Death: An Ending, or a Beginning?

D is for Death...
D is for Death…

Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!

Death is as much a part of life as birth is, and in fantasy stories it can sometimes be more important. I’m trying to remember the last fantasy story – or really any story – I read that didn’t have death mentioned at all. I’m drawing a blank. 

How a character (and their culture) deals with death is going to be affected by what they believe about an afterlife, so you should have some bare bones of any religious (or anti-religious) beliefs that affect them jotted down somewhere. And don’t worry, religion will be one of the topics we cover in this A-Z series. Just not for a while.

On the Subject of Death…

Preparation

How much medical knowledge exists? Do people know how to dispose of dead bodies properly to prevent disease?

What is the climate and terrain? Are they able to bury people, or do they cremate bodies out of necessity? Or do they have a different method of disposal altogether?

How will inclement weather affect a burial? In cold climates, the ground may be frozen for several months, which may necessitate cremation. In hot climates, decomposition will set in faster.

Funerals

Who does the responsibility of preparing the body for disposal lie with? Does a family member traditionally take care of it, or is it hired out?

Is death seen as the next stage of life, or as something to try to escape?

Afterlife

What is the cultural view of the afterlife, and what are the criteria for either reward, punishment, or nothingness?

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Are there any rituals required for ushering a person into the afterlife, either pre- or post- death? Who is responsible for performing them?

Don’t Fear the Reaper

Oh shush, yes, I’m having fun with these.

But seriously, don’t be afraid of working death into your worldbuilding. It can significantly raise the stakes for a character, or diminish them, all depending on their beliefs about it.

Original Image used to create the banner for this post is by Rantes (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!

37 thoughts on “Death: An Ending, or a Beginning?

    1. You’re welcome! I… deal with a lot of death in my fantasy stories. Sometimes it’s a bit morbid when I sit back and go “Wait… how many people did I kill this time?”

    1. 😀

      Death is so much fun to play with, and I’ve definitely done more with it in my most recent work-in-progress, and I’m going to have to figure out some actual funeral services soon, and I’m probably way more excited about it than any normal person should be, haha.

  1. Very interesting! Death is definitely an important aspect in a lot of genres. The manuscript that I’m currently working on finishing (and hopefully publishing) is a zombie apocalypse story, so I dealt with a lot of death. lol I think I did a pretty good job, personally, but I’ll let the future readers determine that for themselves. ^_~

    1. Being confident in your own work is the first step! Zombies can be fun, too! I have a zombie, er, comedy short story I shared on my blog a few months back. It was fun to write.

  2. This is a very timely post. My first NaNo novel that I’m editing has an important death near the end. This makes a good checklist of things I need to consider in dealing with the other characters. Thanks.

  3. Hmm….looking at my current book, my main character deals with 4 deaths directly, and past deaths in her family. Death plays a huge role. I think you are right: how a character deals with death says a lot; we can go so many different directions. Also, I’m reading The Book Thief right now, which is narrated by the grim reaper! It offers a unique perspective on death in Nazi Germany.
    Shells–Tales–Sails

  4. Hi Rebekah!
    Nice to find you here on the A to Z…your post today is a good one. Stories with death in them, if done well, remind us why we need to live fully.
    On the other hand, the pandas are focusing on what they do best, which is being dynamically delinquent. Come over and say hi! The Panda Chronicles http://yourbrainonpandas.com

    1. Hey Bob, good to see you!

      Living life fully is a challenge we can all do better at, that is for sure!

      I will make it over to your blog in the next couple of days for sure! Prepping for a baby shower tomorrow afternoon, and between A-Z, that, and Camp NaNo, I’m sooo stretched for time this weekend.

  5. Ironic that we both we writing about death the same day 😉 I think this is one area a lot of writers shy aware from so I’m really glad you covered it 🙂

    *~MAJK~*
    A-to-Z Challenge 2014
    Mighty Minion of Co-Host Nicole Ayers
    @Safireblade on Twitter
    http://www.safireblade.com/

    1. I’m so behind on reading blogs >_<. I've been managing to get around the new ones to check out, but have had so much going on this week I can't stay caught up. Hopefully tomorrow!

  6. I love death. The MG series I’m writing has death (in a way ;)) in it. My YA has death in it. But the series of children’s books I will (hopefully) be writing, will not, of course have death involved of any kind.
    Just had a thought … how about writing a book where everyone dies and it suddenly ends right there! No explanation. No apparent ending! I wonder…
    Another great post by the way. 🙂

    1. Haha, it’s probably been done, and I can tell you if I read a book that ended that way, I would chuck it back at the author.

      Have you read the My Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers? The protagonists are assassin nuns who serve Lord Mortain, the saint/god of death. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend the series!

  7. Now I think about it, a lot of fantasies not only mention death but have death as a central theme. I’m thinking particularly of Harry Potter, in which the quest for immortality is a major theme, and the Chronicles of Narnia, which frequently talks about resurrection and the afterlife. Thanks for these tips on including death into our world-building.

    ~Tizzy @ Creative Therapy

    1. Thanks, Tizzy! Fantasy, I think, makes the exploration of death and the afterlife a ‘safe’ thing. We are free to speculate as much as we want, without fear of (as much) repercussion.

  8. Great post! I’m bummed that I discovered your blog after the challenge ended! I participated as well and also did “D” for Death and focused on my own fears surrounding the inevitable end. I would have loved to have followed you throughout the challenge, but following now! Loving your blog!! 🙂

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