How character deaths that occur before the house lights dim can be more effective than all the special effects and fake-gasp-chest-clutching in the world.
By Annissa Omran (Writer/College Student)
Lately I’ve been working on a story in which one of my peripheral characters must meet his maker. It’s okay, he certainly deserves it. But as I continued to develop the story, I realized just how varied my options were.
(I understand Crazytown opinions of Ms. Zeta-Jones are mixed, but you can't tell me you don't scream-sing this song in the shower)
Think about it. When it comes to plot building, there are so many ways in which a character can bite the dust.
Being an extreme sucker for the usual methods of heartstring tugging, I’ve always been especially vulnerable to the killing of characters. I’ve spent many a night cursing a writer for his decision to send a favorite protagonist to an early grave.
That being said, I find a strange comfort in wielding that sword of mortality in my own work. It has something to do with the artistic power to create and destroy and all that jazz. As a writer, you hold the cards and the ultimate ax is yours to do with as you see fit.
However I think the most interesting method of character killing is when you kill him/her before the curtain even goes up, before the title page is flipped, and before the beginning credits roll.
One aspect of the class I did enjoy, though, was his incorporation of movie-viewing in the curriculum. On the very first day (it was a night class – the horror!) he whipped out a VHS copy of the television special of a short play I’d never heard of – Andre’s Mother, by Terrence McNally.
The titular Andre is never shown in the film. Instead, the main action of the story focuses on the day of the funeral along with flashbacks involving interactions between his friends and family. The main conflict comes in the form of the tension between Andre’s mother and Andre’s lover, Cal, whose presence in Andre’s life was something his mother never truly accepted and still fails to accept after his death from AIDS.
Andre’s absence from the play/film leaves room for the remaining characters – the mother and Cal – to move about and react accordingly to his passing. It is a heart rending story of grief and acceptance, tolerance and love.
So, naturally, I bawled my eyes out.
So much so that Professor Lion King called me out on it the next day, asking everyone in the mainly adult class to turn and look at the sixteen year old girl who had little control over her tear-ducts.
But I stand by those sobs.
Another effective off-stage death occurs in the musical Next to Normal. Diana is a mother dealing (or more accurately, not dealing) with the death of her son, an event that occurred sixteen years prior to the events of the musical. Gabe, unlike Andre, is present in the show as a manifestation of Diana’s tortured subconscious, effectively adding tangibility to the shows exploration of mental illness, grief, and the family dynamic.
Plus he gets to show off some sweet pole dancing skillz:
(Before Aaron Tveit got all big and Miserable)
Switching gears to film, The Big Chill is another good example. A group of thirty-somethings are reuinted by the death of a friend from college. Again, the dead character, Alex in this case, is never shown. He merely stands for their burgeoning awareness of their own mortality as they come to terms with the responsibilities of adulthood.
Added bonuses include a killer soundtrack and the presence of Kevin Kline.
(Because we all know I can't resist a Kevin Kline film)
Was this a morbid choice of topic? Certainly. But is it something that should be discussed, regardless of societal taboo? Definitely. Life and death are just two sides of the same coin and they are concepts that can be rendered beautiful if executed properly in a kick-ass work of art. Death, in the right creative hands, is something to appreciate.
That's not to say I'm not clinging to life with the tenacity of a whiny preschooler at drop-off time. No, I still have to catch up on this week's episode of Smash first!
 Author's Note: Days after writing this post I came across an Entertainment Weekly article that, like most Crazytown contributors, predicts the end of the era of Smash. The article contained spoilers (which was unfortunate considering I STILL haven't seen this week's episode) and referred to us fans/un-fans as "smashochists". I'm not sure if that EW writer created the term but I thought that title fit perfectly.
is currently a college student and eternally a writer. An old movie aficionado, her interests include show tunes, singing loudly, and singing show tunes loudly. She also provides a (dramatic) running commentary on the life of a young writer.www.annissaness.tumblr.com
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