Ivy and the 5 stages of grief

Listen up, mortals.

Since Moos seems to have an endless supply of writing craft topics – for me to talk about, mind you – I’m left wondering when exactly I’m supposed to update you on her progress. That is why I took over this blog after all.

So I’m just going to start with the updates here and make you all wait for the writing craft stuff.

*evil laugh*

First off, I’ve found myself a delightful little group of muses to commiserate with and it’s been quite the life saver. Judy (@AnconaDanielle) will occasionally step in and help when Moos is particularly distractable, and Endora (@erinnelansing) is helping me work on my evil laugh. Cheshire (@miah_peach) keeps our writers inspired and Vermulean (@flotsammusic) keeps us ladies from getting too out of hand. It’s the most inspiring group of muses I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.

As for Moos, she’s been writing and reading as much as she can, when she’s not being peed on, that is. Yes, mortals, the potty training has begun again. You’ll excuse me for keeping my distance. It’s disgusting.

The good news is that Moos is considering another Moos’s Musings next week about the new book she finished. Although, she could also write a random story last minute just for fun. I never know with her. Maybe that’s why it’s so tiring being her muse.

Anyway, that’s what’s new with her.

So now it’s time to talk about grief. Specifically …

How the five stages of grief can help improve your writing

First, what are the five stages of grief?

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

Not everyone goes through these stages the same way, and not everyone experiences every single one of them. However, the majority of people will spend at least a little time dealing with each one.

So let’s talk about each of these stages a bit, in the context of writing of course. We’ll go through some writing examples at the end.

(Here’s a more thorough explanation of these stages in their original context, for you curious kitties.)

Denial

There’s a reason us magical fairytale creatures can get away with doing weird stuff in front of you humans. You only see what you want or expect to see. Your brains are constantly trying to rationalize what you see with what you know and understand, inventing new explanations when the old ones don’t work.

(See, you’re denying this very statement right now.)

But what if what you’re seeing or hearing can’t be explained or rationalized? What if it simply won’t fit within your perception of the world? That’s where this first stage comes in. Humans’ first gut reaction to what they can’t or don’t want to accept is to deny its validity or even its existence, be it the loss of a loved one, a life altering injury, or an unexpected promotion.

For some this stage lasts a few minutes, for others a few days. And some may even find themselves living in denial indefinitely. (Like Moos, who still claims she’s actually using that old planner. Ha!)

But nearly everyone, when presented with something painful or challenging to their beliefs will deny what they’re experiencing first. Allowing your characters to experience this stage will make the scene feel more authentic.

Anger

This stage is even trickier than denial. Not because it’s difficult to explain or anything, but because for a lot of you humans, anger does not look anything remotely like anger. It’s incredibly aggravating. How am I supposed to know when Moos needs cheering up or a pillow to scream into when both meltdowns look exactly the same, for crying out loud?!

The point is this stage isn’t just about getting angry, it’s about the general outlet of emotion when you realize your life is changing drastically. It may look like anger, or sadness, or hysteria, or any number of extreme emotions. Which means you don’t have to force your character to become uncharacteristically angry to follow through with this stage.

Bargaining

This stage is probably the hardest to fully understand, and even more difficult to incorporate in writing. The stereotypical portrayal of this stage usually involves the character praying to their preferred deity to spare their loved one and take them instead. But what’s really at the core of this stage is the belief that you have the power to control, or change, or avoid whatever it is that’s challenging your beliefs or perceptions.

Your character may or may not actually have that power or at least the tools to acquire that power, but that’s up to you, the author, and the context of your story and characters. Heck, you may even find that it makes more sense to skip this stage entirely. Either way, if your character does go through this stage, they should believe they can control the situation, at least for a little while, even if they can’t.

Depression

Much like the stage of anger, depression can look very different for different people. Though these stages aren’t always gone through linearly, this stage most often comes right after bargaining. You see, once you’ve accepted that you can’t change or avoid what’s happening, you’re left in an empty, aimless place where you have to figure out how to readjust your beliefs and perceptions to make room for this new thing, this new reality. And that can be incredibly daunting. Often leading to depression.

In the case of the death of a spouse or lover, this is usually the point in the story at which the character will die of grief, if that’s what the plot calls for. It comes down to the character finding it impossible to adjust to life without their spouse or lover. Either they adjust and move on, or they don’t.

Acceptance

This is the simplest stage to explain in the context of writing. This is where your character has adjusted to the challenge or loss and is ready to move forward again. The whole process through these stages can take anywhere from a few minutes to several years, but it depends entirely on your characters and the needs of your story.

Now for some examples

The thing is, these stages don’t just apply to grief, as I alluded to in the description of denial. When it comes to writing, these stages can come in extremely handy for many different kinds of scenes.

For instance, someone close to your main character turns out to have been keeping secrets.

1. “No way. I know you too well to believe that.”

2. “You’re serious? How could you?!”

3. “You take it all back or I swear I will never speak to you ever again!”

4. “How can I trust anyone again?”

5. “Trust is hard, but I can’t shut everyone out for the rest of my life.”

Or, your main character gets an unexpected promotion.

1. “Are you kidding me? Is this a joke?”

2. “Sweet, I’m getting promoted! Wait, am I getting a new office? How much extra work is this coming with? Oh, I think I need to sit down.”

3. “I got promoted, I didn’t win the lottery. No one is getting a new phone.”

4. “I really am working late. I just wasn’t prepared for all the extra work.”

5. “Well, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but all in all I’m glad I accepted the promotion.”

And finally, how about a life altering injury?

1. “What do you mean I’m never going to play again? You’re joking, right?”

2. “No, I’m not okay! My life is over!”

3. “I don’t care how risky it is or how much it costs, I’m going to play again.”

4. “What do I do now? Playing was my whole life.”

5. “I guess playing isn’t the only thing I’m good at. I’ve still got a lot to live for.”

As you can see, these stages can apply to a lot of different situations and characters. So the next time your characters find themselves facing something life altering, try putting them through these stages and see how they handle it. Moos has personally found that this strategy made her characters feel more authentic and the story play out more organically.

Uh oh. The kiddos are being whiny and gross again. That’s my cue to skedaddle. I’ll say hi to the muses for y’all.

Ivy out.

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