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The "new" Death

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by martinH, Apr 18, 2019.

  1. martinH

    martinH Acolyte

    Hi everyone, I am looking for a bit of advice and a focused discussion, as I am in the state of deep analysis at the moment. So, I apologize in advance for a lengthy explanation.

    For some time I have been thinking about writing a comedic fantasy story, as I am a big Terry Pratchett fan. I am a professional stand-up comedian and I have some writing experience as well, so it is not that much of a stretch to try and come at the fantasy genre from the funny side.

    I want to aim for the slap-sticky sword and sorcery feel with metaphysical fooling around, as I feel it really matches what I am trying to get at, plus my country is really hung up on middle ages—castles, folk heroes, wise kings etc. This atmosphere would inherently bring up a Discworld in most readers minds, I believe. I don't have illusions of getting anywhere close to quality or depth of Discworld, but I still feel I should try and go with this story, since I am really good at making people laugh. I don't want to make a fan-fiction, I want to go about it my way as much as possible, but I KNOW any and all comedic fantasy like this one, will always be compared to works of Mr. Pratchett, so here are some ground rules I set for myself:
    • build a story around current social and political climate in my country (Slovakia)
    • build upon Slavic mythology and meta-text mythology of native legends and fairy tales
    • openly admit to being a Discworld fan via meta-text references (Same as Mr. Pratchett did with Lovecraft for example)
    I read a lot of Pratchett and I think I will subconsciously emulate his style in many aspects of text building and story building. I don't think there is anything I can do about it since Pratchett was a great influence on me since my teens. I tried to avoid world building as much as possible and concentrate on a singular story I am about to do, but I ran into a bit of a snag...

    The death of my characters. Death is perhaps the most iconic Discworld character and I believe it is fairly important in the text building and joke building as well. Anytime a character dies, Death comes around and creates a short comical dialogue or sketch that really lightens a relatively heavy atmosphere of someone dying.

    And here is my problem, I need to be able to make my characters die and keep the text light-hearted at the same time. Using a personification of Death in ANY way will definitely feel like a very discworldy thing to do. So, even if I use female personification of death from Slavic mythology, it might feel like cheap spin. What do you guys think? Is it worth while trying to create a personification of Death at all? Or of other metaphysical beings, for that matter, that would not feel like Discworld fan-fiction?

    I was hoping a discussion might help me get some inspiration on how to deal with this particular problem and maybe give me a key on how to handle other metaphysics in my comedic fantasy.
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Welcome to the scribes martinH! I think it's cool that you're a comedian.

    I had a story concept for a Viking setting during Ragnarok. Whenever an "honorable" male character was about to die, he would stop, kiss a Valkyrie that came to him and that only he could see, and two seconds later get his head cut off, or take an arrow to the eye. Most of the time it served to make the tension a lot higher because you sometimes didn't know the character was even about to die. Sometimes it was kind of funny, but in a dark way.

    I bring it up because it's an example of how there are other ways to personify, or bring a touch of magic, to death. A character could encounter a vision before their death, or flowers and fireworks could sprout up around the body, or little mites people could march out of the nose carrying away pieces of brain. Illusions of their life's best moments could glimmer in front of everyone over the body, something that could even reveal a plot point. A spirit animal could appear, like a Harry Potter patronus, to pick up the soul. The body could dissolve into a mushy gelatin of bright colors that reflect the emotions they expressed in life.

    In Pratchett's case there were words of comfort serving to send off the character. You could switch that up a little and have the deceased send off a final letter to comfort those left behind, perhaps one that appears on a page in a book at a temple.

    I hope something of that helps!
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  3. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    My advice is to always give the story what it needs. If it needs Death as a character, than in he (/she/it) goes. Worst that can happen is you try it out, it rings badly and you remove it.

    Death is actually good material for comedy, I would be surprised if you could not find ways to keep it light hearted even if you did not have the Death character. From my perspective, I think it would be really cool to read that, enjoy it, and learn a bit about Slavic mythology at the same time. I would enjoy the Slavic goddess of death.

    Disc world had its time. Are setting out to write Disc World? If not, then carry on.

    PS: If you are a stand up comic, you are a very brave man.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  4. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Reminds me of the Grim Reaper in Bill and Ted:

    So yes, death can be made funny.
  5. martinH

    martinH Acolyte

    Hi guys,

    thank you for answering. You were very helpful. I will most probably go with "what story needs." Not personificating the Death character but rather go for the "Valkyrie" kind of thing DevorDevor suggested. I am playing with the idea of actually inserting Pratchett's Death character as a kind of spoof. A character would see a figure in the long cape with a scythe, thinking it is Death, but rather it being something completely different. That might turn out into a nice situational humor.

    HelenHelen I used to love this movie like 10 years ago. Thank you for reminding me of it. It is actually good way to make death funny, by keeping the Grim Reaper very neutral and rather than him building a character, having characters in the book add their character on to him via confrontation. And it can be somewhat fitted with the abstract death idea mentioned by Devor.

    You are right and I am not. I trying to keep myself on a short leash for this project and focus on a single story. The thing is... I made a bit of a name for myself as a comedian, so people know me more as a funny dude rather than an author. And now they kinda expect me to publish funny texts. I published a noir-fantasy thing and there was a lot of feedback like "why is it not funny?"

    And I understand it is not ideal to go for what people expect of you at all costs. However, I am a starting autor and I need to build some sort of marketing traction and popularity (if at all possible). And this seems like a good fit. I can see myself writing a novella in this tone... However, having this turn into a series of some sort, scares me half to death. I know I am waaaay of topic at this point, but do you have any sort of experience with this? I mean going for the text people expect of your "public persona" when you hearth is like half-way in it...
  6. There's so many different personifications and deities of death, you have the whole of mythology to explore.

    Also, have you read any of the Sandman comics? I love the Death in that [Neil Gaiman is one of my top three favourite writers, along with Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones]. She's so sweet and honestly a breath of fresh air after so many deaths that put the grim in 'grim reaper'. She's exactly the kind of girl I could fall in love with.

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