Feeling well today? Read no further. But if you are strong of stomach and engaged in writing a novel in which a character isn’t going to make it to the end of the story, read on.
When I was writing ‘fan fiction’ for a site dedicated to the 1960s western, The Big Valley, I received a fair share of ribbing over how I mercilessly killed off characters. It’s true, and I did it quite well thank you.
Some of you may remember the scene in Gypsy in which the veteran strippers were advising the young soon-to-become Gypsy Rose Lee. In essence they told her anyone could take her clothes off; it was the way she did it which would lead to success or failure on the ‘wicked stage’.
So, I offer the same advice to writers who kill--do it with creativity and finesse, and if you are writing something set in the past, do it with authenticity! Below are some lists and links to help you out!
- Cyndi’s List
- Old Disease Names
- Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms
- OldDisease Names Frequently Found on Death Certificates
- Glossary of Old Names
While some of the old causes of death sound amusing to us, the tragic fact is that people died of relatively minor illnesses which are quickly curable today. Women, infants, and children were at high-risk for death by disease. Men died from disease, too, as well as from occupational accidents and by violence.
The scourges of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and pneumonia took their toll. Childhood diseases such as measles often meant a death sentence for children. Diabetes and kidney disease were known but not really understood and certainly untreatable.
Most early doctors had only limited, rudimentary training. Added to the lack of medicine, especially antibiotics, and inability to aggressively treat disease, they could only see lives into the world and, sooner or later, see them out again.
Life wasn’t easy in the good old/bad old days, nor was it long.
- Life Expectancy in the U.S. 1900-1998
- Life Expectancy by Age,1850-2004
- In Colonial America, the average life expectancy at birth was only 35 years, and 1/3 of the population died before the age of 16!
Anyone who watches crime-drama on television or in the movies sees characters die violently. They die by gunshot, strangulation, blunt-force trauma, and overdoses just to name a few. There’s not much a writer can do to change the how, so they have to change the where and why in order to be different.
In old western movies, we see people shot and hung--that’s about it. But it’s the dialogue and settings surrounding these deaths which make them different. Last words, heroic struggles, reactions from other characters--all these change the entire scenario.
So be creative. Kill that character--but do it with finesse!
Wednesday--Part II: The Most Vulnerable Among Us
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