From the book SHOW ME THE LOVE! All Kinds of Love for All Kinds of Stories by Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan
Got Love? Got enough Love? Got the right kind of Love?
No matter your genre or style, a good story needs some kind of Love to engage us emotionally.
Too often people think Love is just the romantic or sexual kind. But wait – there’s more.
Love of adventure, land, community, family, friends, warrior bonding, love of pets, love of learning, love of death and destruction, interspecies love, transformative chivalric love….
This series explores the Mythical and Psychological aspects of different types of love, plus suggestions for the Shining Moment, Cinematic Techniques, and Symbols.
Join us for a journey through many different kinds of love that can enrich your characters, compel your plots, and move your audience. Our articles have addressed Love of Adventure, Chivalric Love, Love for Animals, Interspecies Love, Best Friends Forever, Breaking Up, Love of Land and Country, Love of Family, and Warrior Bonding.
This month’s article will look at “Love of Death and Destruction.”
Our fascination with death and destruction may just be part of our fascination with existence itself. The drive to know how things work, the desire to change things to our will, and the desire to control things can lead to willful acts of death and destruction.
For stories with any of that in them, it is important for you to give us characters and situations that make sense psychologically and philosophically, as well as plot-wise..
Examples in Psychology
Being able to destroy other life lends a sense of godly powers. The challenge in portraying sociopaths and psychopaths is that appealing to their sense of justice or consideration for others won’t work because they don’t have one.
A person’s attitude towards death depends greatly upon their belief about life after death. It affects their actions, from killing outsiders to gain entry into some paradise, to sacrificing themselves in moments of great danger so that others may live.
Blood lust is a survival instinct that can overcome all sense of reason during a fight-to-the-death. A throwback to our animal nature, it can be a dramatic and really scary character moment as the body just takes over and does what it does, regardless.
And then there’s necrophilia, sexual attraction to corpses. These days that probably extends to include zombie-love-sex. Eeewww.
Examples in Myth and Legend
The Greek Atriedes family was cursed from generation to generation, often resulting in death, from chopping up two little boys and feeding them to their father to Clytemnestra slaying her husband King Menelaus in the bathtub right after his return from Troy.
A celebration honouring the dead is a yearly event in many societies. Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Halloween, All Soul’s Day, and the Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts are but a few. These could be symbolic backgrounds for your scenes dealing with death and destruction or someone’s desire for same.
Examples in History and Current Events
Thuggees in India were devotees of the death-destruction goddess Kali. They also happened to be blood-thirsty murderers. Big game hunting isn’t as rampant as it used to be, but some people still go for the thrill of the kill and many engage in extremely cruel practices.
Gladiators in the Roman Coliseum, World Wrestling Foundation and Mixed Martial Arts in the ring, NASCAR explosions-in-waiting whizzing around a track – the promise of destruction and possible death draws thousands in person and millions via media.
Witch hunts, inquisitions, and ethnic cleansing thrive on the deep-seated human drive for destruction of the “other” and blood-lust can quickly infest a group.
Amidst all the natural and human-instigated death and destruction, finding one’s balance of sanity – or not finding it – makes for compelling stories.
Examples in Media
Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight – the best example ever!
Horror, slasher, vampire, zombie, monster, evil alien, ghost, grinder, et cetera stories.
Detective stories and murder mysteries are sometimes about one-off crimes of passion and sometimes about putting one over on “The Man” again and again just for the thrill.
First-person shooter games let us play out our aggressive drives, hopefully without real-world consequences.
All of Quentin Tarentino’s movies have some characters in them who are in love with death and destruction.
In The Chronicles of Riddick the Necromongers destroyed everything with glee, gusto, and determination.
skull & crossbones radiation sign hangman’s noose
grave fire blood shattered things
decayed flowers moldy food
Key Element – The Shining Action
The poised moment between wholeness and destruction, between life and death. It can be as impersonal as the drone-driver’s finger hovering over the “fire” button and the quiet village thousands of miles away about to be obliterated. It can be as personal as two people sword-fighting and one getting and then pressing their advantage to the death.
The reaction shot of the person doing the killing, to see the Love of Death and Destruction on their face.
Reverse angle to show what the victim sees: the bullet or arrow headed in their direction, the blade or missile coming down, etc.
People circled round and watching with violence-lust in their eyes: cage fighting, sword fighting, cock or dog fights. See Fight Club, Raging Bull, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for some great examples.
Certainly the frenzied action of battle lends itself to quick cuts. But for the coup de gras, that death cut needs lingering finesse as we watch the victim realize they’re about to die. Time slows down for a person in a life-threatening situation so show us that achingly slow progression towards the tragic end.
Since all life must eventually face death, you will always have a connection with your audience when this is an essential part of a character or a story.
Be sure to make it increasingly clear whether your character is motivated by rage, madness, grief, or just plain morbidity.
The love of death and destruction creates great characters and dangerous situations – just the thing for your protagonists to overcome.
Exercise #1 – Awareness
What is the most destructive person or event you can think of from myth, history, current events, or media?
Exercise #2 – Writing
Write a short scene where one person does not want to destroy or kill but is urged to do so by someone else in order to save the day, save other people, etc.
Then re-write the scene where that same person is quite ready to do the destruction and the killing and have the other person trying to convince them not to.
© 2015 Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan
Pamela Jaye’s BOOKS & SEMINARS can be found at the Writers Store and on MYTHWORKS, where you can also learn more about her consulting, writing, and pitching services. Mythic Challenges Alpha Babe Academy
- More articles by Pamela Jaye Smith and Monty Hayes McMillan
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- FREE Screenwriting Resources to Download!
Get more great advice from Pamela & Monty in their book
Show Me the Love