Ten Things I’ve Learnt about Writing about Death

I’ve written about Death a little bit these last few years, just in case you hadn’t noticed, and I’ve learnt a thing or two, or (to tie in with the title) ten.


1. People have to die.

Or Death just twiddles its bony thumbs, and starts a lawnmowing business. And then people die either of boredom, or because you’ve kind of ripped off Terry Pratchett a little bit, and you’re answering emails asking if you realized that that was the plot of Reaper Man (sort of).


2. Death isn’t a joke.

Death can be cruel, ridiculous, and tragic, but if you treat it as a joke, it becomes meaningless. I was writing comedy, but not farce. Death’s the punchline, but it isn’t the joke. Though sometimes you just want to tell the one about Death walking into the bar – it’s a real killer.


3. Death wants all the cool lines.

Seriously, it does. I think the moment a character says, “ I am Death,” there’s a certain amount of inescapable gravitas. Though if it then reveals that it can’t really play chess all that well you’re undercutting it a bit – unless you have this story where Death has entered a chess tournament in order to win enough money to say an orphanage from evil property developers. Remember, with cool lines comes great responsibility.


4. Not everyone dies every day.

Even in a book about Death. Death itself isn’t a story, it’s an ending, or a beginning (depending on how you want to look at it). People die, people live to die another day, or something like that.


5. Death isn’t dying.

Death really isn’t dying – dying through illness or accident is the sort of stuff life manages (you’ll notice how life doesn’t usually bother with the proper noun, it figures it doesn’t need the capitalization to sound important, life’s a bit smarmy). Death can be an ending to suffering. It’s not the suffering itself. People often get the two mixed up. Which is why Death is frequently regarded as an object of horror, or even a monster. But don’t blame the messenger. Death’s really just there to keep the dead company until they pass onto the other side/place/state of being – it even keeps a game of travel Scrabble in the pockets of its cloak*.


6. Death hasn’t had a pale horse since it bought its first car in 1928.

 Hardly surprising, I mean, horses are high maintenance, and my Death lives in a city that isn’t exactly horse friendly, and when was the last time you saw a stables outside a morgue, mortuary, gym or anywhere else in town?


7. People have been writing about Death since writing began.

Death, the Underworld, and dying they’ve been obsessions of people and cultures for a very long time. I guess that’s what happens in a world where things die. There’s a rich history of Death in mythology and popular culture. Everything from Ankous to Psychopomps and sparrows. Actually you’d be hard pressed to find anything that hasn’t been used as a symbol of death – except, maybe toothbrushes.


8. Scythes are kind of cool.

They really are, there’s lots of excellent words that concern themselves with scythes, like did you know that the shaft of a scythe is called a snath? And that to lop something off is to snathe. Next time you get a haircut tell them you want a thorough snathe, make sure they finish well above the neck.


9. Death is a good dancer.

Well, actually, no. Not that that matters because the Danse Macabre is really just a conga line, and that’s easy as long as you can kick in time with the music.  However, Death has an exceptionally awesome taste in music. At least in my books it does. Every good death needs a brilliant soundtrack (hmm, I think I have the subject of my next blog post).


10. When writing about Death, you’re really writing about life.

Death is meaningless without life. You don’t get a great ending, narratively speaking, without something at stake – usually the bigger the better. In the Business of Death all life on Earth is threatened by an ancient and very angry god. There’s a great deal of irony involved when only Death can halt the Apocalypse. But I guess it’s true what they say there’s only two things you can count on in this life Death and taxes, and when did the taxation department last save the world?**


*This may not be Death Works canon.


**I’m sorry, I’m sure the Taxation Department is always saving the world. In fact, if there isn’t a series about a Paranormal Tax Investigation Agency there should be – just send me four percent of the royalties.