Writing: Grief

“No cry on the writer. No cry on the reader.” – said someone I forgot.

It’s been a couple day maybe weeks I’m struggling writing about (fictional) pain. Sadness. Grief. I have written few pages, but when I read it, I can’t really feel it.

If you’re a writer and have a fine life, entering this bubble where you have to create fictional life with a taste of pain is really hard. Well actually it’s the most problem on writing, where you have to cross the border between realities and fictional life in your head or on your computer. You can put your character in a certain situation, where he/she should be in grief. But you can’t easily describe about grieve when you don’t experience it your self.

So, I try to find help through music… There’s a lot of bittersweet song from Greys Anatomy soundtrack, Landon Pigg, Lucy Scwartz, Adele, to get you in mood.

Sadness is more than just some tears. To be honest I never really seen someone cry because they sad. And relate to this particular scene I’m writing, it’s about someone loosing her mother.  I’m young… I don’t have many experiences on seeing someone sad for loosing their parent… (Okay I’m not that young.🙂  but still). I haven’t had experienced many funerals in my life…  Only my brother… I didn’t came to my father’s funeral. I didn’t came to my granny’s funeral either (Or maybe I’m too young to recall)

Off course I’ve had cried before… but really for cheesy-unimportant-things-you-might-not-understand like when I didn’t get into ‘flag raising team’[1] (It’s kind of big thing in my high school), and some other similar thing.  I have never cried for life tragedy… I’ve only cried for self-acceptance or self-pride. #Note: Never Cry not equal Never Sad.

There are actions that I later found more effective on expressing grieve: Loosing ability to breathe normally. Faint. Doing things the character never did both in a productive or destructive ways: Cutting hair randomly. Hit cupboard. Curling body, as if feel the pain inside. Baking cupcakes (I honestly learn this from Greys Anatomy when Izzy’s fiancé passed away back on Season 2) Or Saying something they never said.[2] There’s a lot to put on the list, depend on the character personality.

So I guess just follows all those advice about “Show! Don’t tell”. Describing action will be more ‘stab to the core’ to read than just explaining that your character is sad and in tears.


[1]. For my foreign blog buddies: Flag Raising Team is really like it is sound: a team for raising flag. The highest goal for people in this team is to be chosen as a member of national team. Every year a group of high school students invited  to National Palace and raising Indonesian Flag in front of our president on Independence Day.

There’s a lot of practices, exercises, sweats, and only tall people can get in. :)

It’s probably one of the coolest things in Indonesian Highschool, (at least when I’m still in high school) maybe like Cheerleader or Sport team in States (?).

[2]. I cried a little when reading few farewell lines on Graveyard book -Neil Gaiman (Mistress Owen to Bod: “Face Your Life. Its pain its pleasure. Leave no path untaken”) and The Help-Kathryn Stocket (Aibileen to Mae Mobley: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”)

6 thoughts on “Writing: Grief

  1. I feel you! It’s hard to “show” something we’ve never seen or experienced. Hang in there, Fa. Ayo kita lewati ini! ^^
    Btw, udah baca The Help yaa.. Aku mo nonton dsini ga keturutan (suami ga doyan), dan bukunya masih dalam antrian beli, krn masih pny bbrp unread books. *sigh*

  2. Shita, I’m trying. One of the hardest part on fiction writing…
    Planning to see The Help, i heard it’s a tear jerking movie… so maybe it’s not your hubby kinda things. My advice: go to movie yourself!
    Aku beli bukunya udah lama tapi buru-buru nyelesain pas filemnya keluar… Bacanya lama banget… maybe it’s because my english still in kindergarten level .. LOL

  3. Farah,
    I suspect that I am much older than you. Your youthful enthusiasm shines through in your writing. I have experienced grief and loss.

    When I was nine, I lost my father, an elderly lady who looked after me, when my parents were working and my grandfather. I couldn’t cry; it might have been easier had I been able to. I just held it all in. I put on two stone in weight.

    When my mum recently died it was a relief to her and to me, because she had a brain tumour and for about six months she was in a nursing home-almost blind and with severe memory loss. My way of coping was absorbing myself in work.

    My point, if I have a point, is get to know your characters. How might they react to grief? They might do some of the things you listed, or something different, something unique to them. Does their culture or religious belief impact affect their grief?

    Each of us deal with grief differently, and for some people, there may be no outward signs they are grieving at all, yet inside, they are falling apart. If the characters are believable and their grief is described in a realistic way, based on their unique traits, and not just a list of stereotypical things that people do when grieving, the reader will accept your write.

    You don’t need to experience something to write about it. Sometimes it helps but in this case I’m not sure that it does.

    I hope these comments are useful, and I wish you well with your writing.

  4. Colin, your story breaking my heart…

    And about how you feel when your mom passed away, i felt the same way when my brother died too. He was suffering for cancer. And i saw how that cancer day to day sucked his life, he was so skinny when he finally died. It’s sad that he had to leave his only child: three years old daughter, but it’s a relief for him and the family. This might not a kind of happy story, but we all know sometimes pain do us good, it makes us stronger.

    Thank you for sharing your life story.

    And about writing grief, I can just describe my character cried like a five year old girl loosing her puppy, but i know that she’s not that kind of person. I want her to be realistic, so she can connect to the reader. I will definitely dig down more inside her soul, about her belief and everything.. been lack of it. Thank you for all your advice!

  5. Hi, Farah !

    It’s good to know that, so far, you have not experienced real grief. And I pray you don’t get to experience it. I haven’t, either. No one really close to me has passed away. But somehow, I got a ” glimpse” of heart ache. It was a horrible feeling, one that I don’t want to experience , ever, again.

    Cheers !

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