I was asking myself this question while writing a novel that don't imply any death or even really dramatic event ! The novel tells about the main character's strugglings and conflictuous relationships, but death never occurs in the story !

Can a story like this be taken seriously and don't be considered too lightweight from a dramatic point of view ? And, in a general way, do you know a great novel that don't involve death of any of its characters ?

  • 6
    There can be tons of drama without death. Death is just the most final drama of them all.
    – Helmar
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 10:27
  • Would you consider a story that has no death's in the modern setting (i.e. 2000s) but has at least one death as backstory that would occur so far back in human history that anyone in that time period would have died of natural causes by the modern setting (i.e. The story largely focuses on characters in the 2000s, but there is a flashback to the 1800s that does involve a character's death.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 13:24

3 Answers 3


Three words: Pride and Prejudice

We could name many others, but P&P is by most reckonings, one of the finest novels ever written, and it is not about death.

But it is easy to see why the question might occur to someone. Every story needs stakes. Does it not follow that the higher the stakes the more serious the novel? And isn't death the highest of stakes? Does it not follow that a serious novel must be about death?

No, it does not. Consider:

First, in the Western tradition at least, death is not the highest stakes. Traditionally we have placed a number of moral factors above death: dishonor, impurity, apostasy. And even among modern atheists, autonomy is placed above death (which is why there is a movement for assisted suicide).

Second, death is, in a sense, not high stakes at all, because death is inevitable. We might risk death for all sorts of things, for adventure, for fame, for glory, for wealth, because these things are not inevitable. The desire for these things, even for simple married love, may be greater than our fear of death, and indeed, in many novels, the threat of death is a mere complication in the quest for some less certain goal.

Third, the seriousness of a novel is not judged by how high the stakes are, but by how seriously and perceptively it explores the human condition. Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel. Pare it down to a plot summary and it will sound like any Harlequin Historical. But is stands among the immortals of literature because of its exquisite insight, and the brilliance of its telling.

In other words, while a novel must have stakes, stakes are merely scaffolding. Stakes create story shape. The scale of the story they create does not matter, what matters is the shape. The real seriousness and merit of a work lies in the telling and in the perception of the human condition hung upon the framework of that story shape.

  • 2
    +1. Another thing to consider is that death is quite common on the screen today, and doesn't hold the power it once did (in fiction that is) due to this commonality. We must push ourselves to find higher stakes, and as Mark has pointed out, those are high morals and codes of conduct/beliefs. Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 5:38
  • 1
    One other point is that, although the stakes can include a risk of death, the characters don't have to actually fail enough to suffer it.
    – J.G.
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 13:33
  • Fourth, death cheapens the stakes throughout your story if it has a single main character, because the reader will know (s)he is at less peril until the end than anyone else. Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 11:36

Personaly I would say: It is possible.

The reason why death is mostly chosen as source of despair and drama is his simpleness. The death is almost absolute and a reason, why protagonists would change drastically. Other drama settings could do that too, but it is hard to write that and maintain a logical flow in the story and behavior of the characters.

So if you can maintain it, there shouldn't be a problem with your premise


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. No characters died in this one, though there was a lingering threat of death. One could argue that the character of Moaning Myrtle died though for her, death was a per-existing condition to the story and happened years prior to the story, so I wouldn't counter it. While she talks about her death, the view doesn't see it described by the narrator in the book.

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