Wordy Wednesday: Captain America and the Brain-Eating Amoeba

Merry Christmas Eve!!!

Since I got home for break, it’s been a whirlwind of family bonding stuff, catching up with friends, and catching up on life. (I think I go to more doctor appointments over winter break than the rest of the year combined.)

It’s weird being home. I haven’t spent more than a few days at a time here since May, and now this is where I’m at for two weeks, and it’s just. It’s weird. (Not bad weird, of course. I love finally being able to see everyone again. But definitely weird.)

In other news: In a moment of weakness (read: boredom) at one in the morning, I joined Instagram. So far I’ve posted two pictures and they have both involved my dog. You can check me out at: instagram.com/julia_the_writer_girl

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is the short story promised after my tangent last week. I wrote this for my creative writing class this semester, but could never get it to work quite right, but it’s really weird and I had fun writing it. So here we go.

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“You shouldn’t do that.”

The boy stands a few feet from the edge of the lake, arms crossed and barely visible blond eyebrow cocked. He’s wearing a red Arsenal FC soccer jersey, khaki Bermudas, and a pair of navy blue Converse high tops that barely peek over the untamed grass.

How British.

I roll my eyes and return to floating on my back. “Why? Amoeba going to eat my brain?” I squint against the sun and pull my t-shirt flatter against my stomach. Thank God I was too lazy to bother taking my clothes off before diving into the lake, or this could be really awkward right now.

As is, the boy stands beside my discarded socks and ugh, yes, Converse high tops. He glances at the baby blue shoes and a muscle ticks at his jaw. “No.” The disgust in his voice is as thick as the leek and potato soup the inn served my family last night. And the night before. “Ever thought it might be bad for something other than you to spread your germs through that lake?”

I’m really not in the mood to deal with angsty British dudes today. Not when Rachel and Becca are halfway to Disney World on a chaperone-free road trip right now because their parents actually believe the law that states being eighteen means you’re a responsible adult.

And instead I’m stuck here, alone for yet another afternoon, a casualty of my parents’ research trip. In Wales.

“Ha.” I kick water in the boy’s direction. Maybe slightly more forceful than necessary. “Who cares. It’s hot and the water’s cool and no one’s around to reprimand me.” I roll my eyes again. “Except you, of course. What are you anyway? A park ranger?”

“A concerned human being.”

“No such thing.” I laugh, the sound a bark, and kick more water in his direction. “You have to at least be a crazy tree hugger or something.”

He lets out a breath. Crinkled lines stripe his forehead like his entire face wants to get in on the act of frowning. “You’re American?”

Somebody give that kid a prize.

I lift my hand towards the sky and my clenched muscles loosen as I watch the water droplets fall towards me, sparkling like crystal.

Birds sing somewhere in the hills. A sheep baas. The breeze plays with the long grass and rainbow of wildflowers that stretch in every direction.

My voice goes quieter. “Only by definition.”

“What’s that mean?”

I shift so I’m treading water rather than floating. “Yes. I’m American.” I look at the crumbling mountains surrounding the lake; the bluffs and boulders and stepping stone paths. This place is so clearly not the United States.

I want to go to Disney World with my friends.

I add, “Painfully.”

“I’m sorry.” He frowns. His eyebrows lower to a furrowed position. “You’re still going to need to explain that one.”

How does one go about explaining her own suckiness?

“I don’t know.” I shrug. The clear-as-air water shifts away in little rings of ripples. “I watch reality TV and listen to bad rap. I spent all of twenty-twelve in Toms shoes, not because I care about Africa, but because my friends thought it would be cool to look like we did. For my summer vacation, my parents dragged me to Wales, not because they want to spend time with me, but because they don’t trust me enough to leave me in Philly while they’re out here studying water pollution for a month. Or to go to Disney World with my friends, even though I’m just as responsible as Rachel and Becca, and their parents let them go, I’m just saying. But no. I’m in Wales instead of hanging with Mickey.

“And, to top it all off—and you’re really going to love this one,” I drag dripping bangs off my sunburnt forehead, “despite the fact the water pollution my parents are studying is manmade, here I am swimming in a crystal clear lake that isn’t coated in Keep Out signs only because the Welsh trust people to be smart and respectful enough not to assume this lake is here to be their swimming pool. I know all these things, yet here I am.” I shout to the sky, “Here I freaking am!” I look back to the boy, who appears to have taken a couple steps back, his frown erased by an uneasy, possibly frightened smile. “And despite all this, my first thought when you told me I shouldn’t be swimming was that it must be bad for me, not the beautiful lake I’m polluting with my germs.”

He cocks his head. The sun makes his unruly hair shine gold. “You’ve got quite a tongue in your head.”
I give a dry smile. “That’s not how my teachers put it.”

“If you know it’s wrong, why are you doing it, um—?”

“Macey.”

He nods. “—Macey?”

“Because it’s the clearest lake I’ve ever seen.” The pebbly bottom is visible far beneath me. Shining fish, a thousand shades of gray, meander past like the black and white film equivalent of Rainbow Fish. My toenails are flashes of red against their kaleidoscope scales. I look back at the boy. “It’s as clear as the sky. I thought it might feel like flying. Or, you know, not flying, but the way little kids imagine flying in their dreams.” And when you can’t fly with Dumbo at Disney World, you’ve got to take your opportunities to act like a five-year-old where you find them.

After all, college begins at the end of August. Which means it’s almost time to stop believing in Neverland and wizards and talking lions. If I don’t fly now, I never will.

“Little kids?” the boy asks.

“Fine.” I force a melodramatic sigh and flip a lock of stringy wet hair over my shoulder. “Me.”
For the first time, he cracks a smile.

While this did not begin as my mission prerogative, my stomach flips at the sight. No way, angsty British dude actually knows how to bare his teeth in a non-threatening way!

“Whoa, look at you!” I point. “You’ve got quite a pair of lips in your head.”

My cheeks go hotter than the E.coli-laced sand I made the mistake of walking through during our first day in Wales, when Mom and Dad were taking samples and berating me for not bringing more intellectual books to read. (In my defense, I packed stuff like The Outsiders, not Twilight.) I resist the urge to dunk my head.

His cheeks are red too, although that could be from the sun.

I ask, “What’s your name anyway, Mister Wilderness Protector Guy?”

His grin widens. “David.”

“Ooh. Fancy.”

“Fancy?”

“All the Davids I know go by Dave.” My graduating class, alone, had three.

“Well, that is also an option.” He takes a step closer to the lake.

All three Daves are, as British Boy would likely put it, “arseholes.”

“No. I like David.” They made fun of Rachel and Becca’s post-graduation Disney World trip. “So,” I need something to say, “you’re Welsh, then?”

“Not the best at accents, are you?”

“Hey now.” My tone is very serious. “You got the easy end of the stick. I have about the most American accent you can find. You guys all sound the same to me.” And I’ve yet to be anywhere in the United Kingdom outside this part of Wales, anyway.

I wanted to see the other UK countries while we were over here—or at least hit the Doctor Who Experience tour in Cardiff—but Mom and Dad refused to spend money on anything they couldn’t directly correlate to water pollution. They did not accept my offer to dump a bucket of bleach down a toilet in Edinburgh.

He laughs. The sound is scratchy but warm. “I’m English. From Bath.”

Example A of a place which visiting would make this trip two hundred percent less terrible. Not Go to Disney World Instead less terrible. But less terrible, nonetheless.

“Ooh, fancy curvy buildings and Roman baths you can’t use to bathe.” I practically shoot upward at this. “No wonder you don’t want me in the water! You’re used to everything but your kitchen sink being off limits.”

He points an accusatory finger. “You forget the washroom sink and bathtub.”

“Thank God you didn’t say toilet.”

“No, no.” He shakes his head. “That was only once, when I was five.”

Well, there could be worse ways to spend an afternoon than listening to the sure to be embarrassing account of a stranger’s folly.

I grin and paddle closer. “Sounds like it’s Story Time.”

The boy rolls his eyes, but sits on a boulder at the edge of the water and leans towards me, so obviously he was hoping I’d ask. Quiet, like he’s afraid the park’s roaming wild sheep will hear, he says, “My mum had just given me a new action figure for Christmas. Captain America. And—”

“Of course a British kid had a Captain America action figure.” I snort. I want to go home. He glares. “Sorry. Continue.”

Anyway, I took the bleeding thing everywhere with me. To the market, to bed—”

“—to poop?”

“Do you want to hear the story or not, Miss Macey?” His eyes narrow even further. They’re as blue as the lake.

No. Snap out of it. They’re just regular, ordinary blue.

“Only because you called me ‘Miss.’” My chin dips. “Which actually seems extremely off, based on the fact I just said ‘poop.’ I hate to break it to you, but you’ve got terrible judgment, bud. First you’re basically in a domestic partnership with a Captain America action figure, now you think an American girl who talks about human feces in such crass terms is a ‘Miss.’ Goodness. What will the Brits think up next.”

Louder and more firmly, he says, “So I was playing with Captain America one day—”

I giggle. “You’re lucky no random hikers just came over one of the hills, or that could have sounded really wrong out of context.” His scowl could beat my father’s after my last time begging for freedom this summer, as we took our post-graduation family photos and my classmates laughed with their relatives all around us. My cheeks warm again. “Continue.”

“Anyway,” he digs the toe of his high top against the smaller boulder in front of his, “short story made long by the numerous interruptions: One day I indeed took the action figure to the loo and he indeed took a swim. So of course, Five Year Old David had to stick his whole bloody arm in the water to rescue Captain Steve Rogers and—”

I can’t help myself. I burst, “Number one or number two?”

David grimaces. “Number three.”

“What?”

“Both.” He laughs a sad little laugh and rolls his eyes. “What a pants idea, Five Year Old David, yeah? Of course, it was during that period when you don’t understand why it’s important to wash your hands, so I had the stuff smeared all up my pasty little arm for the next hour before my dad found me playing with Captain America in my room.”

Crap. Literally. I can’t help it: I laugh long. Hard. The birdsong picks up like they’re laughing with me.

“This story just took a turn for the I Can’t Believe You’re Critiquing Me Swimming in Snowdonia National Park When You Walked Around with Poop on Your Arm for an Hour.”

He lifts his barely there eyebrows. “In my defense, I’d had five years of practice at life. You’ve had how many. Fifteen, sixteen?”

I cough. “Eighteen.” That magic number that means I’m somehow supposed to be both an adult and still a child. Too old to read The Outsiders, but too young to stay home alone.

“Actually?” His eyebrows jump so they nearly meet his hairline. His Adam’s apple bobs.

Jerk. “Don’t look so surprised, Sherlock.” I splash water at him and actually get some on his sneaker. He jolts away. I stick out my tongue.

“I forgot how young Americans look.” He examines his shoe like I splashed some of my parents’ E.coli on it rather than clean water. “And act.”

“It’s something in our water.” I splash more at the English boy. “Young country, young, beautiful citizens.”

“You’re a comedian.”

“And you are?” I raise an eyebrow. “You know, age-wise?”

This time, the burning complexion spreads all the way to his ears. It makes freckles stand out on his nose like islands in a sea of lava. “Seventeen.”

“Ha! I’m older than you!” I’ve actually got something over the kid who grew up in Bath. Who cares if it’s just a few months’ worth of waking up to alarm clocks and shoveling Lucky Charms down my throat.

“Oh, shut it, Turncoat. I’ll be eighteen in August.”

I wiggle my eyebrows. My smirk is smug. “But it’s June.”

“You’re a git.” He shakes his head, laughing. “No wonder your parents don’t want you around.”

The birds are quiet. The sheep are quiet. The breeze stops whistling through the grass and over the mountains.

I press my lips together. I hate the burning pressure behind my eyes.

I didn’t do anything to make my parents think they needed to drag me to Wales, when they clearly don’t even have any time to spend with me here. I graduated on the honor roll; I got into a decent school. I spent my weekends reading instead of going to parties and the one time they had to yell at me this year, it was because Rachel, Becca, and I were singing along to loudly to Frozen.

But he’s right. My parents both don’t want me gone and no longer want to spend real time with me.

And it’s stupid, but the pressure grows until it forces the first hot, fat, tear from my eye.

David’s smile drops. “Hey, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.” He grabs a pebble from the shore and lobs it at the water. It skips once, twice. “I’m an idiot. Just some random bloke you just randomly met. I don’t understand the situation.”

“No, no. It’s fine.” I close my eyes and force my lips to tilt up. It’s funny how a simple smile can soften the pressure. “It’s just—my parents were supposed to come with me to Snowdonia today. But they found some interesting new strain of E.coli in the water, out there in Colwyn Bay—they’re obsessed with E.coli—so they gave me a pocketful of pounds and the car keys and, now, here I am. As usual. Alone.” I don’t need to be. But they made me be.

I shrug. My shoulders barely lift above the water. My legs are numb from treading.

“You’re not alone.” David’s voice dips up like he’s surprised I’d think that.

“Oh, right.” I laugh. “This annoying English guy is here.”

“Actually, I was referring to wild sheep and cows and that amoeba that’s going to eat your brain, but—”

“Stop.” I splash him and this time he doesn’t shift away. He does look at his navy blue shoes and take a deep breath though, shaking his head. His expression is solemn. Guilty. “Wait.” My eyes widen. My voice rises to a squeal. “Have there actually been amoeba in this water this entire time and you’ve just been holding back that information on the off chance you’ll get to watch brain goo drip out of my nose or something?”

I can’t even imagine what my parents would do to me if I got in real trouble, after they dragged me to Wales over being a generally good person. Like, is there a college in Antarctica they could transfer my brain-dead corpse to before freshman year begins?

And oh my gosh, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to—

He’s laughing so hard, he doubles over and almost slips off the boulder. This time, the chorus of birds laugh with him.

“That isn’t funny!” I send a wave so large at him, it coats not only his Converse, but his Bermudas in dark freckles.

“Miss Macey,” he gasps between laughs, “you are insane.”

I glare. “What, no ‘daft’ or ‘batty’ or ‘mad?’”

“You watched too much Harry Potter growing up.”

Doctor Who, actually.” I swim closer to his boulder, where the water is shallow enough I can dig my toes between the little smooth gray stones. Fish dart around my ankles. I cross my arms.

“Let me guess.” David leans towards me. The face of the guy who told me not to swim in the lake is maybe a foot from mine. He’s grinning, all crooked white teeth and thick blond eyelashes and his soccer jersey shifting in the wind like a cape or a sail. I am still in the lake. I no longer quite would rather be at Disney World. “A Matt Smith girl?”

“Ew. David Tennant all the way.” I take on a valley girl persona, twirling my hair. “You know that episode when he’s Barty Crouch Junior?”

Now I’ll call you daft.” He pulls himself to his feet. He towers over me. “Let’s take a walk.”

“Only if you answer two questions.” I let myself drift onto my back. “One.” I raise a finger towards the sky. “Are you a serial killer?”

“No.” He shrugs with one shoulder. “You’ll be my first victim.”

“Great. And two.” I spread my arms wide, like a little kid’s dream of flight. “A walk to where?”

If I were at Disney World, I could go to Splash Mountain or It’s A Small World or the Mad Hatter’s teacups. All magical in a preset, follow-the-path sort of way.

But maybe the difference between being a kid and an adult is not that I need to stop believing in magic, but that magic is allowed to have fewer rules now. Because David’s reply is, “Anywhere.” And he takes in the mountains and hills and wildflowers. A sheep baas somewhere in the distance. And we’re the only two people to ever exist. “You’re in the most beautiful place in the world. Let’s go for an adventure, Macey.”

I swim to the edge of the lake and drag myself out. I wring out my hair and slip on my high tops.

Disney World will still be around next year. I can go then. Or maybe I’ll go somewhere new.

In the meantime, this place is its own form of magic. With its whispering breeze and swooping hills and laughing birds, maybe it’s time I found new ways to fly.

“All right, David.”

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Thanks for reading and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!*

~Julia

*I’ve clearly had a few too many cookies already.

Tales of Wales

This past week, my study abroad programme took us on a four day field excursion to Wales. It was absolutely UNBELIEVABLE there. So full of history and natural beauty.

The first day (Wednesday), we began with a visit to a field to examine some rocks that supposedly look like sheep (“supposedly” is an important word here), then stopped through the Avebury district, which is still in England, but near the Welsh border. It’s home to the big brother of Stonehenge, a group of trees Tolkien apparently used to write under, and several neolithic burial mounds.

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IMG_4667Please pardon my inability to properly take panos.

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From there we drove to our first stop in Wales: Tintern Abbey. Tintern Abbey is an old monastery that has long since lost its ceiling and floor–but the walls still stand.

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We also made quick stops in the Forest of Dean, explored the grounds of a castle at night, etc.

Throughout the trip, we mainly stayed in cute little inns that our group of twenty+ booked out. They fed us lots of hearty, home-cooked meals. Potato and leek soup might just be my new favorite thing (which is saying something since I normally abhor both potatoes and soup).

Day Two (Thursday) found us heading all over. We made stops in Caerwent, Wentlooge Levels and Peterstone Wentlooge, Caerffili Castle, Rhondda Valley, Brecon Beacons, Brecon, Builth Wells, Elan Valley, Cwm Ystwyth, and Cors Goch and Dyfi Estuary. (Basically: ALL THE PLACES.)

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IMG_4779Yes. Those are cows on the beach. (Also: the land on the horizon is Cardiff.)

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(Random note: I just finished watching the newer film adaption of Prince Caspian and it made me SO SAD about how my class is just about done and I’m leaving Oxford in a little over a week and I DON’T WANT TO GO.)

IMG_4841Our programme director made the mistake of stopping by a field with some horses in it to give a lecture on mountaintop removal mining’s effect on Welsh’s resources. The fact that I have approximately twenty pictures of the horses and none of the decimated mountaintops tells you how distracting they were.

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Day Three (Friday) was the highlight of the trip for me (and probably everyone else, too). We began with a visit to Barmouth, which is a gorgeous (but unfortunately polluted) touristy port by the Irish Sea. We then visited a beach and ate lunch overlooking a castle–followed by my absolute favorite part of the field excursion: hiking in Snowdonia National Park.

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IMG_4899I give you: Snowdonia. AKA The Most Beautiful Place This Side of Heaven.

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Also: Sheep.

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IMG_4966#SheepButtSelfie

We hiked up some hills and around a lake.

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We spent the night in a cute town along the coast called Llandudno. A friend and I explored the pier before collapsing exhausted into our beds.

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Day Four (Saturday), we began with a tour of the Great Orme Mine, which is the oldest known bronze mine in Great Britain and SUPER. COOL. (Both in the literal and figurative senses.) I was really tired of taking pictures at that point, though, so I skipped the iPhone shots of that one.

After that, we were off to another castle (Caernarfon, this time), followed by a tour of of a hydro-electric power station hidden entirely in a mountain (no pictures allowed, unfortunately).

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IMG_5095In this shot you can see part of the old wall the English used to keep the native Welsh out of their special little walled city, back in the day.

We made a couple more short stops after the power plant, but mostly we spent the rest of the day on the bus back to Oxford, alternating between slaphappy singalongs and sleep.

Gorgeous where it’s wild, unique and fierce where humans have done their best to tame it, Wales is a place unlike any other. Just… amazing. I desperately want to go back.

(But first things first: My programme is currently having a blanket fort party/movie marathon. So see ya.)

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Make Those Suckers Cry

Hello from Tuesday! My programme’s taking us all to Wales for the next few days, so I’m writing this post while packing and trying to figure out what exactly counts as “fashionably late” for Bar Night. (The college is currently hosting two things: a service in the chapel for visitors and a party in the bar for students. This is clearly a good combination.)

Anyway: life here at Oxford has fallen into a bit of a routine, with afternoon tea when it’s someone’s birthday, overly excited trips to Blackwells when we need new books for class, and punting whenever it’s not too hot but also not too rainy (a weather condition it is difficult to come by).

Saturday, after getting back from Harrogate, some of us got Thai food for lunch and saw Boyhood at the Phoenix Picturehouse in the evening. Sunday we went on an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed walking tour of the city and I wrote a paper about the importance of hobbits in Middle Earth. Then Monday was classes and one of our formal Monday night dinners (complete with croquet and champagne), and today I went to class (where we discussed Christianity and linguistics in Tolkien’s work), had cream tea with about half the programme to celebrate a birthday, and bought Christmas gifts for my CPs. And now, in a moment, I’m off to Bar Night.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post based off stuff we talked about in class. (Ish. Not as much as last week. But, ya know, I needed a way to intro this and all that.)

Warning: Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, Random Middle Grade Books, and Lauren Oliver Books in General spoilers abound.

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In real life, I literally will not hurt a fly if I can help it. In fiction, if a story (minus light, feel good stuff) doesn’t deliver at least one good character death, I AM NOT HAVING IT.

This is less because I enjoy my favorite characters suffering as much as that I am a masochist when it comes to my reading experience. I want to feel something. I want to laugh, I want to Feel the Awk, I want my heart to pound, I want my hear to stop, I want to accidentally “Awww!” in public, and yes: I want to cry.

Character deaths can be useful in accomplishing about half of these. I’ll let you take bets on which ones.

This is because different types of character deaths exist. Not, like: the antagonist poisoned one character and another died from a natural illness. (Although, of course, that’s also a thing.) It’s more like you can write deaths in different ways to accomplish different effects.

1. The Shocking Death

Unless a character already has a death sentence on his head (cancer, prophecy, etc.), chances are his death is going to be unexpected to the reader. This is why a character death will seem so much worse the first read through than in subsequent rereads.

Shock is an easy emotion to instill in a reader. You literally need only pull the death out of “seemingly” nowhere. JK Rowling used this type of character death frequently throughout the Harry Potter series. Basically: her character deaths worked essentially as plot twists, with only side focuses put on them for character development and to add momentum to the plot.

Unfortunately, putting your largest emotional focus for a death on its shock value makes it less emotional for a reader who knows it’s coming. (Story time: I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until several years after Deathly Hallows had come out, so I already knew about all the deaths and they didn’t affect me a ton. Except one. NOBODY. WARNED. ME. HEDWIG WAS GOING TO BITE IT. I have never cried so hard for a fictional owl.)

2. The “Pity the Living” Death

(I’m giving up on not making absolutely everything a Harry Potter reference from here ’til the end of time. Sorry not sorry.)

This is the type of death in which you draw the reader’s focus away from the actual tragedy of death itself and instead place the focus on the survivors. These are the characters left behind; the ones who must now grieve; the ones who must keep going despite what’s just occurred.

A solid example of this comes from Divergent, in which Tris’s mother sacrifices herself for Tris–but directly afterward, Tris has to keep moving and fighting. She has no chance to properly think through what’s happened or grieve. It’s the type of death that makes you feel more sympathetic towards, and worse for, those left behind than those who’ve done the leaving.

3. The Unfair Death

This is the death where the character has done so much and tried so hard to save herself, but she dies anyway. Or someone else has been trying hard to keep him alive. Or she had so much more to potentially give the world. Or he quite simply didn’t deserve to die in the manner that he did.

Suzanne Collins does this type BRILLIANTLY in Mockingjay, when the rebels kill Prim. The entire reason that the plots of all three books in that trilogy exist is that Katniss wants nothing more than to protect her sister. Then, in the end, what it takes to end the conflict–what would finally make the world safe for her sister–is her sister dying.

4. The Accidental Death

This is similar to the Shocking Death, but different in the fact that it’s random. I feel like a Shocking Death generally involves an opponent of some kind. Maybe your character’s in a battle or she’s been duking it out with her arch nemesis. An accidental death, on the other hand, is something that just happens to happen. He steps into the street without looking or there’s a peanut in her salad. It’s a reminder to the reader that life is fragile and anything at all can happen.

This type of death presents itself a lot more in stories for younger readers, I’ve noticed. Primarily middle grade and chapter books. Good examples come from Walk Two Moons and A Taste of Blackberries.

5. The Sacrificial Death

This is my favorite type of character death. It’s the one in which the character goes into a dangerous situation knowing she won’t be coming back back–knowing she doesn’t necessarily NEED to do it, only someone else will get hurt if she doesn’t–but she does anyway. Lauren Oliver does this beautifully in both Before I Fall and Delirium. There’s just something so beautiful and haunting and intriguing about sacrifice.

Of course, all character deaths have some amount of each of these elements mixed in, but when writing a death, it’s generally a good idea to have an idea for the type of emotional response you’d like to evoke in the reader.

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What types of character deaths have you noticed? What types make you react the most? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia