Shalom Shattered: Writing About Pain

“Story begins when an event, either by human decision or accident in the universe, radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life, arousing in that character the need to restore the balance of life.” ~ Robert McKee, Screenwriting lecturer

Shalom - Peace | Photo provided by Alex Ringer &

Shalom – Peace | Photo provided by Alex Ringer &

When I began writing The Widows of Wyatt Abney my goal was to explore grief. The inciting incident was a fixed point from which I’ve never strayed. The effects of that incident changed a bit as I wrote the first draft. After my writing group went through the manuscript with me, so many changes came to mind. They forced me to dig deeper. But it wasn’t until I read Story that I realized the true missing element.

“It’s counter-intuitive to delve into pain in order to heal. We think we’ll be happy if we can manipulate or dismiss our feelings by ignoring past hurts. “That was then, this is now.” Running from pain doesn’t move us toward healing. The pain is still there and we are worn out.” (page 76)

While writing the first few drafts I stood apart from the unfolding action, from the emotions, and that was a mistake. Just as my characters need to fully experience the tragedies of their lives, I must fully experience those of my own. As the teller of their story I mustn’t be afraid to let their pain touch me.

Tragedy shaped the lives of the protagonist and antagonist. While one ran away from the pain, the other wallowed in it. When they meet again they can no longer ignore or pretend. They are forced to face their pain. How am I to be credible if I don’t face my own pain? How can the story ring true if I distance myself from the pain of my characters? I must confront the ugliness of my past, peel it away and reveal the beauty left behind.

The Reward |Photo provided by Brad Harrison &

The Reward | Photo provided by Brad Harrison &

We all come face to face with ugliness in many forms such as injustice, cruelty, shame, betrayal, tragedy. We ask questions like “Why did that happen?” or “How can my life have meaning?”

“When we don’t settle for the superficial answers that have gotten us by in the past, we will find the meaning of our narratives and understand the impact of our pain.” (Story, page 76)

Yes, my stories can be ugly. However, I strive to show the beauty of life. If my words can convince others to take an honest look at their own suffering, teach them to become gentle with themselves and others and bring healing into their lives, I will be a successful writer.

What do you hope your writing accomplishes?

  • I read an early draft of this story, and I loved these people. I’m really looking forward to the final version and the deeper exploration of all the characters.

    • Thanks, Staci. It’s been tough with this round of edits because the task seems daunting. Realizing what I need to do has lessened that feeling.

      • Rewriting is always harder than writing. At least, for me it is. I’m sure you’ll be fine. And if I can help in any manner, just let me know.