7 Tips to Handling Grief and Mourning in Fiction

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As I said, grief and mourning is a subplot in War of Nytefall: Ravenous.  It was very difficult to touch on this while the majority of the book dealt with action, humor, and Desirae’s seductiveness.  I kept having to remind myself that some characters were still getting over the losses of the previous adventure.  It made things fairly somber at times and I had to take a moment if the scenes were mixed in with the less emotionally raw ones.  So, here are some things I learned about writing about grief and mourning.

  1. Regardless of what anyone says, there is no single way to mourn.  A person’s personality and culture are be factors in this, which means it will vary even slightly between characters.  If everyone handled it the same way then it is rather unrealistic and flat.  You will have those who recover quietly and quickly by using a number of methods of acceptance.  Others will forever carry the wound that they can never fully heal.  Then, you have the hundreds of methods in the middle.  Think carrying about how each character will react to the death.
  2. Never skip or rush this part of the story.  If you say that everyone got over it between adventures then it will make the loss feel empty.  If they talk about it for one chapter and that’s it then you get the same effect.  Now, you can explain in the opening how the characters handled it if a lot of time has passed.  For example, Ravenous takes place months after Eradication.  So, there are characters who have developed their coping habits to deal with it.
  3. It can be messy.  In fact, it really should if it’s fresh.  Tears, screams, isolation, risky behavior, guilt, anger, and the whole gamut of responses that one could imagine having to such an emotional blow.  This is something that will last for longer than the funeral and the day or two after.  At least, it should.  As I said, mourning is done differently, so you could have some who do get over the shock quickly.
  4. Anger and confusion are very easy to misdirect.  Characters can be more likely to lash out for small reasons during these times.  The slightest comment from another can be taken the wrong way, so they attack and break down.  Maybe they aren’t handling things as well as others, which makes them feel like they’re the only ones who truly cared.  Loss can really fracture a group for a bit, so don’t always assume it’s going to unite your characters right away.
  5. What about the mission?  You do run into a problem if your story involves a time-sensitive adventure.  Legends of Windemere had this problem when characters died in later books.  Because of the speed of events and how things need to be completed by a specific time, heroes might not be able to mourn effectively.  They can use other defense mechanisms like deciding to survive and succeed to honor the one they lost.  It can be smaller conversations spread out as well, so they use lulls in the action to let their emotions out with those they trust.  You can also have them become more reckless or even more protective of those around them.
  6. From a ways back, I mentioned that you have to factor in the personality of a character for mourning.  Some are easier than others.  Those that are quicker to show emotions will flow onto the page in these scenes.  You may have more trouble with those who typically hide their emotions.  In fact, you may find it very confusing to have them deal with grief.  Well . . . There you go.  A character who keeps things under wraps might be unsure of how to express what they are feeling.  They can fumble an explanation, lash out, or try to imitate another.  People suffering from grief aren’t always clear and focused, so things can be awkward and uncomfortable.
  7. If you really aren’t sure how people mourn then ask friends and family.  Be clear about why you’re asking and don’t do it to someone who is currently grief-stricken.  You may be surprised how many answers you get.  Just remember to be kind and polite when broaching this sensitive topic.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to 7 Tips to Handling Grief and Mourning in Fiction

  1. V.M.Sang says:

    A thoughtful post, Charles. It is difficult to write grief so it seems real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. It really is a tough challenge, especially if one hasn’t faced it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • V.M.Sang says:

        It’s also difficult to know how long to keep the grief up in the story. If you let it go too soon, the character/characters could come over as heartless, but if it goes on too long there is a danger it will stall the action and the story.

        Like

      • That becomes very difficult when it isn’t the key point of a story too. You need the action to continue in spite of the grief. That’s what I’m going to dealing with now because it’s a book where I kill off a bunch of characters, but the story events can’t be paused for grief.

        Like

  2. ShiraDest says:

    Thank you for these pointers.

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Things to consider, from Charles 🤔

    Like

  4. Great tips, Charles.

    Like

  5. L. Marie says:

    Great post, Charles! I appreciate your sensitivity on the subject. Grief is so hard to write about.

    Whenever I think of grief, I think of the movie Truly, Madly Deeply, which starred the late, great Alan Rickman. Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of grief was so well done.

    Like

  6. Excellent post, Charles!

    Like

  7. Great tips, thanks.

    Like

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