This past Monday, we had to put our elderly cat to sleep. She was just shy of 18 years old, and had multiple health problems including extremely high blood pressure, thyroid issues, blindness, loss of hearing, and worst of all, senility. Poor Daisy would get lost in the only room she spent time in – not able to find her food, her favorite chair, etc. Sunday night, the Great Cat God took away her ability to walk. It was time for us to say goodbye, and we made the decision to do what had to be done. We will miss her, even the crazy, senile iteration of her we’ve been caring for the last two years. Life is nothing if not changing circumstances, right?
But what does this have to do with writing? My current Work In Progress opens with the burial of the heroine’s grandfather, who raised her. In describing her emotions and behaviors at the funeral, I had to draw on resources I didn’t actually have. I am at a sort of in-between age right now. My grandparents are long gone, most having passed when I was a teenager, but my parents, while elderly, are still alive and quite well. So it’s been a while since I experienced heart-stopping grief.
Monday fixed that. I blubbered my way through the day, so distressed that I didn’t care who saw me sobbing in public. One pocket of my jeans was full of new tissues, and the other full of used ones. I went through two full boxes of Puffs, and drank enough water to fill a small swimming pool. Every day since has had me fighting back tears at least once, but it is getting better. I’m thankful for that, because my face rather feels like I’ve been in a bar fight, and I’m worried my eyes will stay puffy forever.
But I’m a writer. So ultimately, I will be finding good use for my very personal experience with overwhelming grief. I know, losing the grandfather who raised you is not the same as losing a pet, but I would wager that the response, at least for me, would be similar. With this “refresher course” in grief and how I respond to death, I feel better equipped to put the right emotion into that opening scene, and into the scenes that follow for the next few chapters. So at least my grief has become a bit of a win, in a way.
Many writers use their own real-life experiences to fill scenes in their novels, and building the right emotions and using realistic emotional responses in our writing is part of that. We want our readers to feel our character’s emotions acutely. It is part of getting the reader attached not only to the characters, but to the story. Nothing bothers me more than an unrealistic story with ridiculously unrealistic characters. So I want my characters and their emotions to be as real as possible. Or at least, realistic. I hope to be able to insert some more realistic grief-type reactions and emotion into the opening chapter and subsequent scenes in my current WIP.
Have you used your own personal grief or response to death in your writings? What about other emotions? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Fairest of the Faire – available now!
Schoolteacher Connie Meyers is suddenly a young widow, her husband killed in a horrific car accident. Heartbroken to find out he had gambled away everything they had, she moves to her sister-in-law’s Midwest home to rebuild her life. A trip to the local Renaissance Faire with her nieces leads to a summer job as a costumed storyteller.
Avowed bad boy and fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with Connie at first sight. Despite his deliberately commitment-free life, and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.
When she is threatened by her late husband’s bookie, he steps into the role of protector, his fate forever sealed with hers.
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