Deathfic

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Character Death, Death Story
Related: Afterlife, Angst, Darkfic, Denialfic, Presumed Dead
See Also: Tissue Warning, Dead Letters Challenge, Comic Book Death
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Contents

Pieta back cover First Time #46, Shelley Butler. The pose, which is an art classic, was used decades earlier in the drawing by Wendy Pearson accompanying the poem Pieta in Starbase M.T.L. #6. Death Fanart published in fanzines rarely carried the type of warnings that most fans demand today.

Fanfiction that focuses on the death of a character, usually a beloved canon character. Generally the term is reserved for stories where the death is a major plot element. Deathfic may be darkfic in which the focus is on the tragedy or horror of the character's death, or may focus more on elements of hurt/comfort or the angst and grieving process of the characters. Afterlife stories are a type of deathfic that focuses on what happens after death.

Deathfic is often ironically a mark of fans' affection for a character, and elaborate descriptions of funerals and grief-stricken friends (and sometimes enemies) are common. However, it may also be an outlet for fans' dislike for a character if the death has humorous overtones ("Isn't it jolly good fun that this character's dead!"). Deathfic written mainly for the opportunity to kill a character the author hates is often perceived as character bashing.

Many fans feel they should be warned for deathfic, although this usually only concerns major canon characters. The death of background characters or OCs that the reader does not already have an emotional attachment to is generally not considered disturbing enough to warrant a warning. Other fans feel that obligatory death warnings significantly spoil stories where the death is meant to be a surprise.

Presumed Deathfics are stories in which the supposedly dead character either turns out to be alive after all, or returns to life.

The phrase "partner failure" (as in the death of a partner is the failure of the other partner to keep him/her alive and/or the failure of the dead partner to keep himself/herself alive) was coined by James Walkswithwind in 1996 on the Virgule-L mailing list.[1]

art from Deep Grope, "The Death of Kirk" by Mike Eason

Is Every Story a "Death Story"?

The problem with stories is that they have to end somewhere. Life ends with death. Given the way we feel about death, if every story ended with death, we would say that all stories were sad. But every human being's story *does* end with death. So even if Bodie and Doyle stayed together to the end of their lives, they would still die, and if a story ended with their deaths, it would be a sad story. You know? Maybe that's what you mean by the kind of realism you don't want in your fic. (: I can respect that. But it makes tough work for even an author determined to write only happy endings: you've got to pick where to end it. Where the story ends changes everything.[2]

A Right, or an Infringement on TPTB?

In 1981, a fan comments: "Killing a Lucas character raises the question of our responsibility as 'secondary' creators toward 'primary' creations, and their author. Are they, in fact, Lucas' characters, or have they become 'our' characters through their public distribution in the movies. How major a change in characterization, motive, etc., can we legitimately make in them (and death is about a major a change as we can get, one would thing)? ... I think we would all agree it is a moral issue that every fannish writer has to take some sort of stand on..." [3]

When and How -- The Details

Some fans like or tolerate certain kinds of deathfic and but not others.

Often, a badly-written death story often doesn't have the same effect as a well-written one:
Some deathfics can be very poignant. One XF one... was very well-written around a funeral, with the death itself only mentioned briefly, and certainly lived up to its title of Bittersweet. It was a fine idea, well-executed and I suppose in one sense could be called a good story, but despite the writer's skill I wished I had never read it, because it has lingered quite vividly in my mind, and the sadness in it was just as prevalent as the love." [4]
Having two characters die together in as a heroic part of the job may be considered better than having one character "left behind." Other fans do not object to death (preferably together!) of two characters after they have enjoyed a long and happy life or if one character finally joins her or his beloved:
There can be said to be any saving grace in a death story for me, it is when the partner gets to join their lost love, whether by going out together in a blaze of glory, or dying later on.[5]

Variations on a Theme

In 1996 Sandy Herrold posted the following question to the Virgule-L mailing list:[6]
"At a local bash, we started discussing the perfect death story. Now, I'm not sure I believe that such a thing exists, so my mind immediately veered off to a grand question: How devastated would each of our slash heroes be by the loss of their partner (or plo: partner like object...)? (Extra points given for supporting points taken directly from canon --or-- entertaining use of contrast and compare with more than one fandom/pairing. Minus points for putting down one fandom while discussing another one.) "My partner's dead, just kidding" (genre named by Megan Kent, as far as I know) is a fav of mine, but it seems like the networks were more likely to use its corollary: "My partner's missing, and every one else thinks s/he's dead, but I know better" : (without trying, there's Blake's 7, and XFiles, and Starsky and Hutch more than once...), where they wouldn't have to show how one partner would actually respond to the loss of the other...."
In response, Michelle Christian wrote:
" Well, I have always felt that the idea that the surviving partner would automatically commit suicide because they could no longer live by themselves works in some fandoms, but hardly all. I think as well, that there are certain fandoms/pairings where it doesn't work because of the individual's personality, not because they aren't sufficiently emotionally devastated.

Garak/Bashir: Depends on how each of them went. I'm not sure what Bashir would do if somehow he got Garak on the operating table (in a professional copacity, so get your minds out of the gutter!) and Garak died.

Hawkes/McQueen--If Hawkes died, McQueen would go on, colder, more efficient, less emotional. Wonder if anyone would notice? If McQueen died: Lock up your sharp objects, load the tranquilizer gun and get the padded room ready! And there is something about the idea of a Hawkes gone totally berserk that appeals to me immensely. Please, Mummy, may I have one?!

Starsky/Hutch--One of the few series where suicide is the most natural outcome to me. The thing is that they would do it differently. I can see Starsky taking more risks, pushing things on the streets until he got taken out that way. I think Hutch, though, would very calmly go home, sit down and put his gun in his mouth. One of my favorite S/H death stories had Hutch getting shot and while Starsky was rushing him to the hospital, he bleeds to death in the Torino beside him. Don't remember the title or zine, I'm afraid, but it's lovely and very plausible. Then there's "Delivered to Thee" from the zine SHADOWPLAY.

I am hoping that DS gets renewed for two reasons: I want a Victoria returns episode and I want an episode where one of them thinks the other is dead, but of course, they've been kidnapped, are trapped under their car, being hooked on heroin... For some reason, I think they'd probably be more likely to do that Ray thinking Fraser is dead, and I have to say I have more ideas for that than the other. I can see Ray being so visibly and obviously distraught while everyone tiptoes around him. Fraser, I'm not sure how he would react. "[7]
Jan Levine rounded out the discussion:
"In some sense, I think Chris Power's "Endgame" is the perfect Pros death story. It has closure, it has hints (but not certainty) of an afterlife where the two of them can be together, and it's believable. (Well, I believed it.) Caveat: This was the very first Pros story I read, even before I saw any of the episodes, so I may have imprinted on it in some fashion.

I hate death stories where they may be dead, but their ghosts hang around being just as obtrusive as the ever were in life. There's a really annoying one of those in, I think, CHALK AND CHEESE, where Bodie commits suicide by accident after Doyle's death. By accident, fer gossake! Bodie? And even this category has well-done exceptions, such as the Tailor-Made sequence and M.Fae's "Floral Arrangement."

"How devastated would each of our slash heroes be by the loss of their partner (or plo: partner like object...)?" With Pros, I think it would depend on the manner of death. If there were others responsible for the death, I think dealing with (killing or bringing to justice) the killers would be the first priority.

If one of the pair felt himself directly responsible for the death of the other, I think it might lead to either overt or not-stepping-out-of-the-way-of-the-bullet type suicide. It's so easy to do that sort of story wrong, though. IMHO, that is. The lettercol in CHALK AND CHEESE had everyone praising (and sobbing over) "Nobody Waves Goodbye," but it gave me a fit of the giggles, something I'm sure the author didn't intend.

If it was something lingering that there was no one to blame for (AIDS probably doesn't count), it might give the survivor time to come to terms and move on eventually. (When a friend was diagnosed with astrocytoma, one of the nastier forms of brain tumor, I started toying with a Doyle-gets-cancer story. The friend turned out to be misdiagnosed -- they're not sure what she had, but it isn't cancer and most of the symptoms are gone -- and the story got put on long-term hold.)

I'll happily read just about any of these, as long as the author can make me believe it. In fact, I prefer a nice clean death story to the kind of see-how-they-can-make-each-other-miserable story that M.Fae specializes in. Though she makes me enjoy that, too! I'm a sucker for good writing, is all."[8]

Different Fandoms and Their Sort-Of Deaths

Stargate SG-1 and Daniel's various ascensions, Star Trek and Spock's death/katra, the temporary nature of death in the Buffyverse and many comics books...

Love Them

I for one *love* death stories! I didn't always like them, in fact I was very wary of them for some time because of the reaction they pulled from me. At best, they're absolutely gut-wrenching which should make any sane person approach them with trepidation. But over time I've found that I like to hop on that particular roller coaster and experience vicariously the emotional intensity they provide. I know that when I need a good wallow I can pull out Endgame or a Jane Mailander or an MFae. Sometimes its self-serving (I want to feel sorry for myself and enjoy the company) and sometimes its great inspiration (to hone the emotional blade a little). So who else here enjoys death stories (at least in moderation) and can you list some title/authors, in any fandoms, that are your faves? [9]
I wouldn't say I love them. I don't even think I can say that I really enjoy them all that much, but I will say that some of my favorite stories are ones that end rather definitively. This is the case in some of my favorite B7 stories (what else?). My all time favorite was an alternate "Orbit" ending that wasn't even a page long that I can never remember the name of. It was in SOUTHERN SEVEN 5. (Horrors, not even slash!) There is also the one Mfae, "They never even knew what hit them," story in one of the Oblaques. Again, I can never remember the title, and I'm not even sure it could be defined as a true death story, even though everyone, well, dies.[10]
I like heroes, and you can't have heroes without death. Usually it's just the threat of death, but they wouldn't be heroes if they didn't know what they were facing, and be willing to face it.[11]
"What exactly is the appeal of "death" stories?"

I guess this one falls to me to respond, since death stories are one of my favorite themes. It's almost as hard to explain as why I love slash, but here goes... I love to read about characters being called to the ultimate contribution, to give of themselves totally, to "show up" 100%.

There is a level of open emotion and vulnerability that is VERY attractive for me. (When I start to analyze myself, I think that it has to do with the lack of emotion shown in my family when I was young, there needed to be a "reason" to show that you care, and a death story is the ultimate reason. The immediacy and intensity of thought and emotion while facing death is a real turn on. Sorry. (Well, not really, but I thought I'd say it anyway.)

"but the characters should SURVIVE at the end!"

But, just because they die in this story doesn't mean Bodie and Doyle are dead! I can get enrolled, love reading it, suffer greatly, and know that every time I turn back to page one, they're fine again...

"I do not read slash in order to be depressed."

But, death stories do not depress me, they may make me sad in the story (that is, within my associated reading of the story), but they don't effect my life. As a matter of fact, catharsis while reading a particularly emotional story may brighten my general outlook on the world. One of the best done death stories ever (not counting Endgame, of course) is "Loving Can Be a Heavy Cross" from Teo Torriate. (I never read the "dream" ending, but the rest is great.

"(This is why I rarely read M.Fae Glasgow.)"

When I don't read M. Fae, it's because she's writing something that doesn't interest me (usually just not my fandom)--she has the most annoying habit of writing really well, a lot of things I just don't believe (the S&M love story, for instance). She sometimes doesn't succeed in getting me to suspend disbelief, but I usually get her point anyway.

In re-reading, the above seems unclear, let me try again...

Often, [MFae] can make me believe something I was disinclined to believe before I read her story (e.g. Doyle in drag in In Flagrante Delicto). However, even when she doesn't convince me (S&M love story), I still appreciate what she's doing, and can enjoy the read. Only occasionally do I not want to finsish, or find myself actively disliking her work.[12]

Loathe Them

A death story? No way, no how. Forget it. Don’t want to read it, don’t want to hear about.[13]
I don't like death ones, no matter how well-written, nor permanent injury, nor ones where they end up apart or it's intimated they will be parted. I like feel-good stories, and am not keen on ones that really tug at your emotions in a sad way. This is because I have found that the stories that really, stick with me are the downers. There was one particular K/S one years ago, and also a non-media novel - both brilliantly written but ending in death, and not heroic but tragic and needless death. I have never forgotten the details and have often wished I'd never read them, the effect was so powerful. So, with choice, I avoid sad stories like the plague.[14]
Sorry, I'm just not objective when it comes to this scenario. The difficulty for me, and this issue has been discussed in these pages before, is death stories. Death stories and unhappy endings. Kind of like a rock in my stomach afterwards. More like a boulder.[15]

Popularity/Acceptance in Different Fandoms

Stories dealing with the death of major characters are more popular in some fandoms than others.

Star Wars:

One fan in May 1981 writes in an issue of Jundland Wastes that she can only think of three deathfics in the Star Wars fandom and goes on to list them. Another fan in the same issue of this zine writes: "I am not eager to see such stories. Many of us are 'graduates' of ST fandom, and it seemed to me that after a while every other ST fan story was about 'Kirk dies and Spock goes off his logical rocker,' or 'Spock dies and Kirk just can't bear to live any longer,'... The overkill of this kind of relationship story... got to be way too much."

Star Trek:

From a submission request for a zine that never made it off the ground, "Return the Day" by Wendy Rathbone "A new K/S with an old idea. Remember the classic days of K/S? Remember all that hurt and comfort and death? Well, here's your chance to return to the good old days."

Real Ghostbusters:

In 1997, a fan comments on death stories in The Real Ghostbusters: "I used to read a lot of The Real Ghostbusters fanzines (still would, except there don't seem to be many new ones coming out these days, and I'm pretty short of cash anyways). Anyway, the 'zines were filled with hurt/comfort and angst- but there were NEVER any death stories. There were, however, a LOT of stories where a Ghostbuster appeared to be dead, only for it to turn out he wasn't. I began to want to read a real-live, honest-to-goodness death story. Eventually, I wrote one. And searched, and searched, and searched for a home for it. But no one would actually publish a RGB death story, much to my annoyance." [16]

Stargate Atlantis:

In Stargate Atlantis fandom, one of the stories that had an enormous impact on the fandom and is held by widely differing fans to be (one of) the best fanfics in the fandom or the best fic in any fandom they have ever read is synecdochic's post-deathfic Freedom's Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose. Other deathfics are less popular.

In Stargate SG-1 fandom, Mary Jane's deathfic Willemakee (link) is considered a must-read classic.[17][18]

Example Fanworks

Thematic Lists for deathfic

Meta

References

  1. Morgan Dawn's personal notes accessed November 3, 2012.
  2. Et in Italia reprise, from Pros-land, by Laura Shapiro, May 24, 2005; WebCite
  3. from Jundland Wastes #2
  4. from Discovered in a Letterbox #23 (2002)
  5. from Discovered in a Letterbox #23 (2002)
  6. Quoted with permission.
  7. Quoted with permission.
  8. Quoted with permission.
  9. July 1996 post to the Virgule-L mailing list, quoted anonymously.
  10. Michelle Christian writing in response to the question, quoted with permission.
  11. June 1994 post to the Virgule-L mailing list, quoted anonymously.
  12. On the Virgule-L mailing list in 1996, Megan Kent responded to Alexfandra's question about the appeal of death stories, quoted with permission.
  13. from The K/S Press #41 (2000)
  14. from DIAL #6 (1998)
  15. from The K/S Press #5
  16. from a fan on FanFiction.Net
  17. "This story made me sob. It's justly famous, and unique, in the fandom. I ordinarily do not enjoy sad, sad, sad stories like this, but the writing is just so excellent that I couldn't stop. Daniel goes on a quest to understand Jack's last words, and what he finds will break your heart in the good way, the best possible way. This story, also, is in a class by itself." from My SG-1 Rec List of Doom: M-R post by princessofgeeks. (Accessed 31 Jan 2012)
  18. Willemakee is also recced in the category angst in Stargate SG-1 fic recs for the newbie by green grrl. (Accessed 31 Jan 2012)
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