Writing Effective Grief In Fiction: 5 Ideas For Writers

Author Denise Jaden shares her 5 ideas for writers on writing effective grief in fiction, including how to make readers care, avoiding isolation, and landing a satisfying end.
Author:
Publish date:

Grief alone is not enough to make a novel. It can be the backdrop, sometimes the obstacle, but novels must be flavored with other focuses, obstacles, and emotions in order to draw in their readers. 

(How to Write About Grief: 5 Things to Consider When Writing Difficult Topics)

Here are 5 ways to use grief more effectively in fiction

1. Make Them Care

When starting to write your book about a character's loss, you may be tempted to dive right into their grief on page one, thinking that this is your inciting incident...

... The problem with this is that a reader hasn't had a chance to care about your character yet. Take an example from watching the news or reading the paper: While you may hear about people dying or contracting terminal diseases every single day, do you spend your time weeping over them? No. And why not? Because you don't know the people this is happening to.

Help the reader get to know your characters before you tear their hearts apart. Perhaps you can use humor, which will work in nice juxtaposition against the grief, or give the reader mysterious questions to answer in the early pages. These things will help connect a reader to the main character before she launches onto her grief journey.

Image placeholder title

2. Avoid Isolation

When a person is hurting, they often just want everyone to leave them alone. They build protective walls around themselves, not only to keep other people out, but also to guard against unwanted emotions. But when you read a long passage of fiction with a lone character, be honest, doesn't it seem easier to skim and keep your eye open for the next bout of dialogue?

Isolation rarely works well in fiction, but a character that desires isolation and can't get it leaves a great opportunity for added conflict in your story.

3. Forward Momentum

Writing fiction about characters grieving gives us opportunity to nudge them in new ways, never allowing them to wait for time to heal their emotional wounds. As an author, it is your job to push your characters forward on their journeys, and not to allow time to do all the work.

Your characters should grieve in their unique ways, but on your schedule. Grief does not have a set time limit, but fiction does. The only certainties are that the grieving process will take longer than your characters want it to, and will likely hit them at the worst possible times and when they least expect it.

writing-with-a-heavy-heart-book-cover

Writing With a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction by Denise Jaden

IndieBound | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

4. Outlets for Grief

An outlet for your character's grief can be a great way to keep your character from becoming mopey and isolated. In the aftermath of grief, perhaps your character develops a new skill or interest—a sport, a craft, a social club, exercising—these can all be active ways of pulling your character along in his or her journey.

In my novel, Never Enough, the main character relies on photography to help her gain new understanding of the world in the face of grief. In The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, the main character is both a musician and a poet and uses those outlets to get through her journey.

5. A Satisfying End

Here is a short checklist to help ensure that your character's grief will come to a satisfying and authentic conclusion, even if he or she is not fully healed during the scope of the book:

  • Can your character admit that he will be forever changed by his loss?
  • Does your character have the strength and boldness to grieve her own way?
  • Is your character able to share his pain? Is he able to rely on others in new ways?
  • Is your character committed to living life fully again?
  • Does your character have an increased ability to love and to be loved?

Anger, shock, denial, guilt, fear, betrayal—these emotions, and others, can hit with dizzying unpredictability. Each time one of these emotions comes flooding back, it is a sign that your characters are moving through their grief, and not staying stagnant. They are making their way toward recovery, and, with some careful planning, your readers will stick with them for the journey.

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

Click to continue.

Tags
terms:
emotion
The Play Really Is the Thing

The Play Really Is the Thing

Studying different genres can make you a stronger writer overall. Here, author Jessica Barksdale Inclán explains why reading more Shakespeare is a great idea.

Pair vs. Pare vs. Pear (Grammar Rules)

Pair vs. Pare vs. Pear (Grammar Rules)

Prepare yourself for comparing the differences of pair, pare, and pear on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

6 Lessons of Writing for Novelists

6 Lessons of Writing for Novelists

As the author of 16 novels, Wendy Wax shares her top 6 tips for novelists to help their writing journey go as smoothly as possible.

Elyssa Friedland: On Letting Setting Guide You

Elyssa Friedland: On Letting Setting Guide You

When author Elyssa Friedland settled on the setting for her latest novel, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, the characters and plot came to her. Here, she discusses the importance of setting.

Alyson Gerber: On Writing Difficult Topics for Young Readers

Alyson Gerber: On Writing Difficult Topics for Young Readers

Critically acclaimed author Alyson Gerber discusses how she tackled the topic of disordered eating in her latest middle-grade novel, Taking Up Space.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Annual Writing Competition, Submission Guidelines, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce the extended Annual Writing Competition deadline for 2021, details on how to submit your writing to Writer’s Digest, and more!

Amorak Huey: On Stalling Out After Publication

Amorak Huey: On Stalling Out After Publication

Poet Amorak Huey hit a creative roadblock after publishing his latest poetry collection Dad Jokes From Late in the Patriarchy. He shares his cure (and more!) in this article.

From Script

New Original Podcasts, Videos, and Understanding Data as a Screenwriter (From Script)

In this week’s round-up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, Script releases brand new audible and visual content!