The Appeal of Death Stories
It's okay to rape them, it's okay to hurt them without any comfort, it's okay to give them teddy bears, dress them in pajamas, and have them call each other 'honeybuns,' but it's not okay to kill them.
That seems to be the prevailing attitude toward death stories in slash fandom. Even in fandoms where a main character does actually die, there is always a strong denial contingent. Two-thirds of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace stories are denial stories. A significant number of Highlander slash fans deny Richie's death. After Blair's drowning on Sentinel, many stories appeared in which he survived, during the period in which it was thought that the show was permanently off the air.
If there is resistance to killing a character who legitimately dies on the show, stories wherein a main character who survives the show dies are even more stigmatized. Highlander stories in which Duncan and Methos must decide who is the One are surprisingly few compared to the number of stories in which they both survive.
There are, however, a few brave slash fans who are not afraid to kill off a character in order to tell a good story and stir emotion. For really, what is a more vulnerable moment than the moment before death? And what is more likely to provoke declarations of love than the cold body of someone who the surviving character never said the right words to? What can possibly be more agonizing than deciding who should live and who should die? What is more wonderful than one lover sacrificing his or her life for the other?
Yes, liking death stories is in some ways a kink, like enjoying MPREG or BDSM or rape stories. Part of it is, I think, an appeal to the desire for tragic endings, a passion to prove that not all stories need to end happily.
And part of it is that stories that end in death are satisfying. There is a conclusion. There will be no sequel using that pairing. (And I can't count the number of great stories that have been ruined by bad sequels, but that's another column.) The survivor is left lonely, of course, but there is something very satisfying about that too. The reader can fill in his or her own blanks: give them a new lover, or have them mourn forever.
Best of all are the stories wherein the death is built up to, like a mystery story, slowly revealing tiny hints about the ending throughout, then, just when the reader is beginning to hope everything is safe and the lovers will go home happy, tragedy strikes.
The tragedy, however, should not be utterly meaningless (unless it's a humorous death story, in which case, go for it). There should always be some greater purpose behind it. The use of *deus ex machina* to end a life is just as much bad writing as the use of it to save a life. I want my deaths done carefully: savored, anticipated, built up to, teased with, and finally done, tearfully. I want bittersweetness in floods. I want agonizing last confessions and kisses, I want the excesses of angst only an impending death can bring. And I want a meaningful death, wherein the dying character does not feel that he or she died in vain.
This kind of story is not easy to write, and certainly doesn't appeal to everyone. However, when it is well done, I'd far rather read a good death story than anything else.
So, go kill someone for me, okay?