This week: Writing about GriefEdited by: Vivian
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I suffered grief numerous times, and lately, several friends have lost loved ones. How can a writer use words to allow readers to "see" the grief a character endures?
Writing about Grief
Often characters face and experience grief. Authors need to be able to "show" that grief, not just "tell" about it. Different articles give stages of grief, some which apply to all deaths and some that don't. The task of the writer is to show how a character feels and deals with those stages.
Some articles state five stages of grief and loss exist, and others say seven do. Of course, some are worded differently, but each covers mainly the same emotions. To begin, letâ€™s list the two variations:
1. Denial and isolation
1. Shock and denial
2. Pain and guilt
3. Anger and bargaining
4. Depression, reflection, loneliness
5. The upward turn
6. Reconstruction and working through
7. Acceptance and hope
Both number ones deal with denial, but the five stages adds isolation, and seven adds shock. Both are correct. Both lists have anger and bargaining, but five has them separate, and seven combines them. Both have depression, and seven adds reflection and loneliness. Both have acceptance, but seven adds two steps that lead to acceptance and hope.
The stages do not always occur in order. Some stages last longer than others. Some stages occur only with unexpected death. Some stages occur with all deaths. Grief and sorrow affect individuals differently because of emotions, experiences. No one reacts like another person. Therefore, the death experienced by characters will result in what stages they experience and how they react to each stage.
Let's look at one stage: isolation/loneliness, a combination of stages from both lists. How can a writer show a character's sense of isolation and loneliness?
1. Have the character receive a phone call with the news that she received a book contract (or some other exciting news). She immediately wants to tell her husband, but he isn't there any more. How might she react after that first need to share and the realization that he isn't there?
2. During the night, a character awakes and feels ill. He might call out for his wife before it dawns on him that she isn't there. How might he react when reality dawns?
3. A character stays busy during the day, but evening comes. All that she can do is watch television or read. After a few months, friends and family no long call or stop by. Each has returned to his or her own life. The character manages well most days and nights, but after weeks of only contacting with others when she calls someone, she feels alone and forgotten? How might the writer show that loneliness?
I wrote the following to show isolation and loneliness:
Mary looked around the living room. "How large and empty," she muttered. "I don't understand why. The same furniture sits in the same places or twenty years." Her eyes wandered to the empty rocking chair where Don sat for years, his feet on the stool in front as he watched television. A knot lodged in her throat. "Okay, stop feeling sorry for yourself."
She reached for the phone. Maybe Jerry isn't busy. The phone rang with no answer. She tapped the disconnect button, and then punched in a different number.
"Hello? Diane, it's Mom. Oh, I ... I understand. Yes, please give me a call when you can." Mary placed her cell phone on the table beside her chair. Tears streamed down her face.
Even if a writer never experienced the loss of a loved one, he can take the memory of the loss of a pet or a prized possession and expand that feeling mixed with the stages of grief to "show" a character's grief.
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From my portfolio, written in 2002:
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Words from Our Readers
I do not want to reveal the story to my readers first. A flashback is a summary of the story. It should be short and should not reveal the main story so that to let readers in suspense and willing to read the full story. Good share! Thank you!
I think we may need to understand what a flashback is. It isn't a summary of the story, but a section of the story that goes back in time, flashes backward from the current time of the story.
Thanks or the NL.I use flashbacks to portray backstory and plot points. I use visions as well. One thing I must be careful of is info dumping. I am told using flashbacks is not for newer writers. I have been on WdC for about ten years. Thanks again!
Flashbacks need to use carefully by any writer, and should not be use excessively.
I've been on a review jag for the past few days and my mind was locked in a critical mode, until I read your marvelously well executed flashback. Your work (and the explanation of how this feat was performed) snapped me out the reality of criticism and plopped me down in the imaginary world of your flashback. I feel like a ping pong ball. Thank you DC
I hope you pinged back into writing. *grin*
Thank you for joining me again this issue. I hope I help your writing experience with my articles. Since my birthday is later this month, I am signing off with a signature gifted me some years back.
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