How to Write a Dying Scene


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Part One

  1. Establish the method of death.

»A. The death can happen at the end of another scene or in the midst of a highly charged event. In this case it would be best to start with short choppy sentences and then lengthen the sentences in order make time seem to slow down, allowing you to focus on the moment of death.

I. Remember to keep in mind whether or not the character knows if they are going to die. Someone who knows that they’re going to die has time to contemplate their death and they might spend a lot of time reminiscing and thinking about all the things that they haven’t done in life. A surprise death should come as shock value, but might give the character a quick glimpse of the missing parts of their life.

    II.  If the death is from poison or another non-violent method of demise it might come suddenly in the middle of a completely normal activity. In that case it is a good idea to start to lengthen sentences as the moment of death approaches.

    III.Remember that death is turning point in many aspects. Something about it can feel otherworldly or ethereal. Basically it is important to focus on a certain moment of time. It needs to be pulled out to make people feel strongly about things. Powerful language and colloquialisms work well in this scene.

Example 1:   The sword was glowing. She could see it in her hand. She knew what she wanted, she wanted this man to die. He had to die, but she didn’t know why. Crash. The swords slammed together. One came up, the other down. The racket was loud. Impressive displays flew about. She jumped. He ducked. It felt like it would go on forever. “You can’t win.” Her eyes grinned with delight.

“I don’t want to beat you.” He was pleading and it didn’t sound very regal.

“I don’t care what you want, you murderer.” She had spent her entire life waiting for this moment and it was going to come. She brought the weapon down. There was no way he could recover in time. He wouldn’t be able to block.

He must have known what was coming. He must have known that he couldn’t stop this fight, that he couldn’t prevent his own death. It wasn’t until later that she would realize exactly what that meant, for now she just wanted revenge. She wanted to destroy him and everything that he stood for. She hated him.



»B. Establish the location of the death scene.

    I.   This isn’t necessary if the death is a continuation of a previously written scene, but it is good to add good descriptive detail to the death.

    II.    Adding things about furniture breaking or something being moved in the scene makes it come alive. This can be pieced into the rest of the scene as needed or added as an extra paragraph or two of information.

Example 2:   (No Example, but feel free to add your own).


Part Two

    1. Turn around, change the scene here?

    »A. Give hints to the final outcome. Allow the reader to hold onto some kind of hope.

      I.     Perhaps the scene needs a different winner, maybe they’re just not going to win. Maybe the winner is a little overconfident. This part of the scene isn’t necessary, but it helps the suspense.

    Example 3:  

    She grinned as the weapon flew down with great force. She wanted something great and powerful to hurt him with. She knew that she deserved this, but she was too devoted to her swing. There was no way to recover when he rolled to the side. She groaned and knew in that moment that it was lost. He swung up and slammed his hilt into her side. She went down, hitting the ground with a sharp rush of air. She knew that the world was going dark. Her eyes closed for a moment, just a brief glimpse of time. When her eyes flew back open and she knew that this was not going to end well.

         “What are you going to do?”

         He thought for a moment before kicking her in the side. “I’m not sure yet.” He shrugged.

         There was fear in her eyes. A good reason for it existed behind that fear. She was afraid of the fact that her own hatred had sealed her own fate. Still she wasn’t going to let it happen easily. She reached up and tried to grab at his leg, trying to pull him down to her level. It didn’t work. He shifted his weight and moved to the side. She had nothing left up her sleeve. No more plans presented themselves to her. She would have to do the most despicable thing in the world. She was going to have to beg. She reached up toward him and wanted something from him. She knew what she had to do. “Please, don’t do this?”

         “What would you do in my situation?” He was teasing her.

         “Fine, just get it over with.” She was done with this entire situation. She wasn’t going to give anything up. She wasn’t going to beg anymore. He had given her the answer that she had asked for. He wasn’t going to let her live.

         “Maybe I want to wait.”

         “Maybe you should just get this over with. If you wait much longer I might get a chance to escape.” She looked up the sword, trying to find some way to turn the fight around. There was nothing.


    »B. Slow down the moment of death.

           I.            This is a time to take a paragraph to explain a single snapshot in time, something that means something special. Remember that each method of death will have different effect on a body. A sucking chest wound will affect the body a lot differently than poison. Keeping this in mind will help you describe the death the right way and keep the story realistic to the reader.

        II.            This is the time that works to make last words, any last plea for life or something that needs to be said. Remember that the dying character still has a personality. It should remain constant to the end. It should be very clear that the dying character is still the same person they were before they died. If they have a specific behavior or personality quirk, add it to the scene. Keeping the character constant will maintain the emotion that the death is supposed to provide.

     III.            The moment of death is a difficult moment to capture, so it is important to know the exact moment that the life leaves the body.

    Example 4:  

    She watched as the blade slipped closer to her throat. She closed her eyes, trying to get the sight of her impending demise out of her mind. She wanted to remember something happy, but the only thought in her head was the fact that the cold hand of death was reaching out to her. She needed to feel something deep, but there was only fear. She needed something that meant something, but she could only see the glinting of the blade that seemed to hover in time for a long moment, she wasn’t ready to die.

         The blade came closer, seeming to inch through eternity, moving closer with the precision that only the end can bring. She knew that it was the end and a single glimmering tear shimmered out of her eyes. She knew it was over. When she felt the first sharp sting of the pain in her chest she knew that it was over and she fluttered her eyes. Her strength was faded and she fought against the pain. She had something that she needed to say, a curse that she needed to utter, and last words to send out into the world. She parted her lips, but couldn’t find the right thing to say. Nothing was coming, and she didn’t have any time to figure it out. “Noooo….” She let the word drain off into nothingness. It was all she could say. It was all that could be said in that moment.


    Part Three

      1. Emphasis the reactions to the death.


    »A. Any surrounding characters should react someway to the death?

    They can pull back away from the blood or enjoy the spectacle. Loved ones could cry at the sight of their loved one who just breathed their last breath. This should be the place that builds empathy. It can be built in from the previous parts of the tale, but if a character sticks by their beliefs or if a villain has a sudden change of heart at the end it means something and should affect the effect.

        II.            Death is never something that is easy to write about. The body stops bleeding soon after the heart stops beating and there are numerous other effects of death on the body. The body will react to each method of death in a different way and it would help to do some research on the particular way that a character is dying in the scene. Still, there are a few specifics.

    A dead body does not void their bowels immediately after death in most instances. The face will not be frozen in a specific expression, but the muscles will relax until rigor sets in. Immediately after death the color starts to fade from the face and extremities. There are other effects that the moment may be focused on.

     III.            Any rituals that happen after the death in the characters culture should be respected or disrespected as necessary. The rituals are there to give loved ones of the dead character some time to grieve and to remember their loved one. This can be a great time for characterization, not only of the character that died, but also of the loved ones that are attending the funeral. The surrounding characters should feel pain. A lost life is nothing to joke about, unless one of the surrounding characters is just callous and cruel. It is important to show that the death affects surrounding characters.


     Even a villain’s death can tug at the heartstrings if it’s played right. Previous tragedies can be referenced here to bring the entire situation into the focus required by the story. This allows for the demonstration of growth in the dying character or the surrounding characters. It is important to see the characters progress and change and this can allow the change that is necessary to carry the story forward or to leave the characters where they need to be.


    There is a chance here for reminiscing about the character and to reveal things that might not have been known previously. This will encourage empathy towards the dying character and allow for the reader to see exactly how each of the remaining characters reacts to death. Death is strange and can change characters for the better. It also gives a generally good character the ability to examine the darkness inside of themselves.


    Generally the “dark” characters will either be the killer or one or more of the characters that were close to dead character. Remember that grief is always played out in the surrounding characters, not in the dead character. The dead cannot speak or grieve without the addition of scientific or magical help on the subject, but the characters closest to the dead character are going to be affected deeply. The remaining characters might be traumatized by the loss.

     IV.            The dying character might have some kind of legacy, something special about them that they can pass on to the other characters. It might be something as simple as a few last words, or it might be something more, an item or character quality that is passed on. Legacies can either start adventures or complete them.


    Example 6:  

    He looked down at the body, carefully examining the flesh that was slowly being covered by blood. She wasn’t dead yet, but she would be soon. He smiled, but there was sadness behind his grin. This wasn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t something that he had planned, but here he was, in this place, dealing with this woman, this vile woman who had caused him pain.

    A part of him knew that this wasn’t his fault. She had attacked him first after all. He had defended himself. Still he wondered if he should have let her go. If he could have done something different he would have done it, but there wasn’t much choice. “I’m sorry.” His voice was soft and low, something that begged for forgiveness. “I should have stopped. I shouldn’t have done it.” He groaned in agony. She was dead, the bleeding was stopping and her heart had stopped, pierced on his blade.


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