Everyone has lost someone at some point, in some way. Loved ones pass away. Friends fade. Romances cease to exist.
This makes loss one of the most relatable subjects in storytelling.
It’s not fun to think about, it’s usually not funny. But not all relatable things are.
What makes loss such a powerful starting point for a story? For one thing, everyone deals with their grief differently. No two characters have the same reactions, the same coping mechanisms. You could write a dozen stories about grief and not produce two that are remotely similar.
For another, if I were to suggest to you, “Write about a person you’ve lost,” you can’t come back with the “I don’t have anything to write about” excuse so many aspiring writers use.
Everyone has something to write about here. It doesn’t have to be about death. It doesn’t even have to be about a person. One time I found a worm in our garden, and that worm was my best friend for about five minutes, but I dropped him on the ground accidentally and never found him again. A major childhood tragedy, let me tell you.
See? I could write an entire story about that stupid worm (RIP). You have a lot of weird and random memories up there in your brain. You also have very strong and not quite so laughable ones, that’s true. My last year of college, I lost two very significant people in my life, six months apart.
Recalling your own grief, and writing about it — you’re not faking emotion there. It’s the perfect way to practice writing a story about or from the perspective of a character who is grieving. When you do things like that, you have to draw from your own real-world feelings. That is how you convey the kind of emotion in a story necessary for readers to draw connections between a fictional person and their real lives.
Those are the kinds of stories people love. Stories they can read that make them think of themselves. It’s not selfish. It’s human nature. “You” is a known tool for writing an effective title or headline. People love to know that something someone else is writing relates back to them somehow.
So that’s what I encourage you to do this week: write about someone you’ve lost. I’ll do it, too. It can be funny; it can be serious. You can show it to someone or post it on your own blog or website, or you can keep it to yourself, if it’s private. My hope is that it inspires you to continue writing about yourself as a means of getting into the right mindset to tell stories about fictional people … for real people to read.
Try it out. See what happens. Maybe you’ll get a new idea for a story. (Sorry in advance…)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.