[Insert generic analogy about being gone], but now I’m back! [Continue the analogy and add a clause containing a joke about almost dying], but I wouldn’t dare die on you guys when I still have this blog to take care of! [Insert another tryhard joke about liking, sharing and subscribing], and maybe I won’t [continue the analogy and mention another way you could die]!
Y’know, sometimes I think I’m the smartest man alive. Just when you think I’ve run out of original unfunny ways to blow the first paragraph of a blog post, you’re wrong: I jump around and immediately boggle the mind with more insanity. Wait, if I rely on insanity to boggle the mind, then doesn’t that make me…?
Enough of that! I’ve already wasted two paragraphs, and now it’s time to get to the actual damn topic of today’s article. This blog post will tell you all about how to pull off a double-twist character death (batteries not included), including all contingencies and other tips thereunto. (not to be stolen, bought or traded except in the case of unicorn invasion…also, what the hell am I doing?)
But what exactly is a double-twist character death? Well, the twist part would indicate a subversion of expectations; kind of like how a “twist villain” is a villain whom you didn’t expect to be one. But a double-twist character death? That’s when you have a character die, but not really die, but then actually die.
Now, some people might say that this is in fact a triple-twist character death, but I would disagree. After all, it’s still a character death, but with two twists: one, that the character is going to die, the other, that the character isn’t going to die. I wouldn’t count the actual death as another twist, as it’s just a natural part of the “death” in the double-twist character death.
But why would you even want to pull one of these off? It just seems horrible and complicated (see Occam’s Razor) and writing is already horrible and complicated enough. Why don’t you just kill the character, have them go out in a blaze of glory or something, and have that be that? Plus, if you brought back a character from the dead, isn’t the whole point of that character to stay alive?
All excellent questions, all of which I will endeavor to answer. First of all, remember calculating compound interest equations in middle grade? (gives me Vietnam flashbacks but alas, we must press on) In the first year you get a hefty sum of interest, but it compounds as you go into the second year leading into an even greater amount of money earned in the next year.
With a double-twist character death, you’re compounding the sense of loss. First, you show us that X character will die. If you’ve done your job as a writer, the reader does not want this to happen. Then, you alleviate the reader’s fears by then rescuing the character and setting the story on the path to recovery. Now that the reader is lulled into a sense of safety, the real blow falls: you kill the character, for real this time.
One of my favorite examples of this is in Titanfall II. (An excellent sci-fi shooter game with a knockout campaign and an endlessly fun multiplayer, moddable on Steam and $2.99 when on sale) I’m about to spoil the campaign ending, so if you have any interest in gaming, I suggest you skip this part. It’s worth playing by all accounts.
But anyway, the player character’s giant robotic friend (known as a Titan) named BT 72-74 goes through thick and thin with you, coming close to sacrificing his life a few times to keep you safe. At one point, however, BT is badly damaged and the two of you are captured, leading to BT getting smacked around by the IMC until he starts to fall apart. Just before he does, however, he gives you his data core which contains weapons that help you escape. You leave BT’s corpse in the ruined wreckage of the enemy base.
But wait! By plugging BT’s data core into the chassis of a new titan, the new chassis becomes the BT we all know and love! Hurray! He’ll live after all! Now he can’t do the dramatic last-stand heroic sacrifice to save the player character, can he?
Of course, you’re wrong. The final mission of Titanfall II’s campaign sees BT and the player character venturing into the heart of the IMC’s superweapon, and in a split-second move, BT sacrifices himself to get you to safety, but completely destroys himself–data core and all– in the process.
You were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that the worst was over when BT literally almost died, so much so to the point that you actually thought he was dead. (Spoilers for various other things follow) They do the same thing in Spider-Man: No Way Home with Aunt May and again with Zephyr from Tales of Arise. By coaxing the reader into the mindset that “the worst is already over”, you can surprise them even more by showing them that it isn’t.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!