Exercises from Writing With a Heavy Heart
Copyright 2012 by Denise Jaden
If you have purchased a copy of Writing With a Heavy Heart, please feel free to print additional copies of these exercises for personal use.
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Exercise: Healing Timeline
Look at your current work in progress dealing with grief. Even if there may be several characters enduring a loss of some kind, choose one character and map out his timeline for healing. You can come back and complete this exercise forall of your grieving characters.When did the main loss occur for this character? (Even if there is no date/year specified in your fiction, choose one for purposes of this timeline.)____________________________________________________When will the character regain a normal state of wholeness after this loss? (Even if this doesn’t occur during the course of your story, you should know when this will come.)____________________________________________________ Name three scenes in the course of your story (and their approximate timing in the overall timeline) where your character is pushed to deal with his grief: ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Look at the dates you have listed above. Are there any large gaps in the timeline of healing where you could add a character or situation that would bring your character’s grief to the forefront again? Keeping the above chapter in mind, do all of these scenes have authentic reasons for pushing your character toward dealing with his grief, or do you still need to do some work on your backstory of your supporting characters? In any of these scenes, can you push your character farther and make it more impossible to avoid friction with other characters? Exercise: Methods of Grieving Below, list your characters by name along the left-hand side. Even if these characters will not be dealing with grief during the course of your story, it is important to know their feelings on the subject in order to play up the tension that comes from differing opinions.Can you give any of your characters more extreme opinions on how grief should be dealt with? Character Name: Method of Dealing With Grief: (Examples: Isolation/workaholism/weeping/stocism)_____________________ _______________________________________________ __________________________ _____________________ __________________________ _____________________ __________________________ _____________________ __________________________ _____________________ __________________________ Exercise – The Spectrum of Emotions Sadness is not the only emotion of grief.Which emotions do your characters in grief experience? ____ Denial ____ Rage ____ Loneliness ____ Rejection ____ Confusion ____ Helplessness ____ Guilt ____ Anxiety ____ Disappointment ____ Anger ____ Sadness ____ Resentment ____ Jealousy ____Inadequacy ____ Vulnerability ____ Vindictiveness ____ Fear ____ Envy ____ Depression ____ Pain ____ Dread ____ Bitterness ____ Loss ____ Anguish ____ Dismay ____ Sorrow ____ Betrayal ____ Abandonment ____ Apathy ____ Distrust ____ Lack of control ____ Other _________ Exercise: Loss History Write out a Loss History for one or more of your characters. Take time to list any losses your character has experienced throughout the course of his or her life. Include any instances where he felt a sense of loss, no matter how unimportant the circumstances may seem in the present. Think of missed promotions, friends moving away, the deaths of pets, the ends of friendships, job losses, and lost opportunities, as well as loss of loved ones.Consider what kind of painful losses he has experienced and how he has reacted to each of those losses. DATE: LOSS: __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ __________ _______________________________________ Exercise: Hasty Decisions Create Added Tension Open your current work in progress. Pretend your main character has just discovered a tragedy that has propelled him or her into shock. List three crazy decisions he or she could make at this moment. 1. __________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 3. __________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ How would these decisions affect the next scene in your novel? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ How would these decisions affect your character, or other characters, for the rest of the book? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ List two things your character could neglect to do because he is in denial: 1. __________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ How can these lapses increase the tension for the following scenes? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Exercise: Causing Spiritual Change What does your main grieving character believe spiritually?____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Does your main character believe in any kind of afterlife? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Does your main character believe there was any spiritual cause for their loss by the person lost, by the person grieving, or by certain attributes of a higher power? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Can you take THE OPPOSITE of any of the above answers and find a way to show that in a scene in your story? (Examples: If your main character is devout in his beliefs, can you show his sudden doubt in his spirituality somewhere in your book? If your character has always believed strongly that there is no afterlife, could he now consider different possibilities for an afterlife? If your character thinks the reason for the death was due to a mistake or a negative personality trait, can you find a place in your manuscript to attribute the death to a different cause? Exercise: Self-Talk Find and write down three sentences of self-talk or inner dialogue from your main character early after he experiences a loss: (Note: if you cannot find three, are you able to add some to bring the reader closer into your character’s point of view?) 1. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 2. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 3. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ Flip ahead to the last three chapters of your manuscript. Find and list three more sentences of self-talk or inner dialogue from this section: 1. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 2. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 3. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ Is there a noticeable change in the level of acceptance in your character in the latter section? Can you make the changes more noticeable? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ Exercise: Grieving Before The Loss Is there a loss that your character is anticipating?____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ If so, on a scale from one to ten, how much does he think he’s already dealt with the loss? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ How much does he expect is still to come? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________ And as the author, how much grief do you know is truly left to come for this character? ____________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________ Exercise: Grieving According To Age Age of your character who is experiencing loss _______According to the above suggestions, or your own ideas, list two ways that your character would likely demonstrate his or her grief:______________________ ______________________ Now list two OPPOSITE reactions from those you listed above. (Example: If you listed irritability above, the opposite might be calmness.) ______________________ ______________________ If you find your character is acting stereotypical, one way to add character depth is to draw from your “Opposites List.” Let your character explode where he might normally bottle up his feelings, or become lazy when his normal reaction may be overworking. Using opposites can add fullness to your character’s journey. Exercise: Clues To Healing Can you find three ways that your character demonstrates healing by the end of your story (in dialogue, actions, or self-talk?) 1. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 2. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 3. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ If you cannot find three ways, can you think of manifestations of healing that you can add to your current manuscript? If this is too difficult, look back at one of your favorite novels with an element of grief and loss. Can you pick out ways that the grieving character is manifesting some measure of healing or recovery by the end of the novel? Exercise: Setting The Tone Take your current manuscript dealing with a grief theme, or use a book you’ve recently read and enjoyed. Look at the first two pages of the book and list three things other than sadness or grief that come into play during these early pages.If you’re working with your own manuscript, can you add humor, romance, mystery, or a conflict aside from any kind of loss?1. ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ 3. _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ STEPS TO HEALTHY GRIEVING (CHECKLIST TO SHOW FULL CHARACTER ARC) 1. Does your character acknowledge and understand his grief? Can he admit that he will be forever changed by his loss? 2. Does your character have the strength and boldness to grieve in his own way?3. Has your character told his story to others and given an honest account of his loss? Is he able to share his pain? Is he able to rely on others in new ways? 4. Has your character committed to whatever length of road he has to walk in order to move back into living life? 5. Has your character opened his eyes to the needs around him once again? Through his experience, he has developed new traits and knowledge, and he has received encouragement and consolation with which he, in turn, can comfort others. Does your character have an increased ability to love and to be loved?
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