Author Steven Lake

Death, Grief and the Writing Experience
Saturday, June 10th, 2017 8:27pm
Keywords: (None)

One of the things I find interesting about writing is how often it intersects with the realities of life.  For example, many of you may not know that recently, back on April 26th I lost my mom to dementia.  It's been a rough several weeks since then, but through it all God has sustained me and carried me through.  After over six years of taking care of my mom ranging from intermittent and part time all the way up to full time, 24/7 hands on at the very end.  I think the first few weeks of that was actually the easiest overall because you're surrounded by this strange numbness that keeps you from going over the edge with grief.  But as that numbness wears off you begin having to face that grief a bit more each day.

Even now I tear up thinking about my mom.  On one side I wish she was still here with me.  But on the other I'm glad she's not, because while she was here she was always suffering in one way or another.  But now she's with Jesus and happier than she's ever been.  In some ways I'm jealous of her.  She got to see Jesus before I did!  I remember how for years that was always a joke between myself, her and a friend of hers.  We'd always joke about who would get to see Jesus first.  Well, she won, and I'm sure she couldn't be anymore happier.  It's we who are left behind who are the ones that should be mourned for as we still have to live in this sin sick world.

So what does that little tidbit blurb about my mom have to do with writing?  Well, there are several things actually, and it primarily surrounds the aspect of grief.  When it comes to writing, passion is an important part of that.  But I think that grief also plays a key role in that passion.  Case in point.  Recently, in one of the stories I'm rewriting and upgrading, I reached a point in the story where I found myself in a conundrum.  One of the key characters in the book, while good and beneficial at first, was starting to create a problem.  He was making it far too easy for the main character and the others to proceed forward.  As any good author knows, when the going gets too easy, it's time to kneecap someone.

In other words, the characters need to have some challenge to overcome or difficulty to face throughout the story.  Sure, you can have little breaks here and there where everyone, reader included, can catch their breath.  But otherwise you have to keep the torch lit and the fire pressed firmly into their chests the entire way.  Well, that's where I came to the conclusion that one of the characters had to go.  Namely, the one who was making it too easy for the protagonists.  Now that's not to say there weren't ample enemies of sufficient strength to make their lives miserable.  What it meant was that, with this one character still around there wasn't sufficient enough difficulty for the main characters to keep the story either interesting or moving forward.

Hence the decision to kneecap the group.  I figured, "Hey, he got them far enough that they can stand on their own sufficiently enough to continue moving forward, so it's time he left."  The only question then was "how" to get rid of him.  I thought long and hard about this, and eventually came to the conclusion that the only "safe" way to remove him from the story, and on the same note send him out with a bang, was to kill him off.  Um, yeah.  For someone who's still grieving the death of their mom, that probably wasn't one of my brightest ideas.  Believe me, I did not in any way enjoy killing this guy off.  He was one of my favorites.  But I knew that, if he stayed around much longer it'd shipwreck the story.  Either that or send it careening off the edge and out into oblivion.

Okay, maybe not that bad, but certainly the story would have begun to become boring, and that's a death sentence for any novel.  So, he had to go.  And I did indeed send him out with a bang, in the most honorable and respectful way possible, making him the hero that he always was, willing to put it all on the line, and then eventually give even his own life in order to protect his friends, which he did.  Oddly enough, when I first killed him off, it didn't bother me all that much.  I shed a few tears and then moved on.  The part that reached into my chest and figuratively ripped out my heart was the point when the rest of his team learned of his death.  Wow.  Even though I was writing the scene and knew what was coming, I bawled like a baby. T_T

I'm even tearing up now thinking of the scene.  Yes, it was that impactful.  I think though what made it hit me even harder was my recent loss of my mom.  There are still raw emotions leftover inside of me from that time that are crying to get out, and when that happened in the book, quite a few of them broke forth and spilled out in a shower of tears.  I kinda wonder what my reaction would've been like in that scene were mom still alive.  I don't know if there would've been the same level of emotion being poured out onto that page if things had been different.  Even so, I somewhat question whether or not doing such a scene at a time like this was exactly the wisest choice to make.  Writing is supposed to be a relaxing exercise for me.  This was anything but relaxing.

It felt like I was adding an entirely new sorrow on top of an already existing one, and it hurt tremendously.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done before.  And yet at the same time, through all that grief and those tears, the people who have been given the opportunity to read that scene have said how much it impacted them.  I mean, it hit them like a freight train, just like it hit me.  It's odd really in that sense, that such overwhelming grief could find its way onto the page in such a manner that those reading it are able to, albeit to a lesser degree, feel the same pain and sorrow I was at the moment I first penned the words.

The great writers of times past have always said to those who would seek to rise up to their level and take their place in the course of time that a story is best when there is passion poured into every page of the story.  I think if I was to be truthful I'd say that that also included sufficient quantities of tears spilled down upon the keyboard as the grease that lubes the gears of the writing machine and drives the story forward.  Without grief, I sometimes wonder how good our stories would even be.  Would they be bold and rich like they are now, or hollow and empty, as though mere words upon a page with no soul of their own.  It does make one wonder, no?

comments powered by Disqus
This website and all content are Copyright Steven Lake. All rights reserved.

Privacy Statement