Monday, April 8, 2013

A to Z Challenge: G is for Grief



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!

__________

G is for grief:  keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

Grief is a powerful emotion, and, when done well, is palpable for the reader.  I used it extensively in my novel, The Mistaken.  It was the perfect vehicle for moving my plot forward: 

Tyler’s wife is killed.  In unbearable pain, he seeks revenge and uses that as a means to free his brother from the Russian mafia.  He makes poor choices, things go very wrong, and all hell breaks loose. 

The key to sharing the character’s grief is making the reader care about him first.  That requires time, building a relationship, creating depth and layers, making him happy, learning what and whom he cares about most.  Then when that’s all taken away—bam!—we actually feel his pain.

At this point, all he wants is to be left alone, but that won’t work.  You have to stir the pot, have another character confront him with his grief, pulling it out for all to see and feel.  But even then, you have to make his suffering worse, hit him while he’s down, not allow him the time or space to heal.  It’s a low blow, but tragedy is unpredictable and often comes in multiples, and it’s in these multiple ways we see, feel, and experience the near-destruction of our character.

At his point, give him a way to deal with his pain, but not necessarily in a good way.  People often make poor choices when they’re at their lowest, so this is the perfect opportunity to add conflict and tension. 

While he tries to deal with all the turmoil of his grief and poor choices, he is bound to meet new people, folks with whom he can share his pain, who can offer a new perspective, shake things up, set him on a better path, and show him he can live again.  His life is different now, changed in ways he never wanted, but will make him feel glad that he’s alive.   



22 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good thing the heavy grief doesn't hit until near the end of the book, because it takes about that long to care about my main character.
He's easier to like in the second book!

Natalie Aguirre said...

That's a great point that you have to make us like the character so we'll relate to the character's grief.

Dani said...

You make very valid points. I won't care about his grief if I don't care about him as a character.
Dani @ Entertaining Interests
#warriorminion

Azia said...

So very true! you must have that connection! my word today is also "grief"-- but I'm sharing the poem written by Matthew Dickman!

Tia Bach said...

You made such a great point... for a reader to care about a person's grief, they have to care about the person. I think we all would feel sorry for someone who suffered loss, but our heart breaks for people we care about who suffer loss.

Great post!

G = Gratifying vs Grating Grammar

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wonderful post. Yeah, make them hurt, make them bleed, and then really get them.

Andrew Leon said...

The main problem with grief in writing is that it can go on beyond the reader's ability to bear.

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Grief is an emotion we can all relate to and one that I think helps us connect easily to a character. Great post.

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge. Enjoy the 2nd week.

Grief is a complex emotion and everyone does it differently

Mark Means said...

For some reason, I think I'd have a hard time writing grief. Maybe something I'd have to practice at.

LD Masterson said...

Grief is an emotion I use very sparingly in my writing. I guess I don't like thinking about how it feels.

M Pax said...

Stirring the pot is what it's all about.

Nick Wilford said...

This is some great advice about something that isn't easy to write. You have to build up the picture before their loss so the reader feels more keenly what is taken away.

mooderino said...

I think you can intellectually appreciate grief, but to feel it you have to relate in some way to the character experiencing the loss. Great post.

mood
Moody Writing

The Desert Rocks said...

Grief is a pretty strong emotion and I'm sure you use it well.

Al Penwasser said...

This lesson on grief makes me sad.

Chuck said...

Nancy, you used this powerful emotion masterfully in your book. It literally seemed there was no bottom Tyler's grief or his reaction to it. And everything spiraled from that one raging emotion.

This is a writing topic you know well.

Chuck at Apocalypse Now

Carrie Butler said...

True! Grief can be very powerful.

Heather M. Gardner said...

So evil you are to your characters!

Heather

Empty Nest Insider said...

I agree that you need to build up your characters before you can grieve with or for them. The best stories evoke emotions.

Julie

Lynda R Young said...

Grief is one of those truly powerful emotions, and certainly a challenge to write well.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

It's amazing to say this, but grief is one of the few things I actually understand and feel comfortable conveying in my novels. It's also been therapeutic writing about it.