Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Guest Columnist Mindy Lawrence Talks About Writing about Loss

 By Mindy Phillips Lawrence

Last week I completed my second reading of Joan Didion’s heart-wrenching book, The Year of Magical Thinking. Didion was married to John Gregory Dunne from 1964 until he died in 2003. She turned away from him for a moment at dinner then turned back and he was gone. How could she write about this tragedy in her life and make it so real it hurt? I think the answer has something to do with her combination of introspection and great writing.

Melodrama is an exaggeration of plot, character and story designed to heighten emotions. In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion did not heighten emotions. She tried to understand the reality of loss, break down the components and analyze them. In many ways, this analysis made the story even more tragic. It’s what we do when we try to understand the non-understandable. We try to apply reason to the unreasonable.

When you write about loss, think about the entire package that someone goes through when such an event occurs. Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross model first introduced the stages of grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. If you have a character facing loss, make sure to include these steps in his or her evolution. But do it creatively. Don’t go overboard or you will wind up with a melodrama instead of a sensitive, heartbreaking story.
Another good resource on writing about loss is a book by Zen Buddhist Joan Halifax called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death. The author gathered information from over 40 years of working with the dying and wrote the book as part of her course on training those working in hospice.

Writing is also a method of healing when someone must deal with the loss of a loved one. By learning how writing can help in recovery, an author can also learn how to use this information to help a character deal with grief.

I hope you have no need to use writing as a cure. I do hope you use this information to make your stories more believable.


Kubler-Ross Model – Five Stages of Grief

Joan Halifax – Being with Dying

The Healing Power of the Pen

Ginny’s Fiction Writing Blog

~ Mindy Phillips Lawrence,, is the author of the poetry collections One Blue Star and Above and Below. She is co-author of The Complete Writer and a publicist and literary agent. She is in the process of researching a novel titled Alone is Where We Begin. Blogging at: .

Her specialty is helping writers with their media releases. Reach her at

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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