Two weeks ago, on what would have been a perfect Saturday morning, I broke my cardinal rule of writing. I looked away.
I know to some who haven’t been reading these posts long, that won’t sound like such a big deal, but really it was. Why? Because my cardinal rule is ‘don’t look away from anything because if you look away you won’t be able to write it accurately’. Because it takes something major to make me look away. Something like death.
You see, I looked away because I didn’t want to feel the pain of loss. Which brings us to the point of this whole blog post.
There are two things that are indisputably the hardest emotions to write. 1) Pain. 2) Sorrow.
Why are these so hard to write realistically? A couple of reasons.
First of all, no one wants to feel them. Ever. I have not met a single person who wants to be in pain or feel so sad that they can’t stop crying. And, yes, we can write what we don’t know, but it is so much easier to explain when you’ve felt it.
Secondly, these two areas of writing tend to come off as forced and cheesy no matter who you are or what level your skill set is at. I hate it when my writing sounds cheesy, don’t you?
What do we do to write these things more realistically? Well, we don’t do what I did. We don’t look away. But, to be helpful, I’ll give you some tips.
Tip #1 – The Art of Pain
In my YA novel, “The Half-Shape Child” (by the way, so excited because book two will be out next year. YAY!), there is a scene where one of the major characters is in serious pain. To give you some perspective, I’ll post an excerpt here:
Henry laid a hand to Collin’s forehead. “I’m trying,” he insisted gently. “You don’t have a fever, but you’re sweating like a pig. Obviously she poisoned you. When? When did she poison you?”
Realization dawned on Collin. He mentally kicked himself for being so stupid. “The salt,” he groaned. Arching his back didn’t help, but Collin couldn’t bring himself to lie flat anymore.
Henry nodded and took Collin’s pulse.
Collin knew it was thready. Whatever this poison was, it worked fast and efficiently.
“All right, we’re going to get you a full scan and a blood test right now,” Henry declared.
He picked up a syringe and took a sample of Collin’s blood. Collin watched as he plugged it into a machine and turned it on. He was immediately back at Collin’s side, wheeling the bed to a full-body scanner. It was a lot like an MRI machine.
“How is this helping?” Collin spoke through gritted teeth and tried not to think about the excruciating pain in his chest.
“Just trust me,” Henry insisted. “You know I took pre-med classes. Trust me on this, Collin. I’m going to find the antidote,” he lowered his voice to a mumble, “if I even have enough time.”
Collin heard the door to the scanner shut and tried to keep still as lights and rays scrutinized his entire body. That turned out to be easier said than done. By the time Henry finally wheeled him out of the scanner, he could barely keep his eyes open.
This is pain. It took me a long, long time to write that realistically. I had to really think through it. How would it feel to be in pain? How would it look? What would you do to get away from the pain? These are just some of the things you should be asking yourself, along with the medical question of: “What is happening in this character’s physical body? How would it come across on the outside?”
And these don’t only apply to physical pain. They also apply to emotional pain. Make the reader feel what your character feels.
I hope it comes across as realistic.
Tip #2 – Sorrow
I can tell you from experience that sorrow is a funny thing. Everyone expresses it differently. Some sit stoic and watch everything with vacant eyes. Others can’t stop crying. Some are okay until they really think about the “nevers” and then they’re an emotional mess. (For the record, I’m that third one.)
There is a difference between sorrow and despair. You can be sorrowful without being desperate. Sorrow doesn’t push that character over the edge into something they wouldn’t usually do. In fact, a lot of times the most effective showing of sorrow is when the character tries not to show emotion.
For some reason, when people hold in their emotions and refuse to let others see, refuse to be vulnerable, audiences cry for them. It’s a time-honored tradition that too few storytellers are using.
So, next time your character experiences a loss, don’t immediately have them go into hysterics. Sit down and think about how they would deal with it. What would they do to make themselves forget that loss? To ensure that they didn’t cry one single tear?
I hope this has been helpful and I hope you see sorrow and pain in a whole new light now. I love you all and thanks for reading!
Got a story about pain or sorrow? Share it with me in the comments section!
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