Author Topic: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics  (Read 4952 times)

Offline DistantSun

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Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« on: September 10, 2012, 09:24:38 PM »
I was wondering if anyone might be able to share their thoughts about how they have gone about writing a storyline that deals with a heavy issue like death. The storyline in the project I'm working on deals with how different characters react to the passing of someone connected to all of them. This particular character (and his subsequent death) is very important to the entire plot, so I obviously can't avoid dealing with it.

What I think I'm most concerned about is how to deal with emotionally-heavy subject matter, without making the story itself so depressing that nobody would want to read it. Just thinking out loud here, hoping someone might be able to chime in and share something :)
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Offline Annmarie

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2012, 02:52:10 AM »
I'd say concentrate on your characters as individuals. Everyone grieves differently, and it depends on many factors. Make sure lighter scenes or moments in scenes are dropped in between darker passages if you don't want things too depressing. And I'd be sure to not wallow in any character's head for too long. To me, even grief can sound like whining in a story if stretched out too long.
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Offline Gyppo

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2012, 04:04:33 AM »
And I'd be sure to not wallow in any character's head for too long. To me, even grief can sound like whining in a story if stretched out too long.

I agree absolutely.  Quite often less is more.  People do and will wallow in grief, but as writers we can pick the sharp intense moments out of the days and weeks of our character's misery.  A few stark words beats pages of prose.

It's often easier to write it at some length first, to let the  characters wallow a little, then pick out the important parts which truly get the message across.

Also keep in mind that people express grief differently when talking to different people.   Sometimes because we care about the listener and want to spare their feelings as much as we can.

For example, a widower answering his young child's question.

"Dad?  Do you think Mummy's in heaven now?"

"Yes love.  Of course she is."  Even if he's a hardcore atheist.

Sometimes the exact opposite.  With the long absent brother turns up at the funeral.  "You were always too busy to visit her when she was alive.  Too busy making money. Do you think she gives a shit about those expensive bloody flowers?  It was you she wanted to see."

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« Last Edit: September 11, 2012, 04:32:18 AM by Gyppo »
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Offline 510bhan

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2012, 07:37:37 AM »
I've always got death in my stories . . . it is a fabulous tool for showing different elements of a character [as Gyppo showed] the deceased and those left behind, the impact it has socially, economically, emotionally . . . and there are so many different ways to die whether expected or unexpected.

It depends very much on what you want the death to do for your story. Is it merely a character exit to show the passing of time, end of an era or is it a platform for change . . . all sorts. ;)

Offline johnnyh2

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2012, 07:51:16 AM »
Hi Distant Sun. :)

Itís not so tricky, but like most things, the more you think about it, the more complicated it becomes.  Best just dive in and start writing.  Remember, it's just you telling a story.  Until those words are on the page, none of your questions are likely to be answerd.

Funnily enough, last week I posted a snippet from my novel that deals with this very subject.  The old guy whoís dying, has been smoking heavily from page one.  Now, on page 277, heís riddled with cancer and has double pneumonia.  Heís on his death bed in the hospital wing of a prison. 

In this scene, his 12 years old daughter has come to say her last goodbye.  She desperately wants to cry.  She canít cry.  Sheís never cried.  She doesnít know how, (without the aid of onions).

Believe it or not, the novel is a comedy.  This snippet is one of the few 'deadly' serious scenes in the book. 

Yes, itís a potentially tricky set up, especially as the novel is for upper middle grade readers Ė (8-12 years).  The main problem was trying to ensure the scene was not too sentimental.  However, some feedback suggests I could milk the sentimentality even deeper.

Of course, reading a snippet, out of context, is not going to give the best impression.  Nevertheless, you might want to check it out.

Itís on the Review My Work page.  The old man nearly snuffed it.  Johnnyh2 

I think it works.  Does the job well.  See what you think.  It may or may not be of some help.  At least itís an example of how one author dealt with the subject.

Cheers.
Johnny. :)

Offline DistantSun

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2012, 09:55:28 AM »
Thank you all for responding. Each of you have provided some important points for me to keep in mind, and I am very grateful  ;D
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Offline Joe Mynhardt

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2012, 11:34:49 AM »
I can especially see a some characters feel lots of guilt. Either for something they once said or perhaps did. Some might even feel like they could've somehow prevented the death. Maybe someone said no the last time the deceased invited them over. There will definitely be some characters who will feel a new zest for life, while most will be depressed and not in the mood to go out etc.

Just some ideas.  :)
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Offline DistantSun

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2012, 11:46:02 AM »
Thanks Joe  ;D
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Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: Writing about death, and other emotionally-heavy topics
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2012, 01:49:46 PM »
The dead person's life will also have an effect on how those left behind react.

Was he or she one who lived their life in a good way, helping others when they could, not spreading rumors that would cause harm and so on?

Or was he/she a bully, on that demanded things be done their way, never gave others credit for the good they did?

Or of course their character may have been anywhere between my two examples. My point is that how he affected the lives of others may also have a strong influence on how or even if they grieve from him. 
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