Thursday, February 28, 2013

Writing With a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction by Denise Jaden

Sopphey Says - Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction by Denise Jaden
Writing With a Heavy Heart Cover
I thought this book was a blessing when I first saw it in my social media stream. A blessing because I was working on a very difficult, very tense, and very sorrowful piece. So of course I had to read this book. I knew it was going to be an excellent resource and that I would love it. Well, I do think Writing With a Heavy Heart is an excellent resource, but I don't love it as much as I thought I would.

Not that I didn't enjoy the book. Denise Jaden does an excellent job at presenting tips and guidelines for writing with grief. She reached deep into her Spring of Grief to bring us these insights. A Spring of Grief where:
a series of wrecking balls came pummeling at my life [...]. My tragedies started with a painful and heart-breaking miscarriage. Shortly after that, my dad died in a sudden and unexpected work accident. My family was close, so this was certainly the most brutal of the wrecking balls. In the aftermath of the accident, my son took a fall and had to be rushed to the hospital with a head wound, and finally, my husband's place of business burned down.
I really like how open and inviting the paragraph is. It doesn't read like a laundry list of hurt and pain to me, but like a list of little medals. I can clearly imagine what the author had to go through to create the book. And because I have an active imagination, I can imagine how strong and courageous of a woman the author is because of that one paragraph.

Writing With a Heavy Heart is a guideline for writing engaging characters and conflict around grief. The author repeatedly states that grief is not a story on its own. Thus, grief becomes a tool to push characters, conflict, and tension. Which is perfect for great story writing. However a little part of me just kept repeating "that is cruel," "oh, she is cruel," "wow, poor character," and generally disapproving of the additional hurt involved.

The following little wedges of advice felt cruel (but are necessary):
Don't let your character admit to himself or others that he is grieving. Push away the process and have him try to get on with his life as normal.
Or... have your grieving character notice how others seem to deal with their grief "better" and faster. 
Or... have your secondary characters push your grieving character (in authentic ways) to face his grief.

 Another necessary cruel wedge of advice:
When or where is the worst possible time and place your character could be ambushed by his grief? In front of his enemy? In a very public place? Before a special speech he has to give?
Special days can be a great opportunity to build tension in your character's life if he is all too aware of a looming special day, or to ambush him with his grief, if he hasn't prepared for that special day or has forgotten about it.
Enough examples. Overall it's great advice. It's an easy read. If you're writing about grief, you should consider giving Writing With a Heavy Heart a read.


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  1. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention, Sopphey. Since I don't write fiction, I hadn't thought about how grief could be used in character development. Lots of possibilities.

    1. I hadn't either. Hope your find great possibilities for your poetry, Michelle.