifeless, shining alien city, just shooting up from the ground below, and buildings moving past you bearing their own unique shapes and colors. Perhaps it’s floating along the sandy dunes of an endless, white desert, with not a cloud in the sky and a vast ocean up ahead. Maybe it’s filled with so many butterflies that you don’t even know what color the sky is. It’s usually personal experience that defines this moment – you experience things yourself that you find to be delightful, and by multiplying the effect, you enter this tranquil realm of your imagination.
Everybody has experienced differently. Some people may have experienced the same as you, but had different opinions depending on their personality and other experiences. So, I’ll say it again. Just because it’s your own, perfect dreamworld, nobody, and I mean NOBODY is going to experience it the same way as you.
That’s why, to drive in as many readers as possible, you want to turn their own imaginations against them. You want to avoid using tremendous detail and instead subliminally prompt them into their own dreamworlds.
I’ll give you two examples, and these are just examples, so bear with me. They are not exactly my personal fantasies. I’ll save those for a later time, or on request.
“The flowers were strewn around him, flashing their own unique colors as their heads bobbed back and forth with the wind. The mountains in the distance stood tall, bearing their snow-covered caps and offering their discovery-filled statures to those willing to venture. Beside him, he heard the soft trickling of a stream, pouring down from the grapevine-covered plateau. Running barefoot through the soft grass and flowers, he jumped off the edge into the crystal-clear pond below, curling himself up into a cannonball. A flock of deer stopping for a drink got splashed by the dive, and they ran around playfully, trying to shake themselves off. Under the water, he saw many incredibly vivid, multi-colored fish, darting between his legs and arms and approaching wide-eyed for a closer look at this sudden visitor.”
“The landscape zoomed out below him. The feeling of weightlessness overwhelmed his senses as he glided effortlessly over the masses below. Bystanders looked up and pointed in awe, watching in total amazement, and cheering at the top of their lungs. He would not disappoint an audience. Pulling his head back slightly, he rocketed upwards and shot straight up, flying higher and higher into the sky. Then, with a grin on his face, he stopped rising, and suddenly, dropped out of the sky. People gasped, almost starting to pain as he rocketed straight down at an uncontrollable rate. Just as their hearts froze in horror, he suddenly yanked himself upwards, and at the very last second, pulled out of the fall and darted through the buildings as incredible speed, weaving in and out skillfully.”
The first example, I put a lot of detail and explained exactly what I was thinking. There is great effect to some, but not to others. Perhaps the reader enjoys a blood-raging, action-pumped, or Gothic story, and this to them is the stuff only “little girls” like.
But read the second one again. I almost did not describe the scene whatsoever, and still the effect was there. But it could’ve been anything. It could’ve been superman, or it could’ve been a stuntman in an airplane, or a creature in an alien ship. But that wasn’t mentioned at all, and the reader could’ve immediately substituted his own personal preference into the scene.
The one drawback to the second is that some people will wonder exactly who is was and complain that these details are not mentioned. Ignore them. They lack imagination and have yet to experience the joys of it.
… and yes, I just fired a shot to you podcasting story-critics out there. Down it and pay your tabs at the door, thank you.
How do I do it? How do I create these heart-warming scenes off the top of my head like this? How do I write unforgettable story experiences?
I can tell you, but unfortunately, I would be telling you how I would write a story. That’s not what you want. You want to know how YOU would write a story.
It takes a little preparation. First, you need a blissful moment. A moment, in your life, that made you incredibly happy. That you felt so alive and so well at peace. DON’T use your imagination for this part, but instead, a real life experience of some kind. Me, I’ll use “getting a brand new computer” as mine. You can use whatever you want. I’ll write this exercise to adjust to yours.
OK, got one? Again, this is just an exercise, so just grab a quick something that made you shout in glee in your lifetime. Maybe it happened yesterday or several years ago, it doesn’t matter.
Next step, you use your imagination. Take that experience, and multiply it as many times as you can. I got a new computer in real life, and in this bout of imagination, I am standing in my very own, brand new techno-room with hundreds of computers, a fully-functional AI, a universal game system, and a body-movement user-interactive mainframe that lets me do things with hand movements and gestures. All for me. How boss is that? … must … tear myself away … from … awesome ….
Now the third step: Implementation. Take as many aspects as possible from this … awesome … dreamworld of yours and write them down. Preferably in point-form. Get as many things down, including even the humiliating parts, as you will not be showing anybody this list. My example … will be this:
– Entire wall composed of computer screen with incredible quality
– Multiple-colored, joined wires looping through the ceiling safely out of my reach
– 6 titanium, triple-jointed robot arms on surrounding walls, capable of reaching across the room
– Large blue beanbag in centre of room.
– Large, green holographic reptilian-head AI.
This is a very simple example. You will probably get pages the more you imagine this lovely dreamworld.
Finally, the fourth step: Refinement. Take all these details, and trim your personal interpretations of these aspects away, leaving only the physical presences behind. My example would be like this: the beanbag isn’t mentioned to be blue, and the AI is simply just a “holographic” AI without referring to its color or physical appearance. The wires exact colors are not mentioned at all, just colored wires coming from the ceiling.
So, to wrap it up, here’s my dreamworld example:
“I thought I was going to faint. I knew I smelled that familiar smell when I opened a box containing a brand new high-tech toy, but upon entering this room, it completely blew me away. I was gazing at perhaps one of the biggest computer screens I had ever seen, taking up the entire wall in front of me. My lungs had seized! I couldn’t breathe! I staggered backward and fell into a large beanbag chair, knocking the uncontrollably-held breath out of me. Able to breathe again, I found myself looking up at the many strands of wires jutting around the ceiling in hundreds of different colors, tightly bound and held against the supports.
“Are you all right?” I heard a soothing, monotonic voice ask. I averted my gaze to the glowing light behind me and found I was staring at my new, very own holographic AI system! Despite the emotionless hardware-pumped features, I could almost swear I saw it bore the slightest bit of satisfaction of my presence. Almost as though it had been waiting for me all this time.
“A little water would be nice.” I said, realizing my throat was suddenly dry, and there was instant reaction. A hatch in the wall beside me opened up, and a long, mechanical arm extended out towards me, bearing a large metal cup between its digits. It stopped mere inches from me, and I effortlessly retrieved the refreshing drink, chugging it down in an instant and returning the empty glass to the arm, which immediately returned to the hatch.
“If there is nothing else you need,” the AI said, “Then we have got some work to do.”
I smiled. Yeah. Work. With a wave of my hand, the screen lit up, and in a heartbeat, I was back in the zone.”
What do you think? Can you imagine yourself in this sort of scenario? And because I neglected to truly describe anything, you can substitute anything you want in your mind. … of course, you’ll be doing that whether you like it or not, so don’t cast it aside and wonder exactly what I’m talking about. This is YOUR scene now. This is YOUR moment! Let yourself go free! Let yourself escape!
That’s what writing and art is all about, after all. Escape.
I’m going to use a Runescape example that proves pretty much the exact opposite to this. *SPOILER ALERT* In the Fremennik quest, “Blood Runs Deep”, there’s a moment where a couple of close characters die. They are found lying on the ground in the middle of a cavern. No last words, no knowledge as to exactly how they died, they are just dead. Lying there.
I felt nothing. There was nothing there. After the whole quest-line, and all we’ve been through together, they were dead. It was supposed to be heart-breaking. Oh, too bad for them, I think. They were bursting with life and confidence as we charged at the enemy. They said “go on without us, we’re gonna go kick some butt!”. I go, kick my own share of butt, then return. Boom, they’re dead. I almost laughed, thinking “geeze, they are terrible fighters!”
Why didn’t it work? There was no transition.
To bring up the mood, you absolutely MUST TAKE YOUR TIME! Be slow. You almost want to over-describe it. Like painting, the slower and finer you do it, the more effective it becomes to the viewer.
If I came back from the butt kicking to see their butts kicked and watch them fall in front of me as I stood helpless and unable to do anything, that would invoke some feel to the situation. Watching one fall, and the other jump in the way to save that one, and just as he’s knocked to the ground and about to get impales, the first one shoots a final arrow with its last breath to save the other. THAT is felt. THAT is “moody”.
You don’t feel it when something’s dead. You feel it when they’re about to die. When they’re still alive, and entering into this state. Witnessing their last waking moment as they too realize it and do everything they can to leave with a bang. As though everything around them begins to turn into this eternal dream, and everything around you a harsh realization. Your emotions get worked up because your brain is experiencing something that it constantly wants to tell itself “this isn’t right”.
Now, you are probably thinking “Wait, this is just going back to character deaths I read a while ago! What gives?”
Believe it or not, worlds and scenery also have a play in the absolute effectiveness of a character’s death. In order to get a reader to have a certain emotion towards your character deaths (coordinated to make the story more effective in the ideas it portrays), death itself must have a very specific meaning in the world. Using Runescape as an example and, once again, *SPOILER ALERT*, when a Fremennik dies, they go up to the “Longhall of the Elders” or something like that, where they feast and hunt in the great, amazing pastures for eternity. This is similar to some variations of the concept of death that comes from early first nations, and I don’t doubt somebody from Jagex got the idea from a few of their stories.
Anyways, because you now know of the place, whenever a well-known Fremennik dies, the natural reaction is that “he’s in a better place now”, since you know what happens to them when they die. Deaths are happy and easily acceptable, though somewhat heartbreaking.
What’s the difference now? Ponder for a moment this universe. There’s a demented God known as the Unknown who, when it kills something, the spirit and soul are cast away into the realm of the Unknown, where they are torn away into nothingness for infinity. If a well-known somebody dies with this death in place, then there is an outbreak. There is no acceptance. There is only a thirst for vengeance and a vow for redemption. A call to take action! The characters still alive will NOT stand for this any longer!
Interesting, isn’t it? Same character dies, and just because of the meaning, interpretation, and cause of death, there are totally different reactions. One is a happy, tearful moment, and one is a full-on punch to the gut.
In theory, it’s easy to encounter these scenes in a good book that you get completely absorbed in. But how can you make it effective? You can kill off one of your characters, and feel it yourself, but how can you possibly put your feelings onto paper? I’m afraid I cannot put this sort of thing into a “follow-my-lead” exercise. Instead, I’ll let you create your own heart-break scene and give you a bit of a checklist to follow.
First, you need a heart-break scene. Take your time with this one. Take one of your own characters, or even one of your all-time favourites that somebody else made. Imagine him dying (or leaving forever) in the most dramatic, worthwhile way possible. Perhaps he is now too old, and wishes to leave on a journey into the stars for the rest of his life. Perhaps he is fighting his last battle because he had been poisoned earlier on, and he knows he won’t get an antidote in time. Perhaps he is lying in his death bed, again from old age, and he’s trying to finish all that he’s strove out to do before he lets himself go. These are the kinds of moments where you want your reader to be the guy kneeling down over the fallen character, shouting “NO! Please, don’t leave me!”.
Got one? Dang, that was fast! It’s probably not as good as some, but with practice makes perfect. OK, it doesn’t matter how simple your idea is; we’ll use it anyways.
So, how to turn it into a heart-break moment? First, this character needs a backstory. A reason behind his actions and details of his personality. Is he doing this because it’s something he would naturally do, or is he doing this because he suddenly came to a painful realization and doesn’t want to leave things as it is? This is the entire story leading up to this moment, where you take the reader for a ride with this character on some of his adventures. You want the reader to just enjoy watching this character, witnessing him do these awesome things. Here comes an enemy, and the character enters the same room as it. Ooh, we all know just what’s going to happen. How’s this bad guy gonna die?
You know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever read a good book or watched a good movie, you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.
Secondly, you want the reader to be there for the final moment. You cannot make the reader follow another character, who “comes across his mangled body”. No, that won’t do. Doing that is just like saying to the reader: “Yeah, that’s right. Your hero is dead. You thought he was awesome, but he’s NOT! Take it like a man!” Naturally, you’ll probably want a moment where the hero will sacrifice himself, telling the weaker character to “go, and I’ll distract them”, and we never hear from him again, to which the reader will automatically believe he’ll be fighting until the end. That’s heart-tugging, but it’s not a heart-breaking moment. We don’t know if the hero is even dead or not. Maybe he “somehow” kills the entire army chasing them (yeah, if he’s already implied to be just that awesome), and is chilling at his retirement dream-place while the survivors mourns his corpse-less grave. The moment just can’t be guaranteed with that.
Thirdly, you want the awesome guy-about-to-die handicapped somehow. If he’s already implied to be wicked-awesome (the King Black Dragon, for example), it just wouldn’t make sense that a bunch of level 5 goblins overwhelmed him with a few “lucky” hits. Have the guy “take a hit to save somebody”, where he dramatically jumps and uses his body as a meat-shield. Have the guy “almost out of air”, or have him enduring poison or disease. He was tricked into drinking a weakening potion, and now he has to fight against his greatest challenge with several of his abilities removed. Doesn’t matter how god-like somebody is; once he’s moralized and presented with impossible odds, there WILL be consequence.
Lastly, in either the reader’s eyes, or the surviving characters witnessing the death, it can NOT be immediate. I’m talking things like: “Suddenly, he’s shot in the head. “NO!” cried the hero. “We gotta run!” shouts his mommy. And they ran to safety.” No. You want to slow time down. You want time to suddenly stop. As though to say “Pay attention! Yes, this had really just happened, and I will prove it!” Once that final heartbeat sounds off, you want the reader to FEEL the death. You want him to FEEL the pain of losing somebody important and highly respected. Of course, don’t overdo it. You can freeze time for a paragraph or two, bouncing between the points of view of the survivors and the falling hero, but that’s the absolute max.
Once that’s done, then give it a try! Just imagine it.
Now let’s throw this event into a scene. This is the easy part.
A burning background. A drenching downpour. Lightning. Death and screaming all around. Shattering glass and cracking pillars. Crumbling buildings and erupting volcanoes. The scene you want HAS to portray destruction in some way to intensify the effect. Getting shot in a peaceful grassy field under a rainbow … well, that’ll hurt the reader’s brain more than his gut. Also, deafen out the surrounding sounds a bit and either blur everything or put it into incredible detail. You can barely hear everything around you because this sudden realization of this awesome guy dying is just so hard to believe that the rest of reality almost distorts and cancels out. Throw in some piano or vocal soundtrack to the mix, and try it out.
Something not feel right? Change it! Go ahead! It doesn’t HAVE to happen like this. Maybe instead of getting shot, he only gets grazed, gets in a shot, and then stabbed from behind! Nothing in your imagination is ever, EVER set in stone. IT CAN HAPPEN!
Stay tuned for the final part – The Breath of Life