Thursday, April 4, 2013

A to Z Challenge: D is for Despair



Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!

This year, I’m focusing on two themes:  Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.

I’ll be sharing mostly what I’ve learned about writing emotion into a novel, but I’ll also be throwing in a few key grammar lessons, pet peeves I’ve picked up while working as an editor.

Today’s an emotion day!

__________

D is for despair:  the loss of hope; hopelessness; to lose, give up, or be without hope

There is probably no worse feeling than despair.  It comes in all shapes and sizes and is relative to our life experience.  I’ve certainly experienced it, but I’m sure it was nowhere near as bad as what some people live through.  Regardless, it affected me just as adversely as it would anyone else in any situation.  When hope is lost, no matter the reason, nothing else matters.

When writing about despair, which I did extensively in my novel, The Mistaken, it’s best to tackle it gradually, building it up over time, day after day, like weight being added to the character’s shoulders until he eventually breaks under the pressure.  That’s part of what makes despair so debilitating.  Everyday, you wake up realizing nothing has changed, or it’s only gotten worse, and that’s one more brick you have to carry.

You have to be concrete when writing about despair, no clichés or heavy-handed melodrama.  I found comparison works well.  Have the character reflect back on a time when life was good, when he had expectations, then show how it’s changed, what he’s lost, and how nothing will ever be the same.  Below are two short passages from my novel:

At first, it gave me some relief to savor the vision of retribution. Yet, I always woke up the next day with the realization that Erin Anderson was still alive and well, walking the earth, enjoying her life, enjoying her family, while my wife was not, while my child lay eternally buried in Jillian’s cold womb six feet beneath the heavy earth, a tiny speck of immeasurable possibility heartlessly quashed into nothingness...

... Alone now, I sat back in my chair with a full bottle of tequila and drank. With my mobile phone in hand, I played Jill’s last voicemail message on an endless loop, over and over, until I could recite it perfectly, word for word in pitch and tone...

There are many physical characteristics to show despair—rocking back and forth, hugging the body, scrubbing hands down the face, the list is endless—but one of the best ways is to have the character act out in ways he never would have otherwise, pushing him over the line. Desperation often drives people to do things they later deeply regret.



33 comments:

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I'm reading "Save the Cat" right now and I kept hearing...all is lost...as I read. Yes, it should come gradually and culminate on page 75...if my Cat notes are right.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think you captured the essence of despair better than anyone, Nancy! Ty sank to such depths, I almost wanted to go kill myself.

JeffO said...

Heh, I think anyone who has gotten into this writing thing knows despair!

Damyanti said...

Desperation often drives people to do things they later deeply regret.

So very true.

Damyanti @Daily(w)rite
Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

Twitter: @AprilA2Z
#atozchallenge

Dani said...

Dispair is not a good feeling. I do whatever I can to make sure I'm never there.
Dani @ Entertaining Interests
#warriorminion

John Wiswell said...

Related: Desperation is also one of my favorite novels. Couldn't have gotten a better book under such a title.

Andrew Leon said...

I despair of getting through the month of April.

C. Lee McKenzie said...

You nailed despair in The Mistaken. It was the perfect motivation for your character. Great D post.

Steven said...

Despair is definitely something that builds slowly over time, sometimes so slowly that we barely notice it until it's too late. Great post.

Mina Lobo said...

Marvelously written excerpts, Nancy.

Julie Flanders said...

You definitely captured the feeling of despair in your novel, poor Tyler!

I'll have to catch up with your grammar theme, I often need help there. :D

Julie Luek said...

I like how you not only capture the feelings of the emotion but show what it looks like. I think that's a big part of the showing not telling aspect to writing.

Amy Jarecki said...

Beautiful Excerpt!

Lauren Christopher said...

Intriguing..... I'm in the process of editing my first novel, "Still".... might have to use this advice. Thanks for sharing it.

Heather M. Gardner said...

It's much harder to show these feelings than it is to show happiness. It's really tough but you did a great job!

Heather

Donna K. Weaver said...

This a a great post. Love, love your examples. Just what I need.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Despair is tough to pull off. I've only had one character sink to the level of desperate.

Terri Rochenski said...

New follower - LOVE your blog design. Very cool.

Excellent two paragraphs to show despair. Well done. Have you seen the Emotion Thesaurus??? It's my emotional bible when writing scenes that need fleshed out.

Thanks for visiting SS!

Terri @ Scribbler’s Sojourn
Facebook / Twitter

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

And it can come when the character is unprepared and just minutes before, assuming everything would be okay. Then wham, it's like being kicked in the stomach. I use despair a lot in my novels too. What helps is music. If I find the right tunes, I'm able to transfer that onto the page.

Great post, Nancy!

Clare said...

Excellent snippets, Nancy and great post today. I will certainly keep your tips in mind the next time I write despair.

Murees Dupé said...

Great post Nancy. I think, not trying to portray despair in the typical clichéd way is rather brilliant. I always have my characters moping around. Thank you for visiting my blog.

elizabethwatgibson said...

Great post and a great D for the A to Z.

Ida Chiavaro said...

I'm glad I found you - Sounds like a great theme for the challenge. Happy A-zing

Al Penwasser said...

One of my students today asked me to give him a good definition of the difference between "tense" and "intense."
I must admit that I "despaired " of being able to come up with a good one.
Any ideas?

klahanie said...

Dear Nancy,

And yet, beyond the despair, with the last fibre of our resolute heart, we reach and we reach and we can find renewed inspiration.

I thank you for your verbalisation on this. Be well, Nancy.

Gary

Patricia Stoltey said...

Powerful post, and a great example of how to write a character's feelings and mental state.

Patricia Stoltey said...

P.S. -- I just hopped over to amazon and added The Mistaken to my Kindle. Got lots of travel coming up...need gripping stories to read in airports.

Nancy Thompson said...

Aw, gosh, thank you! You certainly lightened my mood. :-)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Despair is such a very sad, heartbreaking word. To be without hope is a horrible place to be.

Arlee Bird said...

I like stories where characters go from despair to overcoming it and achieving a great victory. A story that ends with despair better be done very well to pull it off so it works.

Lee
A Faraway View
An A to Z Co-host blog

Carrie Butler said...

This post made me miss Ty. :( Write faster!

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

Despair is a pretty dangerous place to be. Nicely described though!

Keep Calm and A-Z
An A-Z of learning English
Round the world from A to Z

rch said...

I often have to force my writing towards more positive conclusions because I've always had a penchant for darker thoughts, great advice and I really enjoyed your excerpts.