NEW Writing Resource: Writing Grief in Fiction

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.

If you want to stay in the loop in regards to this release, make sure to visit Denise’s blog, follow her on Twitter and add her book to your Goodreads list!


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This entry was posted in Characters, Emotion, Guest Post, Writing Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to NEW Writing Resource: Writing Grief in Fiction

  1. Deb Marshall says:

    Denise, my heart goes out to you and I thank you for being so brave and bringing us this book. I know those wrecking balls. My dad, my brother, my mom and tween them a work accident for my husband…and well…to be honest I fear to tread where you have, but you have me thinking this will be a good book to read and a lesson to take away. Thanks for letting me follow your steps.

  2. Well said. There’s nothing like living in the moment to make it easier to write about it later, even if it doesn’t help you get through it at the time.

  3. Jemi Fraser says:

    Grief is not easy to deal with in the real world and in our fictional worlds. This sounds like a wonderful resource.

  4. Arlee Bird says:

    Heavy emotions have to be written from the heart to be most effective. It might be useful for any writer (as well as therapeutic) to write notes about ones feelings and thoughts during hard times. I’ve done it a few times when my life circumstances have been particularly oppressive. I haven’t gone back to use those notes yet, but perhaps someday they’ll be useful to me.

    A Faraway View

  5. I wrote it into my solo work as the driving force of my villains, actually. In different ways, all of them lost loved ones, and instead of doing something positive with their lives, they turn away from being sympathetic characters to seeking out revenge.

    It’s a touchy area to write from. I’ve lost two brothers, and two nephews, one of them just some weeks ago to cancer.

  6. I’m really looking forward to reading this book. Grief is so complicated, and more than many other emotions, it can easily drift into melodrama and cliché. Thank you, Denise, for using your experience to help others.

  7. Shari Green says:

    So excited to see this book make its way into the world, Denise!

  8. Heather says:

    I didn’t know Denise had a new book out, and one on writing, how fantastic! I’m definitely picking this up.

  9. And though grief can sometimes be put into perspective by someone else’s greater losses, I believe we’ve all felt grief to a certain degree. This book sounds like a wonderful too.

  10. Denise Jaden says:

    Thanks so much for highlighting this on your blog, Angela! I’m thrilled to hear that others are interested in this topic (but sad to hear that others have been through traumatic personal experiences as well – I hope writing about it will be as cathartic for you as it was for me).

    It’s so exciting to me to see this book out in the wild!

  11. This is such a difficult area to write, and draws up a lot of our own personal turmoil when we do. Still, grief is important to show authentically, because I think more so than any other emotion, this is the one that can really strike a cord with readers. We have all experienced tragedy, and to connect with readers and show them a path back to reclaiming their lives in the aftermath? Probably one of the most important jobs we could do.

    Very much looking forward to this, Denise! Thanks for sharing your new upcoming book with us!


  12. Marla says:

    Yeah, I can see that. Writing with grief helps us look at our own pain objectively, and from there, be able to analyze it. Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing. I will look into your book.

  13. I’m dealing with a death in my WIP and one of my crit partners is a Griefshare counselor. Can’t tell you what a huge difference that has made in my manuscript.

  14. i look forward to getting this. my characters certainly have some huge tragedies coming.

  15. Denise, that’s so sad that you had so much grief in such a short time. But it’s great that you could take positive from it. I had a similar experience a few years ago–my sister died and then six months later my husband fell and needed surgery in a strange town. I didn’t bounce back as quick as you did.

    Your book sounds great. Good luck with it.

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