Annie On Writing

September 20, 2014

Paper Graves – being authentic when exploring character’s grief

Grief is an emotion which cannot be contained within a set amount of time, nor within a range of reactions, as it is experienced by individuals in widely divergent ways. Generally it is those writers who have experienced a loss close to them, if they then choose to share it, who will then be able to convey the myriad of emotions surrounding a grieving character. However, just as one does not need to have traveled to Greece to be able to describe its beaches or tavernas to an extent that their readers believe the setting, so too, arguably, a writer need not have experienced a close friends’ death in order to allow their characters to display grief in an authentic manner. By understanding the effect grief has on a family’s/social unit’s physicality and emotions, a writer can then explore ways to portray this in their chosen genre’s manner.

The western world, as a general rule, is not culturally set up for grief. There are few instances in which we accept or deal with it – for the most part, death is a secret and a dreadful surprise and shock for which no-one is equipped or prepared. Death tends to be surrounded by family emotional outbursts of guilt and loss; generally ending in arguments and misunderstandings.

For the most part, there are no rituals or formal acceptance of death or the time after a passing, especially with mainstream society steering further away from the stayed religious doctrine. If there are no religious or sanctioned rituals, then it leaves huge holes within the psyche of the individuals and this can lead to some interesting reactions and habits for characters to indulge in (and writers to focus on detailing).

The intensity of grief instantly brings all the past hurts and woundings to the top and is often fuelled by regret and guilt. Those grieving will tend to alienate those who are near and dear and become consumed with the event. If the person who passed on had been ill or old, there can be waves of relief and thankfulness that their suffering has ended. Though this is often replaced with guilt for feeling this.

Its important for writers to understand the complexities of the emotional roller coaster grief can have on an individual in order for them to authentically describe and convey it in their words.

There are technical challenges within writing about grief which other formats such as film or the creative arts are able to portray in more easily accessible methods for its audience. Don’t let this stop you from exploring ways to express grief and the process of bereavement. Grief is not naturally static and writers tend to find it difficult to convey it without getting bogged down in overly complicated descriptions of windswept moors or flapping curtains.  A writers challenge is to be authentic to the emotion but to also move the narrative along.

In understanding the relationships and interactions of grief, writers can then begin to weave their craft around the theme. Structure can reflect the grief in its various forms. Your story could begin headlong rushing into events with everything seeming a blur, the detachment and disjointed conversations from those around the characters; the jaggered edges, the rawness of the emotions through conversation and action. Your text can appear spontaneous; keeping it close or near to engage the readers’ emotions. A story can then slow down into the stillness of acceptance, utilizing imagery or metaphors. As an example from a number of novels which feature characters dealing with grief, water is often used as it holds a great deal of symbolism surrounding death and grief.

With many grieving characters there is the need to go back and touch things as a way to remember the passed one or to capture the moments shared. Grief is also full of secrets. A writer can use these to introduce backstory through flashbacks or explanations.

The keenest loss is the loss of senses – the touch and smell of the person who has passed. This can be a great tool utilized by the writer. Tactile and aromas have sturdy anchors within peoples’ minds and will bring the reader closer to the text.

When writing about or portraying grief, things other than the emotions the character is experiencing can reflect their journey. Details of clothing (in some cases a meticulous care or in others a slovenly approach), the environment, particularly the weather, the order and tidiness of the house or places of work can echo how the character is dealing with bereavement and grief without actually telling your readers.

With grief there is the muteness and immobility of the person deeply entrenched in the emotion. However, there is also the drudgery and dreariness of just getting on with what is left of life and the loss of joy and the profound sadness. Anyone who has had an Italian or Greek widow as a neighbour or relative will understand the stoic nature and identity grief can take on for years after the passing. Characters who cling to rituals can become hermit-like, though this can be broken as the accumulated grief explodes as anger and all ritual or normality of routine is thrown away.

Writers, desperate to portray their characters’ emotions in an authentic manner, often steer clear of writing too extensively about grief as there are too many hackney and tired interpretations. Grieving characters experience a range of emotions and none can be classed as “normal” as grief, intrinsically, is individualistic. It is a time of consideration, consuming all physical and emotional time where the character is often unable to do anything else but stare.  Even if a writer has no direct experience with grief, by using the experiences they currently have, coupled with a keen empathy of humankind and their observations skills, it is still possible to depict a character whose grief is raw and real and will connect with the audience as authentic.

This article first appeared over at Todays Author. It is published here on this day – the first anniversary of the death of my partner of 23 years. R.I.P Adrian.

August 3, 2014

Where is your line?

Over the years of blogging on a number of sites reaching varying audiences, I’ve been challenged with the question many bloggers have; “What, if anything is too personal to write about?”

My late husband didn’t like me to ever mention him or events around our family life which involved him, so I generally respected this; the closest I may have come was to write observations of a more general view on a topic or theme. But apart from that, not much was sacred.

I have more blogs than I would like to admit, some are kept more up to date than others, and some specifically for a purpose and left to stew for a time. I write under a few names, given the breadth of genres and audiences I have reached in the past. My reasoning siting my wish to market a certain brand of writing under one name and another under another, not wanting to water down or dilute the other should there be misunderstandings in the future. I know I am not alone with this reasoning as I have friends who may publish academic papers or articles under one name and fantasy or erotica (for example) under another.

Under these different blogs, I have shared some pretty personal things, my fears, guilt-ridden decisions, my doubts and my meltdowns. Although I have a thin line separating business and personal, its certainly not as strong, or defined as many others. Who I am, where I have come from, my experiences and all the nobly bits in-between is such a big part of my writing, that its difficult to separate. I do understand that this thought process doesn’t work for everyone and in no way am I suggesting that all writers need to be transparent with every meltdown they have, nor to hide every emotion they experience.

Where is “The Line”

I think I have hit mine, given the traumatic events from last year. I suddenly was unable to write – anything. It has taken me 9 months to feel confident enough to write articles, much less blog posts detailing emotions. Writing fiction seems a distant dream for me at the moment, as I struggle to deal with the raw emotions bubbling to the surface every day.

I’ve seen and read others blog and write about their experiences, whilst not exactly the same as mine, similarly horrific, and similarly heart breaking. I honour their bravery and had always thought I’d be the one to continue blogging and sharing myself; yet faced with the events from last year, I am unable to process and write about them on a private level, much less share it publicly.

I’ve been approached a number of times by various people suggesting that if I wrote my story, it would not only help others and help me in my healing process, but would stand the chance of being one of those great chic lit books many of us dream about publishing. I have no doubt it would break the hearts of readers as they journeyed though the character’s landscape; but I cannot begin to write it. I have hit my line… and I am as surprised as anyone to realise that I had a line.

I would suggest that the line is a personal thing, that there is no hard and fast rule as to what or where it is.  Trust your intuition as to discovering what and what it is and share only what you feel comfortable with.

Clarity and Connection

One of the beautiful things about blogging is the immediacy of connection with readers. Although writing has an intimacy, blogging, coupled with its networking ability provides feedback and best of all clarity

Writing will always be a part of who I am, and I understand that by expressing oneself through text comes strength and wisdom. I just wish I could flick to the end of the book and see if it all turns out ok.

Do you have a line? What or where is your line?  Do you share everything?  What the most weird or deeply personal thing you’ve ever shared on your blog or site with your readers?

This article first appeared over at Todays Author

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