writing sorrow.

| Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Today's Tune: What Sarah Said

I'm struggling a little with writing human pain and tragedy today. Not that I don't know about it - we all do - but that I can't figure out exactly how to convey the pain in words.

Too much and it's melodramatic.

To little and it's emotionless.

Where's that balance between quiet pain and screaming at the world? How do we convey it in words without making our audience either bored or feel like they're being told to feel something they don't feel?

This is where I am right now. My character has lost someone very important to her and she's not sure exactly how to react. She's confused, angry, and in mourning. I keep waffling between having her react in an overblown, melodramatic way, or going completely numb. Both are a little too far to either end of the spectrum.

I try to recall how I reacted to pain. I tend to go it alone; putting on a brave face while quietly seething and weeping in a corner somewhere, occasionally screaming into pillows. As I've grown older, I tend to seek out the comfort of a friend or two.

Then I think about other people I know; people who yell and punch walls and rage at everything. That hot, molten, frightening sort of angry sorrow.

In the end, I suppose it's about analyzing my character and figuring out which emotion is at the forefront of her personality, and channeling her grief through that. Anger, or strength? Confusion, or losing her faith? Is she the quiet private mourner, or the loud public mourner? More exploration is necessary, I think.

How about you, readers? How do you write intense sorrow and human tragedy?


{ KarenG } at: March 16, 2011 at 12:31 PM said...

subtlety is best I think. And echo the mood with environment & description. It helps get the tone across without overdoing.

{ Andrew Leon } at: March 16, 2011 at 3:13 PM said...

Is there a reason in the story that the reader needs to experience the emotions with the character? It may seem like a short cut, but, sometimes, you have to bypass the character's actual reactions and allow the reader to experience them for himself. Looking to Rowling, we don't really experience Harry's response to Dumbledore's death. The book ends, and the reader has to deal with it for himself.


{ Old Kitty } at: March 16, 2011 at 3:17 PM said...

Oooh I have a family of various ages reacting to the loss of their parents - so I run the whole gamut of emotional grief - from quiet, to subtle to bafflement to delayed reaction. I find it quite a difficult emotion to convey without it being to melodramatic!!

KarenG hits it on the nail about subtlety. And so did you with your fab short story "chasing shadows" - you captured the loss of a friend. Good luck with this story!! Take care

{ Donea Lee } at: March 16, 2011 at 3:24 PM said...

Ah, I posted (well, linked to) and article about pretty much this very topic today. Here's the link - hope it help you out! :)


{ Magan } at: March 17, 2011 at 5:10 AM said...

I agree with Karen. You have to look at the enviornment they are in as well. I think that Beth Revis actually did a really excellent job of this with Amy in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. I actually also write emotion better when I'm having a bad day myself, so sometimes I might just write a short snippet of something and go back to relive those feelings and put them in my WIP. Good luck!

{ jjdebenedictis } at: March 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM said...

How about you have her go quiet, but show unconscious symptoms of her grief. She might suddenly notice her fingernails are chewed to the quick but she can't remember doing it, or someone can ask her why she's hugging that pillow so hard.

Creating a tension between what appears to be, and what actually is, can be fascinating in a novel.

{ Susan Kaye Quinn } at: March 17, 2011 at 8:24 PM said...

I usually go for physical reactions, rather than introspection, but you def have to figure out who your character is. Sometimes, I discover my character by making them do something and then seeing how it "feels" - whether it truly fits them or not.

Good luck!

{ Arcita } at: March 17, 2011 at 10:39 PM said...

i really like your posts. i've been trying to follow but i can't find the button on your page =/

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: March 17, 2011 at 10:56 PM said...

Hi Arcita - thanks for stopping by! There should be a link up top that says "Follow Me" that should allow you to follow the blog. If that doesn't work, there should be something in the sidebar to allow you to add it to Google Reader or other mediums (it's under the "follow maybe genius" heading). Let me know if you're still having issues :)

{ Arcita } at: March 18, 2011 at 1:00 AM said...

i was looking for friend connect i think it's called but i couldn't find it for some reason. i have images turned off so maybe that's why, but yeah that link at the top works great. thanks.

by the way you should swing by my blog when you get a chance. i'm an aspiring writer and i'd love to get your opinion on my post entitled 'you are a malleable creature'. it's the only semi-poetry thing i've posted so yeah.

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