I have a confession to make. I love reading SCD (Supporting Character Death) scenes. There’s something both cathartic and addictive about lying on my bed, fingers clutched around a book, while I sob helplessly over the death of a beloved supporting character.
So, naturally, I’m drawn to write stories where one (or more) supporting characters die tragically heroic deaths. But I don’t just want to write SCDs, I want readers to care. I want them to cry. I want them to stumble across a quote said by the supporting character before her death, and feel the stomach-tightening anguish that I feel whenever I see a shirt that reads: “I am a leaf on the wind — watch how I soar.”
In a recent manuscript, I wrote an absolutely heart-wrenching SCD (Supporting Character Death) scene. My supporting character died bravely, defending the protagonist from harm of his own making, and setting the protagonist on a whole new path. I cried while I wrote that scene. I sobbed while I edited it. And, finally, I gave it to a beta reader and waited for her to come back to me in awe and tell me how many tears she’d shed.
None, as it turns out.
In fact, she didn’t mention the death scene at all. When I asked about it, she said, “Oh. Yeah, that was sad, I guess.”
I did what anyone would do in that situation. I drank a lot of vodka, and sent my manuscript off to other beta readers who would obviously be better equipped to understand the emotional impact of my SCD.
Yeah, no. In fact, they were much less enthusiastic than my original reader.
I drank more vodka, re-read my scene (cried again), and then got to figuring out where I’d gone wrong.