We’ve all seen it before. The Fault in Our Stars. The Hunger Games. Allegiant. Game of Thrones. All seems to be well. The characters aren’t facing much difficulty. The plot line is starting to flatten and the story starts to become a little stuck. Not much can happen next…
UNTIL BAM, A FIRE COMES OUT OF NOWHERE AND EVERYONE DIES.
Welcome to the 2016 world of YA novels.
It seems like every book and their dog nowadays ends with the death of a major character, the death of a dear friend, or the death of the major character. It’s become so commonplace nowadays that happy endings were everybody lives are now the rare stories to find.
I find it so hard to be touched by stories nowadays, simply because at the start of every story, I steel myself to not get too attached to the characters since it’s so likely that they’ll be killed in the end anyway.
But the big question here, is this really necessary?
Let me tell you about a manga I read. Some of you may actually read this manga at the moment, but I won’t name it because some of the stuff I plan to talk about includes spoilers for later sections of the story, but it goes like this. Because the manga is so “fluffy”, if you know what I mean (it’s not deep or meaningful in any way at all – pure entertainment), the author seems to have some sort of thing against killing people. Not a single person – not a bad guy, not a good guy – has died in the entire series (and it is a few hundred chapters and has been going on for years and years.)
However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not emotionally invested in the series. There are few heart wrenching scenes where I found myself REALLY, REALLY SAD. (Literally all the comments below a few specific chapters consist of “OMG SO SAD” and ‘ARGHHH THE FEELS”).
So this brings to mind… is death really needed in stories? Is the sacrifice of life always needed? The resounding answer, for me, is no. Death is overrated.
In that manga I was talking about (some of you who read it might have guessed it – let me know in the comments), many people make sacrifices, yet so few die. Some make sacrifices of their time (one girl goes from a healthy young 20 something year old to a 90-year-old immediately after a super intense spell), others sacrifice things such as their powers (there’s a particularly sad scene where a girl sacrifices her power – and she’s a wizard, so it’s like saying you’re sacrificing both your arms – in order to save her friend). Another girl sacrifices her relationship with another person (that scene was particularly powerful).
There are so many things that characters can sacrifice that don’t necessarily mean that they have to die. In fact, when done well, non-death sacrifice can be even more effective than simple death. Sometimes, I feel like death scenes can be a bit abrupt (“and then acid rain came falling down and everybody died. The end”) and sometimes, it can feel a bit lazy (“oh no! My cousin is in danger! No! My cousin is now dead! *cue the emotional music and tears*).
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have death anymore – I’m just saying that there are other alternatives that are just as good – and sometimes even better – for when you want to spice up your writing.
What do you guys think about death in YA? Let me know in the comments below!