Hi everyone! Today I’m welcoming my good friend Denise Jaden, author of Losing Faith and Never Enough (Simon Pulse), two very powerful contemporary Young Adult novels. I am thrilled to be able to share the news (and the cover) of Denise’s foray into writing craft books! Her upcoming October release, Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction looks to be an excellent resource for all writers and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Rather than me explain how this book will help writers infuse their work with raw emotion, I’ll turn it over to Denise.
A New Writing Craft Book: Writing Grief in Fiction
Grief alone is not enough to make a novel. It’s the backdrop, sometimes the obstacle, but books must be flavored with other emotions. Many an agent or editor will tell you that the first few pages of a manuscript are vital to selling your work. This is especially true in a work that deals with heavy subject matter. One question writing professionals may have in the back of their minds as they read the description of your book is, “Will this book be too heavy-handed?”
While preparing to teach a workshop for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in early 2011, I began to study the subject of grief in fiction. I chose the topic because both of my books at the time (one out on shelves, the other about to release) had the common theme of a character facing grief. I hoped to look back over my process of writing these books and find a number of enlightening nuggets to teach other writers about how to use grief more effectively in fiction.
It turned out, after scouring through my manuscripts and revisions, I felt like I actually had very little to share. I started to think about how much research I was going to have to do in order to put together an informative presentation on grief—a subject I was starting to believe I knew very little about.
Later that spring, a series of wrecking balls came pummeling at my life that quickly changed my understanding and knowledge on the subject. 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. All of these things happened in a matter of about four months. These were all unexpected losses, and even though a year later, I am seeing some wonderful things that have come as a result—a closer family, a more prosperous working environment—the losses still affect me almost every day.
As much as I didn’t want it, I’ve had the opportunity to think on some teachable aspects of grief as I was walking my journey. I’m not a doctor or counselor. I am only a person who has explored fictional grief, experienced true grief, and written down some conclusions of how to better work the subject matter into writing.
I talk about how to increase conflict and create more engaging characters through grief and loss. Through explanation, examples, and exercises, I look at many different aspects and expressions of grief and apply it to a variety of characters and stories. Grief is not a story on its own, but it can be used to push things further.
I’ve highlighted specific ideas of how to reflect each part of the grieving process, without any melodrama, and increase character depth and conflict at the same time. I hope they’ll spur you on to come up with many of your own ideas of how to stretch your stories and prod your characters into a more engaging story!
This new book is both a labor of love and of pain, and I hope it will help enrich both your fiction and your life.
Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction
In her first non-fiction mini-book, Denise Jaden explores the stages and outlets of grief and how to implement them into your fiction to create more interesting characters and a more engaging plot. Some topics of this book include: grieving before the loss, spiritual matters, and how grief affects different ages, personality types and gender.
You guys know Becca and I, and how we are all over anything to do with emotion. I think I speak for both of us to say we’re excited for this book, because we are huge advocates of using personal experience to bring realism to the portrayal of a character’s feelings. This is a difficult area of emotion, one that many writers struggle with to write authentically. Denise’s experiences with grief, along with her incredible mastery of it in her fictional worlds make this a must-read for me.