Poker Face, Grief, and Straight Forward Characters

Poker Face, Grief, and Straight Forward Characters

April 28, 2016 Writing Advice 4

13410351_10209535010477012_1275926868_o“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Art Imitates Life

Recently, my husband came to me bubbling with a new idea. I love to see him get excited about something, especially now. Losing his dad has been so hard on all of us and he needs something to focus on. He’s the type who grieves best by staying busy. Over the course of the last couple weeks, we have witnessed and discussed the different ways that people grieve and how to respond to them. It takes a great deal of empathy to respond to someone who is grieving differently than you while in the same situation.

Shawn is the type of person to stay knee deep in a situation until there is nothing left to do, then he needs a distraction. A rescue mission, a job, a social activity, something that lets him process in the background while staying busy. I work in a very similar fashion, minus the social aspect. I think it may be a Scorpio thing. Other people avoid a situation and then wallow in their grief and regret. To each their own.

Straight Tears Make Flat Characters


When you write a story with a traumatic or dramatic element the way your characters grieves matters. Everyone doesn’t always cry. There really isn’t a wrong way to show emotion, but the grieving process should reflect their established character as well as the variances that other people create. For example, an overly emotional secondary character may cause your MC to break down or shut down. Does your MC only cry in private and come across uncaring? How do your secondary characters react to grief? This is a great opportunity to deepen character bonds and to create depth of character.

Writing emotion is all about the showing but it is easy to slip into “telling,” so you want to avoid words like “feel” or “thought,” and anything that starts with was (was afraid, was sad, etc). Include physical descriptions that depict emotion such as trembling hands, quickened breath, and knee falling (for those extra dramatic characters).

A Rainbow of Emotions


What situations or actions can justify a heartbroken and grieving character or group of characters? Often, these situations will evolve naturally in a plot but other times writer’s block sneaks up on us and we need to dig into our bag of tricks.

Don’t shy from the spectrum of emotions that heartbreak can create. This is your chance to make your reader really feel. If your character is heartbroken your reader should be a puddle on the floor. A strong character might now break down, a weak character may find strength. This express of grief should provide growth to your characters and propel your plot.

Be sure as you move forward in your writing that your character is working through each stage of grief. While the responses are unique the process is almost universal. There are five stages and missing one could hurt the overall believability of your story and your character’s journey.

Some ways your character may move through the stages of grief:

  • Denial: (Blankness, shock, numbness, disbelief.) Characters in denial may run away, or they may choose to maintain an activity relevant to their recent loss.   Click To Tweet
  • Anger: (A sense of betrayal, of abandonment. Maybe blaming oneself, others, or even the deceased for the loss.) Does your character break things, or turn cold in anger? These traits would play into their grief anger as well.   Click To Tweet
  • Bargaining: (Trying to reason away the loss or else buy a respite from it.) Perhaps they will search for a spell or another solution to undo their grief?   Click To Tweet
  • Depression: (The full weight of the loss. Desolation, heaviness, terrible sadness.) What does depression look like? It takes many forms and it so much more than just crying. Physical self-harm, writing, and drastic changes to physical appearance are just some to consider.   Click To Tweet
  • Acceptance: (The loss is a part of the self. Internalization, incorporation, moving on.) Sometimes acceptance can mimic denial. For some people, this means taking the pain and tucking it away. And others may face it full on. Whichever route you choose should feel comfortable to your character.   Click To Tweet


Grief can be written powerfully even without first-hand experience when you are empathetic. Submerge yourself in your character’s heart and really be present as you write. Feel what the feel and bring it to life. And then, let it go.

Until next time, scribe happy and stay sassy,






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