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  1. Show
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    Killing Children, A Cheap Shot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Show, Oct 28, 2008.

    I wasn't sure which section this belonged in so I just took a wild guess. Sorry if I guessed wrong. Anyway:

    I friend and I were discussing movies the other day and this issue came up. The friend said that killing children in movies is usually a cheap shot unless there is an exceptionally good reason for it. He went on to say that death is something usually associated with adults and that the audience will react a lot more strongly to a child's death and they would to an adult's. He claimed that the reaction will be so strong that some may feel that they have been taken advantage of emotionally.

    Anyway, I thought I'd hear all of your input on it. Is killing a child in a story a cheap shot? Is it just a quick way to garner emotion out of a reader? Should it be done at all(even to a secondary character) without an exceptionally good reason?

    Anyway, I'll chime in later after I read a few of the responses.
     
  2. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Death sucks plain and simple. Seeing how no one is immune to it I fail to see the cheap shot. It's certainly pretty cold though XD.
     
  3. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your friend is right that killing children does usually get more of a reaction out of people than killing adults. To me it's just a simple way of getting the audience to hate the bad guy is all.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think I want to overgeneralize. Sure, it may be an exploitive ploy most of the time, but that doesn't mean it always is. You just have to look at each such story in context.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I think most things in a plot should be done for a good reason, else they don't belong in the story.

    That being said, who's to say that garnering some sort of emotional reaction from the viewer/reader isn't a valid reason to kill somebody? I was going to answer this post with, killing a child in a story is okay as long as it's not done JUST to make people weepy or mad, but who am I to say that? What if the writer WANTS to make people weepy or mad? When all is said and done, a lot of the more emotional elements in storytelling are used for the very purpose of evoking strong emotion. We write something angry to make people furious. We write something gloomy to make them sad. We write something cheerful to make them happy. Would anybody complain if somebody gave them a greeting card to cheer them up by saying, "Hey, you're just manipulating my emotions!"?

    IMO writing should usually serve MORE of a purpose than just manipulating emotions, but that's only my opinion--one of many--some people really are content to just tug at people's heartstrings, or rile them up, or whatever. That doesn't make their form of storytelling any less. It just has a different purpose.

    So go ahead and kill some kids in your story (not that you were planning to, but...) as long as it suits your own particular purpose, whatever that is. *shrug* What's a "cheap shot" to one person will be a brilliant plot point to another.
     
  6. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Nothing should be done without an exceptionally good reason. The reason that should be used, is that it's what the story requires.
     
  7. ManicParroT
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    I'm going to argue that it often is a cheap shot, although it isn't necessarily so. It's a bit like the way Terry Goodkind uses rape all the time, to show that zomg bbq these bad guys are really bad. If the bad guys are killing children because it's in keeping with their character and the plot, well and good. If they're killing children because you NEED TO KEEP THE READER IN AWE OF THEIR EVIL, then maybe not so much. If the writing feels manipulative, it's bad writing, because the reader shouldn't be able to detect the manipulation.
     
  8. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    I don't want to be one of those people who goes on and on about "the good old days", but I'll make an exception in this case.

    Over the last 20 years or so, there's been an increasing tendency in all types of writing to get straight to whatever is going to grab people by their pants, i.e., the "f!ck art, let's dance!" approach as me and a few of my disreputable writing friends like to call it.

    In the original version of the movie "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977) director/writher Wes Craven used an infant to great advantage as far as creating suspense and horror. (The more recent version of this movie [2006] goes completely over the top.) In the 1977 version, the audience was kept on the edge of its seat thinking that something was ABOUT TO HAPPEN to the poor innocent little baby, but nothing ever did--in fact, that we were all looking for the baby as the movie progressed would make us be looking the wrong way when the next horrifying thing happened to some other character.

    It's my hope that writing will mature past the point that it feels it needs to pull out the shocking material right away. I try to give audiences more credit for being smart than that, ya know? I feel that the average person can handle a few plot twists, and isn't going to lose interest when more complex elements are added to the suspense.

    I mean, the audience sometimes disappoints me, but I hold onto my hopes.

    Anyway, that's what I think. I hope this helps to answer your question. yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  9. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    At the end of the day, death is, lols, part of life, or the end of it. Whether it is a child or a grandparent, everyone has to die.

    In a soap opera at the moment, Eastenders actually, they are covring a storyline involving a man who sexually abuses his soon to be step-daughter, and has been since she was young. She is 16 now, and loves him and beleives he loves her too, and now he is looking at some other little girl who lives on the square.

    There has been unbelivable abouts of complaints from people about this story line, even though as far as I am aware, there has been like no filming of them doing anything, just you know they have from wats been said and stuff. Now personally, as disturbing as it is, a soap is based on real life, and unfortunatly things like that happen in life. There is no point sugar coating or completly ignoring it, as it happens. The best thing to do is make sure everyone it aware this happens, so they know about it.

    Same with death ... you do not lie to your children and tell them people do not die, as when someone they know does, it will be such a huge shock. It's just life.
     
  10. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Heather is right. Death doesn't differentiate between old and young. Why should it in your stories? It can be a cheap shot, but equally, it happens sometimes. If it's what's needed, then don't avoid it just because someone, somewhere labelled it a cheap shot. The same argument goes for "cliches".
     
  11. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hosseini dealt with cliché very well in the Kite Runner where his character is an author. The character mentions that (and I paraphrase) his teacher would baulk at his use of cliché, but cliché has become cliché in some cases because that turn of phrase is so apt at describing a certain situation. He then goes on to use the cliché but lifts it from the well trodden and then turns it into soemthing altogether more interesting.

    Anyway, to this point in question. Any theme is valid, it just depends on the audience you intend it for and how you write it. If the theme is merely to live out some peculiar fetish in the author then I think I would advise against it on these forums, but I assume this is not the case here of course! Go for it, kill some kids (figuratively), but do so for narrative purpose and not for cheap thrills. But I think you knew that already.
     
  12. Show
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    Interesting answers:

    I seem to agree with the general view that killing children is ok because they are not immune to death. I do think that you have to be more careful with killing kids than with killing adults because of the reaction you might get from the reader. But I don't see it always as a "cheap shot" that is done simply to evoke a certain emotion.

    Thanks for the intellegent posts on this though, while I don't necessarily needs assistance in this topic, it's a topic that often arises in my writing and I was curious to hear everyone's views on it. I am looking forward to see the future intellegent posts on this topic. It's interesting to hear the differing viewpoints on it.
     
  13. Emerald
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    Emerald Contributing Member

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    I'm curious... you all say "when it's necessary," but I'm wondering what kind of situation would necessitate describing a child's untimely death?
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Consider the stories written around dealing with the death of a child and how the parents deal with it. If the child dies through violence, it changes the entire story. In such cases, the death of the child is probably not a gratuitous element to inflame the reader.

    In Pet Sematary, Gage's death on the highway is the precipitating event that pushes Louis over the edge, and makes him do what he knows full well should never be done. The child's death, horrible as it is, is organically necessary to the story.
     
  15. Emerald
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    Emerald Contributing Member

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    But in both cases it's the emotional aftermath of what happened that is the focus of the story. Having a scene where the cops come to the door and tell the parents their son was killed would be just as effective -- if not moreso -- than actually showing the kid get knifed and bleed to death or whatever. (I'm not really familiar with "Pet Semetary")

    Personally I like to avoid death scenes. They're so very... Shakespearean. Usually the very instant of a person's death isn't what is important (I'm sure you know plenty of people who died, and the effect of their deaths, but you probably wouldn't be able to recall the exact time and place)

    Or maybe that's irrelevant. Is this thread about showing a child being killed (i.e. to illustrate someone's evil) or simply having a story which references the death of a child?
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know. As much as I often dislike King, I have to say that scene was devastatingly effective. I threw the book across the room, and it was weeks before I went back to it. But I could completely relate to Louis's transformation - it was viscerally carried by the scene in which Gage was killed.

    I disliked the book, for other reasons than that scene. But as unpleasant as that scene was, it did what it was supposed to do, and no less direct means would have done so.
     
  17. Only Sissies Write
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    Killing a child character or an adult character should have some weight to it. For instance, it was a huge blow to the reader when Johnny died in The Outsiders. It was sad, and he was the age of the target audience for the book, but it caused Dally to break down and let himself be shot to death by the police. If neither of those events had happened, the book wouldn't be as good.

    Killing off characters without it utterly changing the plot is okay, too. It means that yes, people are mortal all the time. They aren't just mortal when the plot could use their deaths.
     
  18. Show
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    Yes I agree, ideally, it should. But is seems audiences react a lot more strongly when a child is killed, especially if the death is due to violence of some kind. It may not be how we'd like to have things but it unfortunately seems to be how things are. I personally don't let that stop me though, as I've whacked many a kid in my stories.
     
  19. tehuti88
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    Some readers need to see/read/experience the actual moment (be it death or whatever) for it to make its impact. Not everybody, but some people do. I do know I would be more affected by seeing a death in person than by just hearing about it from somebody else. Ditto with a story--reading about somebody's death AND about the emotional aftermath serves me better than just seeing a bunch of people being upset and being told by the writer that somebody died, offstage. It takes the impact out of it all, for me. I want to be there at the crucial moment myself. I want to experience what the characters experience, not show up a little late and only see what happens afterward.

    It's a form of showing versus telling. Some readers find it manipulative and can do without it, but others just prefer to be shown more.

    I can beg to differ on that.
     
  20. TheAdlerian
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    I recall movies from the 70s and 80s where when you saw a dog, you knew it was going to die. Meanwhile, throughout time war movies which show a soldier having a happy relationship predict the death of the male or female.

    Worse than cheap this stuff is boring.

    However, if the kid is part of the plot and dies due to a sensible cause, that's ok. Kids die by the truck load daily, I'm sure, but introducing one in a story just to kill it is boring.
     
  21. Show
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    IA tehuti, if I am invested in a character, seeing their death happen leaves more an impact than being told about it later. I think seeing it happen allows us to feel the full force of it more than just being told about it. Especially with main characters.

    Adlerian, IDK if it's necessarily boring to introduce a kid just to kill him. Sometimes that can be a good thing. And often many kids who are just extra die in some big catastrophe.(If that were to be a plotline in a story.) I think the deaths of kids who are part of the plot heavily affect the audience a lot more than some random kid dying tho. I've definitely tugged at heartstrings by killing kids before. I'm going to do it again soon in my serial with what might be one of my most heartwrenching scenes to date.

    If anything, this plays into the argument for seeing the death. If I just killed this character offscreen and told people about it, it'd be sad but not quite as sad as it's going to be by showing them his death onscreen. The character is one which readers would have come to know well and by showing it, they get to see his death from multiple points of view, including this boy's own. We get to see the immediate effect it has on his friends and foster father who are present in the scene. They get the horror of feeling him slip away, which can have an even more painful effect on the loved on than being told about it later. Afterall, feeling your loved one alive one second and then feeling the life leave their body the next, and finally, feeling their lifeless corpse in your arms, it can really leave a scar on your soul. It's this tragic feeling I am trying to give the audience with this scene. And I feel if the kid were just killed offscreen and the cops deliver the message to his friends and family, the intensity wouldn't be nearly as strong. The scene is planned to be very intense and I think it'd loose it's intense impact if it were done any other way than the way I intend to do it. Seeing a kid die is never easy but it happens and I think that it is not something to be shunned in writing.
     
  22. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the amount of rhetoric that this thread attracted says volumes about the sensitivity of the subject. Obviously, killing a child in a story simply comes down to the plot and how well the writing incorporates and utilizes the act. Done poorly, it could destroy a novel. Done well, it could MAKE the novel...but then, isn't that true about ANY plot device?
     
  23. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    First ask yourself if the reader would even care if the character was killed. just randomly killing any character without first generating empathy or sympathy in the reader is a waste of words. Beyond that - anything that propels the story and affects the reader is always a good move.
     
  24. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    People have the right to believe whatever it is that they want to believe. It's all P.O.V. To answer your question, no, it's not a cheap shot. The strong live and the weak die is not entirely true, but it is not entirely false either.
     
  25. Emerald
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    My point is, death scenes -- especially ones of children -- have a lot of room for bad writing. Same with rape scenes, gory scenes or even sex scenes. You can run into the ridiculous/unnecessary zone, or go the other direction and make it farcically sanitised, or melodramatic, or simply drag on too long.

    If a child dies, it needs to be a big part of the story. You need to do all the emotional fallout justice, otherwise you're just trivialising one of the biggest taboos of society, which alienates your audience.
     
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