A death, be it in action or backstory, has to be plausible, and while the characters REACT to it, it’s not to cause reaction.
I don’t kill when they become inconvenient.
Killing them was inconvenient for me, as writer, but I hated that character, so it was totally worth it.)
(That person is not yet dead in my published body of work.)
(Hey, I’m totally cool with a deadpool on characters who survive from book to book.)
(That could be SO MUCH FUN.)
I find living characters more entertaining, and I’m the person I have to entertain first.
Kingdom *does* starts off with a dead Pops.
Dead parents of central characters? (No major spoilers)
Laarens’ mom: complications of a strep infection (though I note he was TAKEN from his unfit parents at birth)
Lin’s mom: same epidemic (Quin & Lin are neighbors)
Lin’s dad: hunting accident
Avah’s mom: bad breech birth
Fanik’s parents: drowned in a flood
Marli’s parents: structure fire
Nekane’s mom: cancer; dad: industrial accident
Harli’s dad: industrial accident
Siblings are more likely to be dead than parents, tbh.
And hey, having living parents doesn’t mean all gin & roses.
Young upper class with power? More likely to have dead parents. Young upper without? Their parents are still alive.
Without functional Caesarian sections, some women WILL die in childbirth.
Until blood transfusions work, lots of people bleed to death.
Germs come for everyone.
Sometimes I keep them alive despite shit that should kill them.
And Vaish’s mom, who outlived 2 husbands, but also never lost any children. (She rolled lucky.)
I may say certain characters have plot armor, but really? Almost all of them do.
Because they’re my imaginary friends, and I’m not a serial killer.
Plus, it just feels lazy to kill them.
(If you’ve finished Repudiation & Refuge, you know I’m willing & able.)
It’s just I don’t think death is actually great plot development. The stakes should be high, and death should be a possibility... but death is an end.
But even in the really bad old days of the worst wars (Napoleonic to WWI - the killing tech got excellent way faster than the healing tech) most people survived.
And came home with a level of trauma.
Another rule for character deaths, whether in-scene or not: a death never makes anything easier for anyone. It’s never convenient. It’s always a complication.
In Sophia’s universe (Regency Vampires) there’s a Series of Improbable Events that lead to Sophia (an Earl’s youngest daughter who married an Earl’s younger son during the Napoleonics) becoming Countess.
2) How a society handles trauma
(The lack of specificity is since this one isn’t yet to the beta reader stage.)
But who dies in Sophia’s world matters, because her world is premised on the idea that death transfers power, both politically (aristocracy) and in marriage. Not metaphor for her.
(Aside: being a wealthy widow was often the best situation for women. No longer subject to father or husband, she controlled her money & property. Being a widow was almost being an honorary man.)
A social safety net is a technology almost specifically designed to be a cushion against death.
S&S requires the death of the elder John Dashwood character. In my update, yes, I kill Olivia & Corrine’s dad, but I didn’t kill their half-brother’s mother. No need. A hostile divorce works MUCH better.
But in the modern world, my characters have access to insurance, Social Security & social support that the Dashwood women didn’t have.
But in the original S&S, death is the only way out of marriage. And often, the only way into property (besides marriage) because the social structure in which that fiction evolved used the promise of inheritance AS the social support.
A seriously under appreciated aspect of the modern world is economic independence no longer requires dead parents.
The Dashwood women, of course.
But the entail pushes John Dashwood Jr towards stupid/greedy
Willoughby‘s manipulativeness comes from his poverty.
Edward, under his mother’s control, is getting screwed.
The Palmers will be unhappy.
The only ones who aren’t are Col Brandon & Mrs Jennings. He’s far more self-made than inherited; she’s got her widow superpowers of independence & property. They’re the example of breaking the patriarchy.
Which means when we write character deaths, we have to make them mean a LOT more.
We have to be more careful when and why we do kill.
Take any pre-antibiotics story with parental death and update it.
Give Hamlet a crime lab.
Give young Jane Eyre or Anne Shirley a social worker.
What if Fantine has a social safety net?
What if Jean Valjean has one?
/end of today’s deep thoughts.