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