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!
MelodyApril 4, 2014 - 1:34 am ·
I think this is a particularly interesting post in your worldbuilding series. I look forward to reading more!
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 7:41 am ·
Thank you! Death really is fascinating, especially in fictional settings where you have free reign over everything!
Pen of the SheepApril 4, 2014 - 3:48 am ·
I view death as a begging, the begging of eternity!
Pen of the SheepApril 4, 2014 - 3:49 am ·
Beginning not begging lol stupid auto correct!!!!
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 7:47 am ·
LOL! Begging was a bit funny…
Death is the beginning of eternity to me, as well. 🙂
But I’m still going to play with it in my stories, hehehe.
Pen of the SheepApril 6, 2014 - 1:14 am ·
I would encourage that! 🙂
Sophie DuncanApril 4, 2014 - 6:02 am ·
Death is not something that I’ve dealt with in my fantasy stories, but you raise some good points for me to consider when I do. Thanks,
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Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 7:53 am ·
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?”
smbloodingApril 4, 2014 - 8:52 am ·
I’m loving what you’re doing with this!!! GREAT theme idea!
I actually enjoy playing with death in my world building. Sometimes it has a bigger impact. Other times, you don’t see all the intricate little death things going on in the background. It’s a fun card to play around with.
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 9:03 am ·
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.
smbloodingApril 4, 2014 - 9:20 am ·
LMAO! No worries!!! I totally understand that!
TraceyLynnTobinApril 4, 2014 - 9:24 am ·
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. ^_~
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 5:35 pm ·
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.
TraceyLynnTobinApril 5, 2014 - 11:34 am ·
Oh I would love to read that! I’ll have to check it out! I’m a big zombie fan. lol
Rebekah LoperApril 5, 2014 - 8:10 pm ·
It’s right here, Tracey! Hope you enjoy!
TraceyLynnTobinApril 6, 2014 - 8:07 am ·
Thanks Rebekah! I’m saving it in a tab for as soon as I get my writing done for the day. ^_^
Robbie WaltersApril 4, 2014 - 9:32 am ·
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.
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 5:35 pm ·
You’re welcome, Robbie! Glad it’ll help you!
AndrewApril 4, 2014 - 1:44 pm ·
Now I’m more interested in stories without death. I’m going to have to figure out if I have any.
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 5:36 pm ·
Hehehe. I… don’t know that I have any stories without death. It’s such a convenient way to mess with your characters.
melanie schulzApril 4, 2014 - 2:17 pm ·
Death is at the core of many of our fears, isn’t it?
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 5:37 pm ·
Indeed it is!
Sharon HimslApril 4, 2014 - 2:56 pm ·
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.
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 5:38 pm ·
I have not read The Book Thief yet, but it jumped higher up my to-read list when I first found out it was narrated by the grim reaper!
cadmiumvioletApril 4, 2014 - 2:59 pm ·
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
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 5:42 pm ·
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.
cadmiumvioletApril 5, 2014 - 10:50 am ·
Pandas will patiently await your perusal.
Patricia Lynne (@plynne_writes)April 4, 2014 - 6:36 pm ·
This post instantly made me think of precautions a character would take in a world that is superstitious. Like staking a body to ensure it doesn’t rise as a vampire.
Rebekah LoperApril 4, 2014 - 11:16 pm ·
Definitely! That is one aspect I didn’t really cover in this post – precautions by the living to protect themselves from the dead.
MAJKApril 5, 2014 - 12:17 pm ·
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 🙂
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Rebekah LoperApril 5, 2014 - 8:12 pm ·
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!
sdneeve1April 7, 2014 - 1:40 am ·
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. 🙂
Rebekah LoperApril 7, 2014 - 9:43 am ·
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!
tizzypottsApril 16, 2014 - 7:08 am ·
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
Rebekah LoperApril 16, 2014 - 10:18 pm ·
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.
christinavargaMay 18, 2014 - 5:52 pm ·
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!! 🙂
Rebekah LoperMay 18, 2014 - 8:34 pm ·
Thanks, Christina! I didn’t get around to nearly as many blogs as I wanted to during the A-Z Challenge, either. Thanks for the follow! 🙂