37 Ways To Write About Grief

37 Ways To Write About Grief

In this post, we have included 37 things for you to consider when you write about grief.

One of our most popular series of posts on Writers Write is ‘ways to write about different emotions’. We’ve written about these so far:

  1. 37 Ways To Write About Anger
  2. 32 Ways To Write About Fear
  3. 43 Ways To Write About Love
  4. 29 Ways To Write About Happiness
  5. 40 Ways To Write About Empathy

In today’s post, we look at ways to write about grief.

This is not necessarily a post about grief as a story, but about how the emotion of grief affects the characters and the plotting of a book.

How do we write about grief in an authentic way?

37 Ways To Write About Grief

A) What Is Grief?

Grief is an intense sorrow, a feeling of deep and poignant distress, which is usually caused by someone’s death (including a pet’s). Grief can also be felt with the ending of a relationship, or the death of a dream or an idea around which a life has been built. It can be felt with the diagnosis of a terminal illness. It is an intense emotion and the pain can seem unbearable.

Words associated with grief include:

  1. Anguish
  2. Despair
  3. Distress
  4. Dread
  5. Heartbreak
  6. Sorrow
  7. Suffering
  8. Woe

Use these words when you’re describing a grieving person.

People often describe grief as a process. There are generally five stages associated with grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These are based on On Death and Dying, the 1969 book by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Some people may experience them in this order, but they can occur in any sequence and you can revisit the stages at any time. Some people skip a stage and others can experience more than one at the same time. The length of grieving depends on the person. It may take weeks or months or years.

People have also added ‘shock’ and ‘guilt’ to these stages.

B) Body Language

In your body language, signs of loss are important. You can:

  1. Curl into a foetal position.
  2. Collapse.
  3. Slump.
  4. Cover your face with hands or a pillow or blanket.
  5. Stare unseeingly.
  6. Shake
  7. Sob uncontrollably.
  8. Tremble.
  9. Find it hard to swallow.
  10. Wrap your arms around yourself.
  11. Scratch your hands and arms.
  12. Push people away.

C) Ways To Create Conflict With Grief

  1. The loss of a loved one can spur your main character into action. Love interests in fiction are the most common way to create internal and external conflict. A love interest does not have to be a romantic love interest. ‘It can be a friend, a pet, or a family member.’ (source) The loss of this loved one could create a need for revenge or simply for healing.
  2. The emotion of grief could cause the character to lose their job, or resign from it.
  3. The emotion of grief could change other important relationships that were dependant on the person who has died.

D) The Importance Of Grief In Plotting

Grief is a powerful and debilitating emotion. Only use it if it serves your plot.

  1. If you want to write a book about grief, this will obviously be your main plot. You will show the pain and despair of your main character and how they find their way back to life again. A good way to do this is with the use of a motif that is derived from a hobby or an occupation. The grieving person could be building a boat, or breeding a rare species of birds – anything that gives them a tangible story goal. They must do something – or the book would be boring.
  2. If you want to use it as a sub-plot, the death of the love interest is the one to choose. The love interest is the most useful and the most common of all sub-plots.
  3. Use their loss to show us more about them.
  4. Use the loss and their grief to move the story forward. This works in a detective story where the main character vows revenge for their loss – or simply becomes more determined to make things that are wrong, right.

E) Exercises For Writing About Grief

  1. Write about the moment your protagonist is told about someone they love dying. Use body language, dialogue, and the senses if you can.
  2. Write about the moment your antagonist is told about someone they love dying. Use body language, dialogue, and the senses if you can.
  3. Show how a grieving person is unable to stick to their daily routine. Let them wake up to the loss and then show how they go about trying to get ready for the day.
  4. Show a moment where a grieving person is pulled out of the well of despair by something that happens that gives them a story goal.
  5. Write 12 diary entries on the first day of each month after the character has lost their loved one. Show how they change over the year.

Top Tip: Use our Character Creation Kit to create great characters for your stories.

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 15th February 2022
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