(This is the first article in a new series I am writing about the different elements of fictional characters.)
One of the best ways I know to clear my head is to write. When I’m sad, I write. When I’m angry, I write. When I’m depressed, I write. When I’m frustrated, I write. It’s a creative outlet that, for me, never disappoints.
Over the past four months, I’ve been struggling with the grieving process, and once again, writing has helped me to make sense of it all. Not only does writing through emotions help me to feel more centered, it enriches my writing.
Putting a Little Structure Around the Messy:
Using my past experiences and putting myself in my character’s place helps me add layers of emotion to certain scenes. But sometimes, as a writer, we have to dig deeper. We have to think outside of the box and leave the rational part of our minds at the door.
Human emotions are raw, messy and, for the most part, can be unpredictable. Emotions rarely fit into one little box, there’s usually a blurring of lines that causes an overflow into several areas: sadness can also contain elements of guilt or resentment, anger can be accompanied by jealousy or revenge.
For example, when I was writing my second book, Love in Greener Pastures, I had to write about a subject I hadn’t yet dealt with: the loss of a parent. Common sense told me my heroine Gabby would feel sad, but I wanted to explore beyond that.
In the book, Gabby reluctantly returns to her small hometown after living in Chicago for several years only because her father is injured. She hates the little town and can’t wait to return to the city. When her mother died, Gabby made a vow that she’d only return for visits, but she would never live there again.
Cutting Off the Nose to Spite the Face:
The death of her mother pains Gabby so much that she sees loss everywhere she looks in her hometown. Gabby’s grief consumes her in a way that robs her not only of her mother, but it causes her to take her father for granted. In her desire to stop grieving her mother’s death, she avoids the only parent she has left.
Here’s an excerpt of one of the scenes where Gabby struggles with facing her memories:
As she cruised down the street, Gabby tried to look at her surroundings through the eyes of someone like Jake, someone who hadn’t grown up in Clear Lake, who saw picturesque scenery and quaint old buildings, where Gabby saw bad memories. Jake didn’t have to worry about passing by the cemetery where his mother was buried, the hospital where she had spent so many miserable months. Or the worst of all memories, the funeral home where Steven and a tearful Gabby had been on the receiving end of hugs and murmured words of encouragement.
Gabby coasted into the market’s parking lot and let out a long sigh. She had known it was going to be hard returning to her hometown. She had been back for the holidays since her mother’s passing, but there was something different about it this time. Seeing her father lying in his bed looking utterly helpless had flooded her mind with images of her mother lying in the hospital, and in that very bed, suffering and in pain, all the while there was nothing Gabby could do to ease her hurt. Making sure she was alone in the parking lot, she rested her head on the steering wheel before getting out of the truck.
Using Grief as a Wake-Up Call:
In Love, Simplified, my current WIP, my heroine Cecile decides to change her life. She gives up money, comfort and security in exchange for peace of mind, sense of self and honesty. By changing her situation, she uproots her life and strips down to the raw, real her. But, it takes dramatic circumstances in order for her to do so.
Cecile has a high-powered career, but when she finds out an ex-coworker has committed suicide, she’s shaken up. When she finds out he left a suicide note that listed losing his job as a reason for his decision, it rocks her to her core. Especially since Cecile had the task of carrying out his termination a week before he ended his life.
I used this dramatic and unfortunate circumstance to propel my book into action for many reasons:
I knew I wanted to write about simple living and with the state of our world, the simplicity movement grows larger every day. All across the country, people are downsizing their homes, selling their cars in favor of bikes, leaving corporate jobs to pursue their dreams and spending more time focusing on friends, family and the “simple” things in life. I know, because I am one of those people, so I guess you can say my WIP is somewhat auto-biographical. What’s that saying about life imitating art?
With all this as my backdrop, I thought about how Cecile would feel: Guilty. Angry. Helpless. Empty. Used.
Below is an excerpt from my WIP that showcases just some of the emotions Cecile is dealing with:
With a despondent sigh Cecile stepped under the steaming spray. She let out a low moan when she felt the hot water flow over her chilled skin. Try as she might, Cecile couldn’t shake her feelings of shame and remorse. Even though she wasn’t the person who ordered it, she was the one who fired Jeff Jacobs. How could she not feel partly responsible?
Her actions had led to someone ending their own life. What would happen when she set foot in her office Monday morning and Spencer found out she hadn’t fired Grace today? How could she fire Grace now? Cecile set her jaw and decided she wouldn’t fire Grace. She’d stand up to Spencer.
Monday morning she’d march straight into his office, look him squarely in his worthless face and tell him she’d had it. No more grunt work. If he needed someone fired, he did it himself. If someone was violating a policy, he’d be the one to discipline them. If an employee was a threat to the company’s bottom line, he’d address it. Cecile was finished with being his lackey.
Cecile turned the water off and slid the shower curtain back with such force that the metal shower curtain rings scraped against the rod with an ear-shattering yelp. Her determination was short-lived. Once her foot touched the cool tile floor and she bent down to pick up her discarded work clothing, it was as though she was back in Spencer’s office, experiencing the news all over again. Fresh grief washed over her and a small sob escaped her lips. With shaking hands, she folded her suit jacket and skirt over her forearm and headed for her bedroom.
What are some ways you deal with your emotions? Do you participate in physical activities, cook, meditate or create?
For my writer friends, what are some ways you find to express emotions in your work (other than through dialogue)?
I’d love to hear from you on the subject, tell me about your experiences in the comments section below.