Grief: The Key To Resonant Writing

Everyone has some secret well of sorrow in their hearts; every person has some awful disappointment, some terrible hurt or wrong that sticks with them, and forms a permanent grounding against their enjoyment of life.

Too often, as writers, we try to stay away from real, internal pain. We want to write adventures, or we want to write something far away from what we have.

Grief, the true, deep wellspring of reality in our hearts, is like a fabric that ties us all together.

Access genuine grief within your characters, and you will find immediate access to your reader’s heart.

Harry Potter longs for his parents. Harry’s bittersweet and aching need for the stability and love of his mother and father form an exquisite backdrop to the entirety of the plot. Reading Harry Potter feels like home to so many people, because the series itself is based within an overwhelming desire for home. All humans can relate to this desire; the series has a very broad appeal.

Star Trek (original series) is openly founded on one very clearly delineated feeling; the desire to escape the known, grief-filled universe, and to find out, to explore, and to conquer new and not-yet-grief-saturated things. This, also, is a nearly universal emotional experience, and leads to a very broad and deep appeal. We long to escape the familiar (because so much of it is anchored with pain), and to gain something that exists nearly anywhere else.

The Lord of the Rings is a superior story to The Hobbit because the trilogy is formed primarily of deep grief experiences. The Hobbit is a light adventure; The Lord of the Rings is a chain of exquisitely rendered pain. Aragorn is a displaced and forgotten king; Frodo is left behind by Bilbo, and then outgrows the Shire; Sam is displaced by Smeagol, and by the Ring; Gandalf is faced with both the waning of magic, and far greater responsibility. The characters lose so much of what they wanted, and are changed in ways that make them partially incapable of enjoying what they have.

Writing in this way, with grief, has a cost to you, the author. It requires you to be fully present. It means that you have to engage the story seriously; you cannot afford to be frivolous, or treat your characters with disrespect. To write with grief, you must honor your characters’ pain.

Snape is one of the most satisfying characters in contemporary literature; he is composed almost entirely of disappointment and grief.

Study grief, and learn to write grief, and you will gain the innermost loyalty of your readers.

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Win Money and Popularity by Finishing One Task at a Time

The magic formula for writing successful independent novels is as follows:

  1. Write within an established genre, preferably in a desirable niche.
  2. Write several books, preferably in a series.
  3. Have excellent interior formatting.
  4. Write a compelling blurb for each book.
  5. Have better covers than anyone in the history of writing.
  6. Release books steadily, and endlessly, if possible.

The biggest problem, for almost all authors everywhere, seems to be the part where they sit down and write a book.

I am stunned and appalled when I read people asking for advice on author forums; they say that they aren’t selling any books, and that they don’t know what to do. Then, later on, they reveal that they finished their first novel six months ago, and they’re thinking about starting a sequel next year.

To me, this is like opening a brick-and-mortar store, and offering one very lovingly-fashioned coffee cup. The coffee cup is white, and it sits in the middle of a table, in the center of the store. Imagine yourself, as the newbie-author, standing behind a cash register, and keeping your eyes fixed anxiously on the big window at the front of your store. You watch the people hurrying past, and you ask yourself, why? Why aren’t the people streaming into your store, and eagerly purchasing that single coffee cup on the table? You are prepared for the sale of the first cup, because you have endless iterations of the same cup stuffed into boxes in the back room.

You walk over to the coffee cup, and you polish it carefully. You move it from one corner of the table to the other. You turn it upside down. You call your mother, and ask her if she will please purchase your coffee cup.

Finally, in desperation, and feeling that the world has come to an absolute low of economic depravity, you pick up the lonely coffee cup, walk to the front door of your store, and begin to thrust the cup at strangers.

“Here!” you say, desperation and depression battling in your voice. “Take this wonderful coffee cup!” you practically shout, trying to put it into people’s hands.

People begin to edge away from you, and from your store. They glance at you with irritated eyes, and you slump down on the sidewalk, weeping gently.

Write more books, people.