The cliché scene where a man dies on the hospital bed and ECG goes "beep beep beep" is seen by everyone in movies. The problem is that someone told me that I go too sentimental in scenes like these while writing. How can I write hospital death scenes in a more creative way?

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    Welcome to Writing! Is it the cliche you're looking to avoid or the sentimentality in particular? Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 13:44
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    The question is about avoiding clichéed sentimentalism. It's ok.
    – Erk
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 17:59

3 Answers 3


If you like the sentimentalism, do that. It’s not good to let others tell you that you are too much this or too much that in your writing, but what is important is whether what you’ve written is up to your standards and special to you.

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    Agreed. It might be prudent to ask this beta reader to explain this, since we aren't him/her and "too sentimental" is not really good criticism. Sentimentalism is supposed to invoke previous experiences. One of the best works of fiction handling death for me, was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Body" which doesn't include the ECG machine... but does have the cast in the waiting room of the hospital morge. What makes it great for me, is I about the same age as the characters when I lost a parent and it gave voice to all those emotions that run through your mind.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 15:48
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    Unfortunately, this gets into subjective matters of taste. OP is not wrong to write sentimentally, but the beta reader is not wrong to dislike it, either. OP might be better off finding a different beta reader.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 18, 2021 at 18:57

Death is Drama:

Unless you're trying to be funny or ironic, death is drama. A hated rival dying. Your 112-year-old great-grandmother who's been out of it for 40 years dying. A completely unknown stranger dying alone except for a few nurses who don't even know the person's name. So there is little you can do to change the drama.

But the story isn't so much about the dying as it is the people and their reaction to the death. If you want to avoid stereotypes and clichés, don't have people doing stereotypical things (sitting at the bedside, holding hands, saying goodbye) but instead have all the reactions going on outside the room. The hospital cafeteria is a great place, as people go there to meet over food. People often go for a walk around the area of the hospital, even without coats and in crappy weather. Most floors in a hospital have some kind of waiting room. To avoid stereotypes, NEVER have anyone speak to the doctor.

And waiting is a bit of a cliché, yet that's what a lot of dying is about. A lot of death is slow, with time to reflect on life. A lot of time is just spent feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do. If a person dies suddenly, there is little waiting for death, but instead waiting for funeral arrangements, casket-picking times, waiting for the florist to call you back, or waiting for Aunt Estelle to leave your house so you can make dinner.

Or you can have a very atypical death process with atypical responses. Listen to Paul Simon's song Mother and Child Reunion for example. Or you can have the scene centered around organ-harvesting for donation while the body is alive but the brain is dead. It can have a somewhat positive tone in a very bleak situation. An endocannibalistic funeral centered on eating the person quickly after death will be REALLY different, but could have unique cultural perspectives (I decided to go this route in a story just for the thrill/challenge of making it sympathetic). People can get pretty crazy around death, so envision someone refusing to acknowledge the person is dead and telling the other family members the person is resting comfortably and will be available tomorrow when they feel better.

Or you can embrace some of it. Death is a really weird thing in most people's lives, unless you're writing some variety of action story with lots of killing - and at that point, you're desensitizing your reader. If you are killing off a really beloved character, having a loving family circling their bed and crying is a cherished and fitting sendoff more beloved than a Viking funeral. It's your character's reward for all the crap and death you put them through to give you a good story.


Seinfeld did this:

At the hospital.
Doctor: Excuse me, are you the husband?
George: Well, not yet - Fiancé.
Doctor: Well, I'm sorry... she's gone.
George: .........What's that?...
Doctor: She expired.
George: ... Are you sure?
Doctor: Yes, of course.
George: So... She's dead?
Doctor: Yes.
George: ... Huh!
Doctor: Let me ask you; Had she been exposed to any kind of inexpensive glue?
George: ...Why?
Doctor: We found traces of a certain toxic adhesive commonly found in very low priced envelopes.
George: Well she was sending out our wedding invitations.
Doctor: That's probably what did it.
George: We were expecting about two hundred people... Well... Thank you, thank you.
Doctor leaves, George returns to the others
George: She's ahem... gone
Jerry: Dead?
Elaine: I'm so sorry, George.
Jerry: Yeah! Me too.
Kramer: Poor Lily.
Jerry: How did it happen?
George: Apparently the glue in the wedding invitations was... toxic.
All: Aah!
Kramer: Well that's weird.
Jerry: So I guess, you're not getting married?
George: (embarrassed with a touch of unrestrained jubilation) Yes.
[...Some talk about the other plot removed for space...]
Elaine: All right. (they start to leave except Jerry)
George: Well hmm... let's get some coffee.

So not really without making it come off humorous or the characters involved come off as jerks.

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