Welcome to Fiction Friday! I am thrilled to have Denise Jaden on my blog today. Denise is author of the young adult novels Losing Faith and Never Enough, as well as Writing With a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction. Take it away Denise!
Writing Grief in Fiction
I have recently released a book on the subject of writing grief in fiction, because I consider it a big subject with lots to learn. As struggling writers, we feel our characters’ pain, but how, exactly, do we get our readers to feel their pain?
In Writing With a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction, I keep returning to two main elements of fiction: engaging characters and engaging conflict. Is your character’s loss helping to deepen him or her as a character, or are you trying to use the loss to jump-start emotion in your reader? Character deepening and layering must come first. The reader’s emotional response will come second.
Focus first on how your character’s loss is changing him or her. How will this ultimately be a good change? Will your character become less self-absorbed, or more compassionate? Now, back up in your story to before the loss and show us why this change is not only good, but necessary. If your character continues on his path of self-absorption or lack of compassion, how will he come to destruction? Knowing these facets of your character will make his or her loss deeper and richer, and help get your readers engaged before your character’s loss.
As far as conflict goes, as with any work of fiction, keep an eye out for any chapter or scene or paragraph that does not move the story forward. With grief and loss, it can be easy to get caught up in a character’s suffering, and so nothing happens beyond grieving for pages on end. Grief alone does not make a story, and won’t keep readers reading. What is happening in your story besides the loss? What more could happen?
Avoid letting your characters become isolated (even if this is what they yearn for in the wake of their loss). Introduce conflict to their lives even while they are at the height of their pain (in fact, this is the best time to do it—show the reader what they are made of!)
You may find that one loss isn’t enough. In the wake of your main character’s best friend dying, maybe his sister blames him for the death and also abandons him. Maybe after a crushing divorce, a woman also loses the dog she’s depended on for comfort. Look for ways to increase the odds against your grieving character coming to a place of healing. Your reader will have greater respect for your character and want to follow him on his journey if he has to overcome great odds.
As the author of your stories, making your character’s situation worse, offering the worst timing possible for things to go wrong, deepening and layering your characters—these will help connect your reader to your story. Keep asking yourself these questions as you write your story about loss:
How many facets of my character have I shown my reader? Can I show more?
How does my character NEED to change and why?
What can interfere with my character’s healing?
How can things become even worse for my character?
For more on effectively writing grief in fiction, you can pick up my writing resource, Writing With a Heavy Heart for free for three days only, February 8-10, 2013. I hope you get something out of it, and you’ll drop me a note through my website if you do (www.denisejaden.com)
About Denise Jaden:
Denise Jaden’s first two novels from Simon & Schuster (Losing Faith
and Never Enough) are infused with grief and loss. Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction is her first nonfiction book and was born out of personal experience, as well as a series of workshops she has taught on the subject. The e-book version of this resource will be available for free for three days (February 8-10) through Amazon. Denise is from just outside Vancouver, Canada, where she writes and homeschools her young son. Find out more about her upcoming book events and writing at www.denisejaden.com or on Twitter @denisejaden.
Thanks so much for being on my blog today, Denise! Your insights are most valuable. I’m always looking for new ways to grow as a writer and Writing With a Heavy Heart looks like it will be an excellent addition to my writing arsenal. I cannot wait to pick it up and encourage any of you who enjoy writing to avail yourselves of this great read. Then, let us know what you think either in the comments below or on Denise’s web page!