1. trimarine
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    trimarine Member

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    Shock factor and empathy... (Not for kids... probably...)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by trimarine, Jun 9, 2015.

    I plan on having a person very close to my mc commit suicide relatively early in the story (CH 4, 5, or 6). But i don't know how to make the actual scene itself "shocking". I have the buildup all planned out and even I feel like just the action of the character committing suicide is pretty jarring by itself.

    How do I describe the actual scene itself and get decent shock factor and maximum empathy for the mc?

    I suppose some context is needed, huh?
    For the sake of ambiguity, the person who committed suicide is named "Jane" and the mc is named "John".

    John walks into Jane's room to find that she was upright in her bed and she had shot herself, in the mouth out the back of the skull.
     
  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think if your goal is to maximize the shock factor and empathy, you're going to get neither because you're not going to be focusing on your characters and the writing will make the melodrama obvious.
     
  3. trimarine
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    trimarine Member

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    I am focusing on the characters... I don't see the logic in this statement. Could you be more clear?
    You make it sound like the reader is going to read the scene and think "Oh.. this person that the writer spent the time and effort showing her personality and tried his best to make me care about her just killed herself... Cool, I guess..."
     
  4. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What I mean is that readers notice melodrama. Melodrama happens when your writing does not fit your characters, setting, environment, situation, etc. and is used solely to incite drama (e.g., emotions such as shock and empathy).

    Based on how you worded the post, I thought that may have been in danger of happening.
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think where @Ben414 is coming from is that, without the build-up from the first 3 or so chapters, you've just thrown in a dead body...with no apparent reason.

    To the OP, first thing is that a gunshot exiting through the rear of the skull will be very messy - blood, bone and brains everywhere. See if you can google it to get a picture in your head of how messy. Also, if she's sitting up in bed, how is she dressed? Fully, or nightwear, or naked (either he's never seen her naked before, or being dead her nakedness is...what?). Can he now see, for the first time, her bare forearms covered in self-harming cuts?

    Second thing, are guns that easy to come by in the country where this is set? I suspect that, even in America, handguns are not something that everybody has, so is this a potential plot-hole?

    Third, why did Jane do it? Did she leave a note (most suicides do)?

    Fourth, and I think this is the biggy, why does John care? Is this his sister? His girl-friend? His ex- , with whom he is still friendly (not as uncommon as all that, my daughter's just been to the wedding of one of her ex-'s)? Does he feel guilty because they'd just had a row? He knew that she was depressed but he was too busy? Does she have a history of mental disorder (research what kind might have made her suicidal)?

    Personally, I think the gun-in-mouth is a cheap shot (pun intended) because it's so graphic. For emotional resonance, something a little less dramatic gives you more depth. Same scenario, but no gun, no blood, just her staring into the distance with unseeing eyes. Hand hanging over the side of the bed, empty bottle of aspirin on the floor. The checking for a pulse, the frenzied CPR attempt (does he even know how to do it, or is he just copying from TV [and the number of rookie errors I've seen "professionals" make on TV!]?),the desperate call to emergency services. Then, when he's had to accept that she really is dead, come the guilt, shock, everything else.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say you get the best effect by being deep in the POV character's head. Show your readers what your POV character sees, let them feel his reaction. You aren't describing the scene from a remote distance. You're not really describing the scene at all, except for what's necessary in order for the reader to understand what the POV character's seeing and feeling.

    The dead character is dead. That's not what you need to think about. Focus on your living character, and let us feel the shock he feels.
     
  7. Lance Schukies
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    Lance Schukies Active Member

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    I would try to shock the reader with a description of the aftermath, I read a pov like that and it stays in your mind.
     
  8. trimarine
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    trimarine Member

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    No self harming cuts, nothing like that.
    In the small farm town I used to live in, I can't think of one person I knew there who didn't have a gun. (hunting was a main sport and mountain lions were a pretty big problem.)
    The side character has cancer and only a few more weeks to live, so there's the reason for it. Yes there is a note.
    Yeah, I do see back of the head as cheap, I might try something different. I just want there to be a noise, something to get the mc up there the moment it happens.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Like others have suggested, focus on the impact the death has on your protagonist. I'd put away the attempt to shock, unless you are, indeed, going for intentionally lurid like American Psycho.

    Shot to the head is fine if that's how she would go. If she's worried of surviving it, she might try a more surefire way, like an alcohol-and-prescription- drugs cocktail. If she's strictly against gun control, she might decide to leave the world in some other way so as not to give more ammo to pro-gun control folk. Maybe she commits seppuku with a tanto knife and your protagonist is greeted with the sight of an open abdomen.
     
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  10. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Could he not simply bore her to death in three chapters?

    'Her rigid corpse wore the same glazed expression. I noticed nothing unusual at first, then when she did not yawn at my speech, suspected my woman was having another affair. Finally, I pinched her nose for a capillary response. She was certainly dead to me as I was to her, or so she said that same morning, oh the irony this time. I checked my train set, my Star Wars figures, then returned to our bedroom...'
     
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  11. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    The empathy part is up to you to generate in the preceding chapters. We have to care (at a minimum) about your MC so that when he/she reacts to the sight of the suicide we are equally concerned and affected.

    The death scene of the victim when I write one is to make it ugly and as un-glamorous as possible. My latest 'victim' was shot from behind as she ran towards my MC. There was nothing 'Hollywood' about her death; she simply falls to the pavement like a wet sack of noodles with a sickening thud. Her death is sudden, pedestrian and (hopefully) makes the reader angry that such a person could be killed off so callously. That is how my MC then reacts.

    The level of gore should fit the method. A self-inflicted gunshot wound as you describe is going to make a HUGE mess, the stuff recurring nightmares are made of. I think care must be used to make the scene troubling and distasteful yet not somehow glorify the violence as most Hollywood slasher films do. It should shock and repulse but not to excess. Hope that makes sense.
     
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