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The Dead Are on the Streets

In Bulgaria people are not afraid to remember the dead. When someone dies, they make a flier with that person’s name, birthday and day of death, a poem or quote, and–if they have the money–a photograph. They then post these fliers around town.

One year later, they post the flier again. And five years after that. Ten years after that. Twenty years. On and on until there is no one to do it anymore.

They never take the fliers down. The weather wears the paper away.

It changes how you see the world when death notices follow you down the street.

How do you deal with death in fiction? Off screen? Avoid it all together? Is it the death of action movies–nameless, forgettable people? Is it the manipulated death of a tear-jerker? Or is it the death that stays and returns to your thoughts, like happening to look up and see a faded photograph staring back at you?

Well, can you think of a great death in fiction? (Let’s leave out Shakespeare, all right? Think harder.)

3 thoughts on “The Dead Are on the Streets

  1. Considering how universal (and important) sex and death are, they’re amazingly difficult to fictionalize well. The best approach to writing about death is often the one you’ve taken in this post: simply describing it (or its effects), with little embellishment. Makes the scene stand out against the background — makes it more stark — like all those fliers on a wall.

    In genres where death plays a big part — thrillers, mysteries — it seems that the culture’s been infected with Tarantino-ism: the tendency to make deaths ever more operatic and/or comic and/or bloody. Ironically, all this bombast winds up cheapening the experience (which after all, is far more often quiet, sad, sometimes lonely).

    I’ve beat the Catch-22 drum loudly elsewhere (moonrat’s blog), so I won’t make a big deal of it here. But a truly memorable, moving, and quietly horrific fictional death scene is the one featuring C-22‘s protagonist, Yossarian, and the radiogunner in his WW II bomber, a young man named Snowden. (Snowden is the one who dies from his injuries.)

    (If you’re not familiar with it, the critical passage of this scene — which is, yes, graphic, but not gratuitously so — is excerpted here, among other places around the Web.)

    [Hope those links came out okay. The “no comment preview” in WordPress drives me crazy. :)]

  2. I suppose sex and death are amazingly difficult to write because they strike too close. Several scenes in Catch-22 were horrifying–but in the way a good story ought to be. It is difficult to decide when to write the death (or sex) scene and when to simply refer to it. How do you know when it is gratuitous and when it is necessary?

    I’ll check out the links. Thanks.

  3. Writing you from CO!

    This may not be a great death, but your question brings to mind Charles Dickens’ DAVID COPPERFIELD. I remember my professor saying that he thought Dickens took the easy way out by making David’s first wife, Dora, die – so that he could then marry the girl he was always meant to be with. Of course, in real life, Dickens didn’t get the easy way out, so I can’t blame him for writing it in his fiction.

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