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I want to have a book (or multiple) have a suicide in it, and I want to write the suicide. I don't know how exactly to go about that.

I know that very descriptive details or very graphic images/video/movies/media can cause some people (especailly teens, if I'm correct) to commit suicide. It can be a trigger, if in great detail or graphic imaging.

I still want to describe it some and include it.

How should I do this?

Edit: Some people are confused, and I get that. What I mean is that if details are extremely descriptive (spelling out the scene, basically, in such a way that you know exactly what is happening) it can end up triggering a suicide. I would like to avoid that, but I want to still have a suicide scene, or a scene where someone sees the result of a suicide. I want to know in what ways I could describe it that wouldn't cause a suicide.

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Acid Kritana is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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    "I know that very descriptive details... can cause some people... to commit suicide." "I still want to describe it some and include it." To me, this seems like a problem, to say the least. If I give you the benefit of the doubt, it was still a bad choice of words - is this really what you meant? – DM_with_secrets May 21 at 20:47
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    hmmm…. The normal advice around here is to research or go ask people who have had that experience. For obvious reasons that's not going to work this time. There are some questions (generally under the horror tag about depicting graphic violence, torture, and gore – clearly not the same topic, but the questions are similar –– As asked your Q is like 'How can I write about this taboo thing?' without any context.… I think we'd need to hear more the purpose and effect you are trying to achieve to have any useful suggestions. – wetcircuit May 21 at 21:09
  • @DM_with_secrets Tried fixing it. Can you see if that clears up your question? – Acid Kritana May 21 at 21:50
  • @wetcircuit Tried fixing it. Do you know what I mean now? – Acid Kritana May 21 at 21:50
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    @wetcircuit Maybe not exactly the reading (I'm not sure if the reading one can actually do that) but I know that watching can. The show, 13 Reasons Why, actually caused multiple suicides to happen when people watched the suicide scene. And I don't want to find out if reading causes it, so I'm just wondering if there is a proper way to write it. – Acid Kritana May 21 at 22:29
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This is indeed a real danger if you write about suicide. The effect is known as copycat suicide or suicide contagion, and it can indeed be triggered by reading - one of the most famous early examples was The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, a novel in which the protagonist commits suicide which came out near the end of the 18th century and caused a spike of suicides among young men at the time. (You'll sometimes find the phenomenon called "The Werther effect" as a result.)

The good news is that because this is such a risk, you're not alone. If you Google "suicide depiction", "suicide depiction fiction" and the like you will find many guidelines compiled by interested parties such as mental health organizations for how to write about suicide without triggering this. A lot of them are for journalism, in order to prevent suicide clusters arising from careless reporting (example: WHO guidelines, Reporting on Suicide website), but some of the journalism advice is applicable to fiction as well. There are also some guidelines specifically for fiction, such as the Action Alliance Recommendations for Depicting Suicide or the Samaritans Guide to Depicting Suicide in Literature.

Some of the advice:

  • Do not show the method of suicide. (This varies from "don't depict it in detail" to "don't in any way say or allude to what the method was" in different guidelines, but basically everyone agrees that this is the big one to avoid.)
  • Don't show the suicide note, if there is one.
  • Depict it as a complex situation that was the result of multiple factors instead of caused by a single issue or event
  • Try to avoid portraying the suicide as having a positive outcome - bullies regretting their behaviour, estranged parents getting back together, any way in which the character gets what they want by suicide
  • Don't glamorize it. Don't show it as a quick, painless escape from the character's problems.
  • Include a content warning, but be aware this isn't a fail-safe - not everyone vulnerable to suicide contagion at that moment may be aware of it.

Of note: I haven't found anything specifically talking about the emotional depiction as of yet, but a lot of the guidelines are for journalism or movies where it wouldn't apply. My past experience as a depressed teenager leads me to think an in-depth depiction of someone deciding to kill themselves and carrying it out could also be highly dangerous - at the very least, it's the sort of thing I would have steered far away from for safety reasons when I was depressed.

In general, I urge you to do the research because there really are a lot of resources here. And regarding your specific question... I'd suggest you really think about whether showing the actual suicide is necessary for your story. You can achieve a ton of emotional impact by fading to black at certain points or using another POV, with far less risk.

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  • Thanks. I'll keep it all in mind – Acid Kritana May 22 at 16:25
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My take on this comes from many years of supporting someone with crippling anxiety and depression, listening to them talk about suicide and learning what makes them think that way.

I can’t answer the question in your edit (which Tau has covered amply) but I will try to answer the question in your title, and hope that it helps you consider whether a suicide scene is the right approach for you. I’m going to assume you genuinely want to tell a story about someone who can’t see a way to continue living and/or the impact their death has on the other characters.

Suicide is a very difficult and complex subject. Ask yourself how/why your character has got to the stage of taking their own life. There are many different reasons people do this, and every journey to that point is different. In order to write the end of their life, you need to fully understand their whole life.

There may be a trigger event, but there will also be reasons why your character reacts in an extreme way to an event that another person might cope with. What has happened in their past? How did other people react to them? What fears and beliefs did your character develop as a result that now haunt them? Why can’t they get the support they need?

I would argue that the journey is more important than the end result and you don’t actually need to show any physical details of the suicide itself. If you convincingly portray a character who can only see one way out, the reader does not need the details of how they achieve it.

If you’re writing primarily about the impact on others, focus on their relationship with the character, and how their own beliefs influence how they react to the suicide. Again, you don’t need to show the suicide scene itself in order for it to have emotional impact.

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Mousentrude is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
  • Thanks! I've been through the stage of wanting to take my own life (still somewhat am), so it will be a little easier to write about it, but I will still need to create a unique character that has his own situation and circumstances. Thanks, I'll keep this in mind as I go along. – Acid Kritana May 22 at 17:31

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