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Stephen King on Why He Had to Begin It by Killing a 6-Year-Old

The king of horror on what makes a death scene work.

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Prof. Dan Kois: The death of Georgie at the beginning of the book does more than just shock the audience. It turns the book into a study of loss, in many respects. The entire section from 1957–1958 takes place right after the protagonist’s 6-year-old brother dies. There was something novel about the way your horror stories dealt with loss. When you were writing the book, what about that topic piqued your interest?

The King of Horror, Stephen Writing about loss is particularly challenging for me. In It, I had to do it because I knew that Georgie’s death would spur Bill to return to the fight against Pennywise, and that Pennywise would turn that motivation against him. The way Bill was shunned and made into a specter by his parents’ grief was the most moving part of the story for me. Putting those words on paper gave me a strong sense of accomplishment because they rang so true.

Do you think there’s a golden rule for writing memorable and dramatic death scenes? What elements are necessary for a convincing death scene?

As with any dramatic moment, death scenes are effective only if the reader is emotionally invested in the character dying. To evoke genuine feelings in the reader, good fiction must be authentic. The emotions of death, horror, and loss are ours to experience, but they are delivered in a “no-fault” fashion. In my opinion, at least. After many years in the field, all I can say is “I think.”

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When you’re down here, you’ll float too, right? Do you remember where the idea for that line and the rest of the “floating” elements in that scene came from?

That “we all float down here” thing happened by chance. It didn’t strike me as particularly significant at the time, and I certainly didn’t anticipate its eventual popularity as a catchphrase. Balloons rise into the air, and so will you, Georgie. That’s why I wrote it; it sounded menacing when I read it. Also, “float” is a great word. Dan, you will float, too. Floating is the reason why we’re all here.

Check out this article to learn more about the top 50 fictional deaths, as chosen by Stephen King himself.

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