1. Holo
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    Holo Senior Member

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    Portraying the deaths of family members

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Holo, Aug 2, 2012.

    My protagonist is a 19-year-old female werewolf who was separated from her parents and her pack at the age of four and was taken in by a magician. Since she was 14, she has been investigating and searching for her old pack. Now the story is not about her finding her pack, this is simply her initial goal and what drives her at the beginning of the story. Later on, she finds out that an organization wiped her pack out years ago. The problem is, how do I effectively portray the impact and grief this will have on the protagonist without making it over the top angsty or making her unrealistically strong throughout the ordeal. One of the key elements of her character is that she rarely gives up and is a "keep moving forward" kind of girl. But I know this is something that will make her falter.
    How do I effectively portray something like this?
     
  2. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    Simple question... How would you feel, after being seperated from your parents at such a young age, when you later found out they were murdered? Gone?

    Meditate on that feeling.. Envision it.. Let it take you over.. Feel the tears.. The resentment.. The compassion.. The love.. The loss...

    "Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations—they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet." -Edgar Allan Poe
     
  3. Quinn T. Senchel
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    Quinn T. Senchel Member

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    Essentially what GoldenGhost said. What would you feel? It's your story, you know her better than we do, you can empathize with her better than we can. In a similar situation I would probably feel an initial shock, and perhaps an emptiness and confusion, and after I let my emotions linger it would grow into resentment.
     
  4. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Even if she is strong she needs a moment to reflect. I'm told I'm strong often. I don't believe it. I cry, I vent, I punch pillows. I sulk.


    I sulk a lot.

    Eventually my mind starts to calm the tornado in my soul and I realize the only way out is up. I force myself up. I force myself to problem solve. And force myself to act. It goes against everything I want to do, but damn them all, I'm proving to .... who, I don't know... but I'm proving that I can do it.

    And all is well, until the next set back.

    If this makes me strong, so be it, but I'd hate to see weak!

    The fact is, she is human. She is going to feel this. What pulls her out of that depression is what defines her character.
     
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  5. nephlm
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    nephlm Member

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    I'm going to throw out there that the packs death would have minimal emotional impact on her. She was four when she last saw these people and that was fifteen years ago. The search for the pack was a plan akin to "when I'm old enough I'm going to hitchhike into the city and do broadway." Your character just discovered she can't do broadway. Learning that your character can't do broadway could be devastating, but it's a different kind of devastating than the loss of family. That loss happened fifteen years ago. In certain people it might be a relief to learn that she wasn't cast out or abandoned for her own failings. It absolves her of blame for her childhood.

    It can be emotional, but it is the emotion invested into an idea, rather than people.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    From Goldenghost:
    It's not as simple as this. This sort of thing is not so easy to imagine if one hasn't experienced it or something that could be similar. What you really have to try to tap into is the sudden realization that things are not how you had always thought they were. It might be helpful to browse the memoir or biography section of your library or bookstore to find anything about someone who may have found out at as an adult or teenager that they had been adopted or that their parent or sibling had been murdered or something. That's the closest thing I can think of off the top of my head, although there may be other experiences that you could learn from as well to inform your portrayal.

    I agree with some of what nephim said, also -- your character was 4 when this happened. There are people who don't have childhood memories earlier than 4 (it seems a bit late to me, but my husband, for example cannot remember a single thing from before he was nearly five.) Especially if there was some sort of traumatic experience involved, the character would not have the same type of attachment to the parents and family as if it had happened later and she had more memories of them. This is not at all to say that the character would not experience a sense of loss and sadness -- she certainly would. But it would not be quite the same as her losing her parents as well as missing them and the memories she had, because as far as she's concerned, it could very well be the case that this magician is the only parent/family she's known.

    (The sudden switch could also have an effect on her on a subconscious level, which would manifest in a different way than the sadness over her parent's death. You can look at some of the literature about children who are adopted as preschoolers or toddlers for more insight into this.)
     
  7. Holo
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    Holo Senior Member

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    I think what I will do is make the age where she was separated from her family a bit older. Maybe 8 or 9 or so. Still young, but old enough to have some concrete memories. The think is that it really is difficult to imagine what I would do if I found out that my parents and my former family died. I know her character and know she would shut down at first and focus a lot of her energy on revenge. I know that she is dealing not only with their deaths but the end of a lifelong dream and goal.
    Part of the reason she is looking for her childhood pack (aside from simply reuniting with her parents) is that as a werewolf living amongst humans and magicians and werewolves who are content to assimilate and praise humans while hating themselves she has felt a bit off. Sure, she has a loving adoptive father and great friends, but everyone needs at least someplace where they don't feel so apart. So this was her way out and it's gone.
    I guess my basic problem is that I don't want to Mary Sue her by making her life too tragic or too angsty. But I also don't want to make her unrealistic by making her strangely calm or strong in the face of something that would devastate a normal person.
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am pretty sure that there are some accounts out there of trans-racial adoptees (particularly from Korea -- as it was the first international program, so it has been around longest and has the most grown adoptees) who discuss feeling not part of the largely white society and some have found out that their roots were not what they thought or when they went to find their parents, found out they were deceased. There are also some accounts out there of black children raised in white families that might be helpful. Obviously, these are not entirely on point to what you are writing, but you might get some insight on someone who is not feeling like they are truly a part of the dominant culture and society, despite having a loving family. But if you have no experience with anything close to this sort of thing, this might be helpful to get an account from someone who has felt emotions that would be similar to and would, at least to an extent, overlap with what your character might feel. I don't know of any offhand that I could suggest, but this might be a direction for some research to try to get a sense of what someone with a background that could be analogous to that of your character might feel.
     
  9. Holo
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    Holo Senior Member

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    Yeah I think I just need to do some research on people who were adopted and people who have lost loved ones. Thank you guys for all the help.
     
  10. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I'm not exactly sure how this cannot be envisioned by someone.. maybe it's my own experience clouding my judgement, for I have not lost my parents in such a way, yet I can bring to mind the feeling I would have experienced. I've recently wrote a story where my character's mother dies, and the emotion is real. If you haven't gone through the experience, create one in your head and remember the response. It's the same when you relate to a character, when you freely sympathize with a character. How many stories have you read where the characters have gone through things far beyond your own experience? Yet you envision their experience, you can relate, because imagination is powerful. How many authors have fabricated stories, successfully, conveying emotional experience they've never gone through?

    Have you not had a dream where a loved one died? And woke up frightened? I can gurantee if you ponder all the cruelty that exists in this world, the innocent deaths, the war, the struggle, the conflict, you're emotional response will surely be one of instant compassion, yet many of those experiences have not been lived by you. My parents are together. I can tell you right now I can say how I'd feel if they divorced: dissapointed, resentful, forgotten, misplaced.. the list goes on.. and that's not because I've experienced it, it's because I've paid attention to how others have felt who went through it themselves.

    This is fiction. Our job is to create situations both experienced, and fabricated, in hopes we move our reader, otherwise our description is extremely limited to only what we have felt in our own lives. Why do we read constantly? So we can fill that resovoir and use it later, learning from the experience of others, giving it a unique twist with our interpretation. Was Conan Doyle a detective? Hell no, he was Watson reincarnate, yet he created a masterful detective. Was Bradbury a fireman? Poe a prisoner? An italian aristocrat? There are thousands of stories written throughout the ages that are not specifically pulled from direct experience. The authors absorbed their surroundings, the feelings of others, and they channelled that energy through their pen. Look at Poe's quote.

    "Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations—they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet."

    I think the whole concept of only writing what you know is a cop out, for it is fear you cannot recreate something you haven't experienced that is holding you back. You're not giving your own mind the chance to do it's job, and it's a powerful thing once tuned to that frequency.

    Haven't you pretended when you were a child? Re-enacted heroes you fell in love with, at such an early age? You probably never held a sword, but tell me, did you hold it while you were young? I did. Did you swim in the sea? I did. Did you pretend you were someone else? I did Living a different life? I did In another world? I did, and I do so now.

    As writers, we are professional people watchers. Writing from experience strengthens your prose, for sure, but the discipline of being a writer is training yourself to think as others do, to feel as others do, to see as others do, to hear as others do, and give the reader a chance to live through our characters, so they can pretend to be something, or someone, they're not.
     
  11. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I recall a time there was a horrible falling out with my family resulting in a lot of lies being told about me and people believing it. To this day my relatives do not treat me the same. Was the situation the same as it always had been? Yes. Dysfunctional family. However, that day many people died to me. I felt like my world exploded and I was the only one left alive. (I actually said this to my husband)

    Children, adoptive children, grow up thinking about their biological parents. They imagine what the reunion will be like. Sometimes they fret. Sometimes they day dream. Regardless, they want those parents in their lives. The sudden realization that will never happen rips away a part of their existence. I think in a situation like this it would be mind exploding. Add to the fact this is a lone werewolf desperately seeking her pack. It's a two fold destruction of her world view. I think...and I'm not the master mind behind this, that this will rattle her. Regardless of the fact that she may not remember them at all. She knows she came from somewhere, and now she will never understand what that somewhere was.
     
  12. Quinn T. Senchel
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    Quinn T. Senchel Member

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    I agree with you. You may not have felt the death of a loved one but you've read stories and you've empathized with people who have. I believe writing what you know is more than literally writing what you know. If we all wrote what we knew, statistics would suggest most Americans would be writing about middle class suburbia. Have you ever truly and desperately longed for something? Anything? Than you have known longing and you can write about it. You may not be able to sympathize with a character who has lost their mother to cancer, but if you've ever lost a pet I'm sure you went through a similar sort of emptiness and grief. Just think back to those dark times and amplify it. That to me is the knowing part behind write what you know.
     
  13. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This whole subject is a difficult one to give advice that will fit every writer and every situation. The 'write what you know' is solid advice, but you have to really look at the meaning of "know." There are so many variables here that a single statement will not fit every author. Some people are very good at reading the feelings of others and of really tapping into the emotions of people. This is, in some ways, a skill that requires time to develop. Some people do not have it at all. Writers who are lucky enough to really perfect this skill open up a huge range of possibilities for their writing.

    Part of developing this skill and increasing what one "knows" is a function of age and of experience. Another part is good observation skills. Another element is the ability to empathize. And 'knowing' something doesn't mean that the writer has experienced the exact thing that he's writing about -- often it's that the author has experienced something that is at least along the same pathway -- that would elicit the same type of emotions and fears. Breaking up with a boyfriend isn't the same as getting divorced, but a writer who has solidified the skills mentioned above could use the emotion from that experience to explore the deeper feelings and ramifications of a divorce. The same thing with the death of a pet versus the death of a human -- it's not exactly the same, but it's along the same pathway. So, it's not a matter of having directly experienced the event you're writing about, but of having experienced enough to be able to intuitively understand the emotional responses and impact of events that could be transferred and deepened to apply to the writing.

    If one is relatively young, and has never experienced the death of someone close to him, is not adopted, and is not for, example, a different race than most of the people he or she interacts with, it will be much more difficult to imagine the feelings of someone in a situation such as this. He might think he can imagine it, but if the writer has no experience with this type of emotion, there is a high probability that it will ring false, especially to a reader who has experienced those sorts of things.

    This is not to say that it is impossible for this type of writer to effectively write such a story. If he is a writer who does have a good understanding of human behavior and emotions, that's a huge help. (Again, there are people who don't have this skill and never develop it. There are 18 year olds who are far better at this than many 70 year olds. But that 18 year old who is really good at it will probably get better and better as he experiences more.) If a writer has that, and is willing to research -- that is, to read about and learn about people who have been in similar situations, he might be able to to pull it off.
     
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  14. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Sure you can. Sympathy is easy. It's empathy that's hard to come by when you have not experienced it yourself.
     
  15. Quinn T. Senchel
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    Quinn T. Senchel Member

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    Pardon me, I meant empathy and wrote sympathy. :p
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's such a case in "The Last Airbender" - the avatar airbender finds out after hibernating for centuries that his entire clan has been wiped out and he's the last airbender. In this story, he was the reason why his clan was wiped out, so the film focused on his guilt, which causes him to lose control of the elements because he cannot accept their deaths or that he's responsible for their deaths.

    Or Hunger Games - Katniss finds out
    at the end of the 2nd book that the entire District 12 has been wiped out. At the beginning of book 3 the first section of the story focuses on her grief and shock
    . So perhaps read the beginning of The Mockingjay so inspiration.
     

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