The Five Stages of Grief Can Help Your Writing

by Liz Bureman | 86 comments

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The city of Denver is slowly picking itself up off its feet after this weekend. While I am happy for Seattle (everyone should have the feeling of victory at least once in a while), it was a really hard game to watch. At the Super Bowl party I attended, by the time the third quarter was winding down, most of us had been through all five stages of grief, and were accepting the comfort of beer and queso. And those stages of grief are the inspiration for today's post.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the five stages of grief that she observed through her work with terminally ill patients, and pioneered a theory that is famous in entry-level psychology classes at universities across the US. The hypothesis states that humans deal with grief by progressing through five emotional stages:

Denial: The queso is gone? It can't be gone, I was in here five minutes ago and there was half a bowl left!

Anger: Who the hell ate the last of the queso?! Was it Carl? He's such a jerk!

Bargaining: If you let me lick the last of the queso off your plate, I'll give you both of my brownies.

Depression: I just can't think about any other food because I wanted that queso so badly.

Acceptance: Well, the queso is gone. Oooh, guacamole!

Not everyone goes through all five stages, nor is the list of emotions limited to those five.

What does this have to do with writing?

Provided that your characters are human, they can experience these stages as well, on a micro or macro level. Grief is one of the most powerful and personal emotions in the human experience, and a writer who implements the stages effectively can bring a reader into an intensely intimate and vulnerable moment with a character.

If you so desired, you could also play the five stages of grief for laughs. Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day goes through all five stages, and each stage is funnier than the one previous until he hits the acceptance stage and starts behaving like a decent human being.

You could also choose to subvert the five stages, and perhaps your character skips one or several. Kübler-Ross herself said that not everyone experiences grief in the same way, and that includes rejecting stages, or adding other emotions into the mix.

Are your characters experiencing any of the five stages of grief?

PRACTICE

Write a scene in which the main character of your current work in progress confronts one of the stages of grief. They could be dealing with their own mortality or that of a loved one, or maybe they're really upset that someone ate the last chocolate chip cookie.

Post your practice, and check out the work of your fellow writers.

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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

86 Comments

  1. Chloee

    I stared at the coffin of my mom and dad. The rain falls down in a steady stream of water. The thunder roars in the distant. I push back the hot tears in my eyes. The munors say a few words. They were good people, they shouldn’t have died, they will be missed blah blah blah blah. Nobody knew my mom and dad like I did. They were the kindest people in the world. They sacrificed there lives to save me from the car crash. I should’ve saved them. I should’ve ran back inside and grabbed them. Instead I stayed outside screaming there names. After the furnel everyone left but me. I had no where to go. I curled up on my parents grave and pulled my coat closer to my body to shield it from th cold. I’m sorry mom and dad. It’s all my fault. My voice came in a barley heard whisper. The tears I tried so hard to hide came rushing out in hot trails of water. My breath came in slow shallow gulps for air. Flash backs if the car crash came flying back into my mind. The screeching of the tires, The sound of metal breaking, Glass broke every where, the smell of gas, My mom grabbed me and pushed into the seat. I saw my mom and dad laying in their seats their faces were cold and life less. I shook their body’s to wake them up but their eyes stayed closed. I screamed for them to get up but the police grabbed me and held me close to stop me from screaming. The driver that hit us was drunk but in hurt. The freaking idiot. I ran over to him and punched him waking him up. The police grabbed and had me sit in the police car. I finally stoped crying and layed on the ground falling asleep. The rain splashing on me.

    Reply
    • catmorrell

      Wow your story twisted up my insides. The only changes I would make are to clean up your grammar and spelling. You hit the emotion perfectly. Great work.

    • Chloee

      Thank you.

    • John Fisher

      I agree with cat, you did hit the emotion perfectly. Not much room for denial in a situation like this, is there.

    • Chloee

      Thanks. I so glad you liked it I was worried I didn’t do a very good job because I’m only a kid.

    • John Fisher

      You did fine.

    • Elise Martel

      Kids have a way of describing the emotion itself rather than all the other stuff that bogs it down. Raindrops and tears both burn when we’ve lost someone, don’t they?

    • Chloee

      Exactly. You took the words right of My mouth. I love your story.

    • Elise Martel

      I love yours too. You grip the emotion and boom, there’s the story!

    • Ashley Liz

      definitely wow. so strong and powerful.

  2. John Fisher

    Just got on the interstate, and my right hand automatically finds the volume control and cranks it, in anticipation of Hendrix or BadCo or at least Dylan: ” . . . moms, don’t let your children run over you another minute! Join Mad Moms and stand up for yourself . . . ”

    !*&(*^!%&()(&*^!!! You used to be able to get a decent rock station on the *&!$^&! radio, man they played fifty minutes of music an hour, but now, now this corporate-radio &*$%#!, twenty minutes of spots and the same twelve songs over and over, the *!*$!!*^%*!! suits own it all now! Well, the suits always owned it, but don’t bother me when I’m on a roll, man and Deep Cuts, man, I wanta hear that cut of Lance (the pants) Lothario on that bad night in Boise when he belches between the second and third line of the fourth verse of “Needle Took the Lead Outa My Pencil”, man like the old days, what IS this sh*t, it’s like another century or . . . . . . somethin’ . . .

    Since I’m not aware of any methodology for bargaining with TIME, and I really don’t fancy bein’ depressed today, let’s go straight to the acceptance. Okay, it’s another age.

    Where’s the nearest Taco Bell??

    Reply
    • catmorrell

      Where’s Pandora when you need it? You grabbed the anger and also the need to distract and redirect yourself. Loved the last line about Taco Bell. I see you slinking into acceptance with a seven layer burrito. My favorite coping strategy.

    • Elise Martel

      Taco Bell for you, no eating for me. Between the two of us, we’ll even it out to a normal diet:)
      I can’t stand when all the radio stations are playing the same hits over and over. A normal album as what, like 12 songs? Could you DJ people like, I don’t know, play one of the others?!
      John, you definitely got the angry part down pat. Kudos to you.

    • Ashley Liz

      i liked it. I have been there and it made me laugh.

    • John Fisher

      Thank You!

  3. TheCody

    This is part of a chapter from my first WIP:

    Dominic found himself crying for no reason, in the middle of the night or watching the sunrise or while staring at his walls. Everything seemed to set him off; he had no protection. Leaves looked like fingers, pointing at him, accusing him. The sky smothered him; every cloud was a murdered child. The color red hurt his chest. His lungs ached from sobbing. There was no escaping himself. But he didn’t want to. He deserved it.

    Dominic couldn’t bring himself to destroy the lab. His mind and body worked against each other to the point of exhaustion. He tried smashing the computers lying innocently on the floor. But he couldn’t do it. Conflict and depression tore at him, driving him to a state of inaction. Other than forcing food into his mouth – without understanding the reason – and sleeping when he passed out from fatigue, he did nothing. The lack of anything was destructive. It let his mind wander constantly. He felt like he was destroying himself from the inside out.

    Finally, after a month, in another outburst, Dominic stumbled outside. He was desperate to smother the grief. He stared at the trees and debated ripping off the accusing fingers. But he deserved them. He debated yanking up the grass and burning it. But each blade and shrub was a life; he couldn’t kill anything else. He fell to his knees, heaving. Subconsciously, he began tearing at the ground with stumps of fingernails. He didn’t know what else to do. At least the dirt was dead. Tears and spit softened the soil.

    Soon, he had carved a space about a foot wide and deep. He wiped his nose and stared at the hole for minutes. Then, realizing what he had dug, Dominic put his head on the grave and closed his eyes. When the setting sun blinded him through the trees, Dominic carefully pressed his hands into the mud. Retreating, he apologized out loud; he had nothing to give but symbolic hands in the tomb.

    Reply
    • catmorrell

      Another Wow. So this is what you can do after you edit. I am so impressed. You caught the stages struggling in quickly rotating circles of anger, guilt, numbness and despair. Guilt is such a big stage. The “what ifs” and “should haves” tend to eat us up.

    • John Fisher

      I couldn’t have said it any better than Cat, “circles of anger, guilt, numbness and despair.” Does he have a denial stage? Maybe it’s in the numbness, but I don’t see him trying to pretend that whatever happened didn’t happen. That may be because he remembers so vividly what happened that it’s undeniable. Good work!

    • Elise Martel

      At least the dirt was dead.
      That line gave me chills.
      How strange it is that grief can make us feel like the walking dead. Can’t believe that phrase refers to zombies and not people wandering around in such a haze of sadness that they don’t know what to do.

    • Lucy Crabtree

      Chilling. Desperation is often a stage of grief, isn’t it? And you capture it so eloquently here. I hope we’ll see more of this particular work in progress around here … sounds like Dominic has quite the story to tell!

    • TrepTiger

      Wow

    • Sefton

      Particularly like the unconscious digging of a grave. Nice work. -Sef

  4. catmorrell

    Liz, Thank you for this excellent article. I am trying to write the five stages of grief as part of a story arc to a historical novel based on a true story. It is a struggle. For one thing, I don’t like reliving the angst that must have happened to my ancestors, but I know it must be done if I am to ever share this story with my grandkids.

    *****
    The moans seemed far off, almost invisible or maybe unreal even though they came from the room next door. Annabeth tried to wish away the sounds of her mother scurrying to grab more cold rags and her oldest brother banging the dresser upstairs while getting dressed. She heard him stomp his heels into the dusty work boots he wore to ride Babe to town. Today he fetched Doc. Her other brothers, already in the barn, started milking early to escape the sounds, the sour sickly smells and their Ma’s sad eyes. As much as she wished to be in the barn or riding to Doc, she obediently flipped eggs coated in bacon grease while surrounded by the stink of decay, moans punctuated by stifled screams, and her mother’s soothing whispers. Her gender trapped her in the house with a pa who refused to live and couldn’t die.

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      This is very descriptive of a difficult situation, and the moans seem a good place to start to draw the reader in. Trying to “flesh out” what happened very long ago is a difficult job for a writer (it’s part of what I have to do as a writer too). You’ve surely made it seem alive and real, including the girl feeling trapped in the house because she is a girl. “refused to live and couldn’t die” is intriguing, a great hook that causes us to want to know what has happened, and will happen, to these people.

    • catmorrell

      Thank you. They made it to Oregon in 1932 and years later the oldest brother in this story had me after raising his mother’s family first. I heard the stories growing up. They are very real to me. I tried to write them down as memoir, but my characters have a mind of their own, so other than the bare skeleton, the story has become fictionalized.

    • John Fisher

      …..nothing wrong with some fictionalization to fill in the gaps that you just can’t know about — as long (I think) as it fits the people you really feel the characters were, and it stays true in an overall sense to the story you know. Just my opinion. 🙂

    • Sefton

      I liked this, and agree with John that this last line is a great hook. I also liked the assumptions in the piece – that we would deduce who or what Babe is, and where the action takes place – no spoonfeeding, which I like. -Sef

    • catmorrell

      Thank you. I figured the language would give away the likely era and mode of transportation.

    • Ashley Liz

      i really like the imagery. Also the contrast of the eggs and the stink of decay. i could feel the trapped nature of the women’s situation.

    • catmorrell

      Thank you. I was going for anger, guilt, and denial.

  5. Sefton

    The headstone was a slab of cold reality and she hated it even as she wondered that the name carved on it could be someone she knew.

    The awkwardly-turfed mound of the grave was an insult. How was it possible? Her grandma was vibrant and feisty and glowingly present. She was not in a box, under the sod.

    Except that she was, and worse, she had taken Dora’s youth with her. At the time, Dora had thought nothing of sitting in the front room with Grandma of an evening, playing Scrabble, doing the cryptic crossword and watching Lewis. They both slightly fancied Lewis. But now Dora was thirty, her youth untried on clubbing or Ibiza, and she would give anything to get those years back.

    But – what did she have to give? What could she possibly offer in order to strike a deal and be twenty-one again? Nothing. The only person who valued her time, her company, was gone.

    Dora sank to the soggy ground and wept, for Grandma, for herself, and for the fact that she couldn’t change a single thing about any of it.

    When she found she was making an effort to continue crying, she stopped, got to her feet, and with deliberate steps, strode away.

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      You managed to give a very good and accurate description of Dora’s feelings on viewing her grandmother’s grave, and also include all the stages of grieving, too. A grieving person goes right back through all the stages many times. Good work!

    • Sefton

      Thanks John. I like doing these mini practices!

    • Elise Martel

      We sometimes have to force ourselves to keep marching onward. No casket can contain the memories of the one that we love, unless we let it.
      Poor Dora. I started tearing up for her.

    • Sefton

      Thanks Elise. Wasn’t sure I’d conveyed the sense of acceptance.

    • catmorrell

      “She had taken Dora’s youth with her” Feeling old when you are not is something I am very familiar with. I felt older at 18 than I do now at 60. I am so glad you caught that feeling of aging in the grief cycles and the loss of self while grieving a loved one. It is a feeling of, “Now I don’t have a purpose” Well done.

    • Sefton

      Thanks catmorell!

    • Lucy Crabtree

      I can really feel Dora’s anger here, in a good way. I wasn’t just mad the day my grandma died or the day we buried her, but for years after, at being robbed of the chance to spend more time with her. “…she hated it even as she wondered that the name carved on it could be someone she knew.” You perfectly capture the sense that sometimes death feels like an insult. Good job!

    • Sefton

      Thanks Lucy.

  6. Elise Martel

    They say the heart is the size of the fist. If someone captures your heart and then throws it back at you, is the hole that they leave the size of your fist, or the size of theirs?
    It depends. Depends on whether you yourself took the heart out of your chest and gave it away or if someone else snapped the ribs aside and wrenched it out.
    I don’t know which one happened to me. All I know is that there is the hole. My heart floats in front of me in a puddle, a swollen, fleshy mass engorged with water. My tears.
    I am sure if I rescued it, I could identify the fingerprints all over it. I could tell who handled it and mangled it. Are there five stages to grief? They all blurred together. I don’t even know. One day muddles with the next.
    How to go on? How to force myself to live again?
    He used to hold me. I would nestle up close, my cheek just touching his throat. When he spoke, I could feel the words. My heart read them back to me in the moments when we had to be apart.
    But now we are always apart. There is no going back, no getting back. Only going forward. But right now, the only movement that I make is drifting.
    I used to wonder why the ocean is full of salt. Now I know. Someone collects all the tears of the broken hearted in a bottle and pours them into the vastness of the ocean. I let the waves lap around me. Their cold fingers remind me of the falseness of his touch, the deviousness of his every word.
    My hair spreads out around me like a bed of kelp. I close my eyes. It doesn’t matter where I drift. I am too numb to care. The horizon is always unreachable. The warm sun, unattainable.
    Let me grieve. I will grieve, whatever you try. Don’t fight against me. One day, perhaps, the waves will carry me to an island. Then, on a sandy beach underneath a lonely tree, I can learn to live again. But not now, not yet. I am just trying to stop myself from sinking. The more I think about surviving, the higher the waves crest around me.

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      I think this will speak to many readers, it did to me. I can readily identify with the sense of sinking, of drifting, the sense of betrayal, of “maybe one day I’ll be all right, but not now”. Anyone who has been through those feelings can. A writer gives of her/himself when they write like this.

    • Elise Martel

      Usually I know that if I am crying over what I am writing, there is a chance that it might speak to others. We’ll all be so sad after these prompts. Joe, maybe the one for tomorrow should be moving past grief:)
      Thanks for the kind words. This piece really was about me. I’ve moved on a little and found my island, but when I write like this, sometimes I find myself wading out deep, reliving the endless drifting.

    • Lucy Crabtree

      I love this description of loss and pain so much, especially the part about identifying the fingerprints. It’s never just one set, is it? I like how you opened with a question — it really made me pause and ask myself the same! I didn’t know the answer, so I had to keep reading. I didn’t want to stop! I hope there’s more to this story.

    • Elise Martel

      This was based on my own story. My case was definitely that I gave the heart away. It wasn’t ripped from me. It was handled very gently and then reverently returned to me, but trace fingerprints from him remain. The real marks are from me digging my fingernails into my heart, punishing it for being so stupid and googly eyed.
      I am learning and moving and swimming for shore rather than just plain drifting, but his mark remains branded on me. I don’t want to let go of the memory, so I will always bear the pain also.
      Now if I could only incorporate all this personal experience into my WIP without becoming an utter emotional wreck….

    • Winnie

      i like the line ….”is the hole that they leave the size of your fist, or the size of theirs?” A romance should be a great vehicle for describing all five stages.

    • Elise Martel

      And although the premise of my WIP isn’t so much a romance as a thriller, love helps empathy spring up.

    • Ashley Liz

      I think you vividly captured what a broken heart feels like. My favorite bit is just at the end; the waves cresting all around her.

    • Elise Martel

      I always loved to hear the surf crash upon the beach, but you’ve got to hate the waves when they are churning all around you and escape isn’t possible. Smash n’ crash on the rocks. Pick up the fragments. Reassemble self. Repeat. That’s how life is sometimes.

    • Hanni

      Wow. Really like it. You caught a broken heart feeling so well it’s like going through it myself.

    • Elise Martel

      Thanks;) I was tissuing up myself while writing it.

    • Eliese

      I loved how you talked about the size of the hole in the characters chest and the idea with the tears and the ocean. Wonderful.

  7. Hanni

    Guess it’s the first time that I actually post something real here, though it’s not from a current wip.

    When I looked up into the clear blue sky, I could almost ignore the dark waters in which I was drowning.

    The sky had made me look up one more time. Had me marvel at its perfection and on how not a single cloud had made it’s journey over the wide horizon in the last couple of days. Maybe it were only the last few hours, I couldn’t really remember, but what I knew for certain was, that I had never seen a clearer blue in my whole life.

    It was like a crystal. And I wanted to reach out and touch it. Feel its smooth surface and embrace it with all my being.

    But the ocean didn’t approve much of my desires and soon sent wave after wave to lure me down, into a cold and dark heart, where it would keep me.

    Far away from the blue I had always dreamed about.

    Far away from the crystal I had always wanted to touch.

    Far away from the ship that was on its way to pull me out of the water.

    But it was too late. The clear blue sky said its Goodbye as the dark waves pulled me down and colored my eyes white.

    Reply
    • Lucy Crabtree

      Interesting contrast between the sky and the ocean. I liked, “But the ocean didn’t approve much of my desires” — like the ocean is basically another character in this piece. Good job!

    • Hanni

      Thank you!

  8. Ashley Liz

    Sara had never seen a dead body before. It was not what she expected. It didn’t look human. It was mangled. Blood and hair and bone mixed together. She was surprised how much it looked like road kill. Except for the shards of what used to be a sundress. Kelly had borrowed the dress from Sara just last week.
    ‘Poor Kelly,’ she thought cocking her head to one side.
    “You always looked better in that dress anyway.” Brandis said as she lit a cigarette.
    “How come you’re so fucking calm about all this?!?!” Diana was behind them, trying to comfort Jessica who hadn’t taken her eyes off the corpse.
    Sara covered a smile as she thought how mortified Kelly would have been ruining such a nice dress. It was ridiculous, she knew but she still had to stifle a laugh picturing Kelly’s face, red and angry. ‘She always was indignant about something.’

    Reply
    • Lucy Crabtree

      This sounds like the opening scene to CSI or something! 🙂 I liked how the little notes about the sundress give us glimpses into Sara and Kelly. Is this a work in progress? I’m intrigued by the story and hope to read more!

    • Ashley Liz

      Thank you so much! It is a work in progress but I am just starting so I greatly appreciate the feed back.

  9. Lucy Crabtree

    This is a different kind of loss. I already had a lot of this written; just tweaked a bit to better reflect some of the stages of grief. I hadn’t really thought of it as a grief passage, but reviewing the five stages helped me flesh out some of the dialogue a bit. So thanks for the article, Liz!

    Here’s my practice:
    *****
    He surprised me that night by announcing he wanted to take me to dinner. I wasn’t thrilled. We didn’t do so well when we went out to dinner. We often drew glances from other diners — I think our voices were louder than we realized to make up for not being able to hear each other well over the din. But he persisted and, feeling guilty for what I was about to do to him, I agreed.

    And that’s how I found myself sitting in the middle of a restaurant, surrounded by people we knew, facing an eager Nate who was kneeling in front of me, ring box in hand. He took my initial speechlessness for surprise and prepared to put the ring on my finger. I pulled my hand back and laughed uncomfortably. We didn’t often sign to each other — we didn’t need to — but this time I did. I leaned forward and signed, “Can we talk? Privately?”

    The eagerness had long left his eyes and he just looked … distraught. Embarrassed. I knew, because I felt the same things. We got up and made our way through the throng, avoiding eye contact with everyone we passed. I stifled the irritation I was feeling on top of everything — did he not know me? How many times had I suggested that I never wanted to make a huge deal out of being engaged or getting married? That I just wanted a quiet life? That rings and declarations of love were private and personal? Seeing all the people he’d invited to this proposal — our parents, our friends, even some of his co-workers who I’d only met a handful of times — was hurtful. Had he not been listening all that time? Had he ever bothered to really get to know me?

    Finally, we found a spot under a light in the parking lot.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

    Nate stared at me, but I couldn’t figure out his expression.

    “I didn’t – I didn’t – I don’t – I …” I faltered.

    “I asked you to marry me,” Nate said.

    “I know. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” I was on the verge of tears. “I just wasn’t expecting it.”

    “Not expecting it?” He, on the other hand, was on the verge of yelling. “We’ve been together for three years! We’ve talked about this!”

    “No, you’ve talked about this,” I shot back. “I didn’t want the whole thing. The people. The hoopla.” I gestured back to the restaurant.

    “OK,” he said, gathering steam. “OK. Then forget them. It’s just you and me here. No one else. No surprises. No hoopla. If I asked you to marry me right here and now, what would-“

    “I can’t,” I interrupted him with a hoarse whisper.

    He scoffed and shook his head. He walked a few paces from me and I thought for sure he was going to leave. Then I realized his shoulders were shaking. He was crying.

    I walked over to him and put my hand on his arm. He turned to look at me.

    “Nate,” I said. “I really am sorry. But do you really love me? I mean, really and truly?”

    He looked at me for a long time before answering. “That’s a good question,” he said. Finally he looked away. “Guess I’ll go back in. Tell them to go home.”

    “I can do that,” I said. “It’s my fault, anyway.”

    He let out a dry laugh. “It is, isn’t it?”

    I shifted uncomfortably, but didn’t answer.

    “It’s OK,” he said. “I’ll go.”

    “OK,” I replied.

    I got in my car and drove home.

    Reply
  10. Brianna Worlds

    “He’s not dead.”
    I looked up sharply, wary. “Jane…” I started, trying to decide how to deal with this. I’d guessed it would kick in sooner or later, and well… knowing Jane, her stubborn-as-a-mule character would certainly make denial for her a living hell for everyone else.
    “He’s not,” she repeated stubbornly. “He can’t be– I’d know, right? I’m his Changeling.”
    She was staring at the sword she’d been sharpening, her coppery eyes cold and dead in the reflection.
    “Jane, I know this is hard for you,” I murmured. “But there’s no other explanation. His body was even found–”
    “But it’s gone now!”
    “I know but–”
    “No buts,” Jane said fiercely, glaring at nothing in particular, jaw working. “His body is gone. He’s still alive.”
    “Not necessarily,” I said gently, feeling a stab of pain for my friend as she suffered. Etiam had been her Changer, and her friend. They shared a bond of intimacy that, as a human, I could never understand. But when your best friend goes through it, you get an idea of it, and how it waxes stronger and stronger until your fates are inexorably bound together. “He could have been taken by one of the Facet’s. I’m sure Grateth would…”
    I trailed off, realizing my friend might not want to here that her Changer’s dead body was being used for science experiments.
    “Say it,” she snarled bitterly. “You think they’re using his body to try to figure out the Change.”
    I swallowed, and nodded slightly, my chest tightening. I felt tears start to build up in my chest, working their way up to my eyes.
    “I’m sorry Jane,” I said, standing abruptly. “I am. It’s horrible.”
    I walked to the door, slowly, my steps measured. I paused at the door, lowering my head in respect for her sorrow and understood grief. I knew grief, and I’d wanted to protect my best friend from it.
    But in a world like Vix, that’s a hard thing to do.
    ~~~
    This is probably downright confusing to most people… Sorry XD

    Reply
    • Lucy Crabtree

      I really liked it! I don’t normally go for fantasy-type stories, but this one really drew me in. I’m dying to know more about Changelings and Changers and how it all ties together. I can also feel both the characters wrestle with grief — Jane’s denial is evident (maybe a little too evident — “would certainly make denial for her a living hell for everyone else” is a great line but show, not tell, ya know?) and the narrator seems to be on the verge of depression, maybe. Or perhaps you’ve introduced a new stage — confusion. Both Jane and the narrator seem to feel out of whack with Etiam’s death and you capture that well.

    • Brianna Worlds

      Why thank you! 🙂 I’ll be sure to keep that in mind! I was more trying to stuff some of Jane’s personality in the small practice, but it did mess it up a little… Thanks so much for the feedback!

  11. TrepTiger

    Anger Depression

    Mike woke up to find himself
    maneuvering through his small apartment. He knew immediately what was
    going on, it had happened a thousand times or more since Bosnia. He
    was clearing a house a house to track down and kill a sniper. A
    sniper that had just put a bullet through his engine and his Field
    Training Officer, Jurgen Sankt.

    Jurgen survived that day, the sniper, a
    kid did not. It was debatable, sometimes breath by breath whether or
    not Mike would live past that day, or any of countless others from
    Kuwait, Kosovo, Liberia, Sudan, Somalia, or some other forsaken
    shithole as Mike would put it.

    The clock said it was just aft 1:00 am.
    “Damn it!” Mike yelled. The dreams were a nightly catastrophe.
    “Jurgen, you dumb shit, if you hadn’t decided to take a stroll down
    memory lane you’d still be able to walk and that kid … “ Mike’s
    fist clenched so hard they shook, his jaw tightened, his eyes shut
    tight. He did not want to go through this again, not tonight. The
    tears seared out from the corners of his eyes and burned down the
    sides of his cheeks.

    Mike spun and punched his heavy bag as
    hard as he could. He punched it as if he were beating the life out of
    his ghosts. Tears ran down his face and quickly became lost in the
    sweat. He jabbed, jabbed again, stepped and spun threw up an elbow to
    smash an unseen face to a pulp. He moved again and kicked. How long
    he kept this up only his neighbor, who had become accustomed to and
    heartbroken by these outbursts, really knew.

    Even though he could still see the
    sniper, a 12 year old boy, lying there dead Mike had nothing left, he
    collapsed on the floor. His lungs ached like they did after his runs,
    he was still sobbing when Margaret, his neighbor, let herself in.

    She knew the drill, go to the bathroom
    to start the shower, get out some towels, wait until Mike tries to
    get up, and help him into the shower. He’d be alright after that.
    He’d stay in the shower until he could feel his arms and legs again
    and then he;d get out and clean up. As a thank you she could expect a
    couple of fresh bagels and two large coffees on her door step. But,
    that would be about the last she’d see of him until his next
    outburst.

    Sitting on the couch, towels in her
    hands, Margaret had to wipe her own tears back as she waited fo Mike
    to stop sobbing. This was bad, but the depression that followed, hid
    isolating and withdrawal from everyone and everything but his job was
    worse.

    Mike, a strong man by anyone’s measure,
    twice Margaret’s age lay reduced to a sweaty, crying, fearful puddle
    on the floor. She, and everyone who knew him, prayed for Mike to
    heal.

    Reply
    • Elise Martel

      Mike, Mike, Mike. Ach, the poor guy. I almost think that when a guy cries it means it hurts even more than when a girl cries because of the shame of the tears themselves. If you *sniffle wanted *sniffle a response than you sure *sniffle got one. Good thing I have the Kleenex right by my bedside for Mike-like moments.
      I really love your stuff. Right from the heart. You have a way that is blunt, direct, and doesn’t beat around the bush (hint, I tend to beat around the bush). I’ve been studying your stuff so when I have to write from a tough guy’s perspective, I don’t sound like a vague, overly hormonal young adult female wearing size 15 workboots and a Husqvarna t shirt. Well done again!

    • TrepTiger

      Miss Elise, thank you so much. I don’t know what else to say. Studying my stuff? Beyond flattered, thank you so much.

    • Sefton

      Nice. I liked that his misery was being tended by his neighbour. Also that he seemed to be sleepwalking at first and gradually coming round to a (not very pleasant) reality. Small thing – the punchbag seemed to appear from nowhere – maybe a line to indicate what kind of stuff Mike has in his flat? But well done on the emotions. -Sef

  12. Lauren

    I couldn’t have lost. No. It wasn’t possible. No.

    I wore it all the time and rarely took it off. It meant too much to just cast aside like a piece of trash. He had given it to me a year after we had first met. In the same place where we had first met.

    It just couldn’t be lost. It had to be around here somewhere. I’m sure of it.

    I slammed my hand down on the table then threw the nearest object across the room as I searched the last place in the house left to look. The glass I had thrown shattered into a million pieces just like my heart had when he left me. Now it was on the verge of shattering yet again.

    No. It had to be here somewhere. It was the last thing left of him. The last thing that reminded me of all of the good times we had. All the love we had shared.

    He had been gone now only a few months and sometimes I imagined him walking back through the door, picking things back up right where we had left off.

    That first month nearly killed me. I thought I couldn’t function without him. The ring had given me hope and strength to get through the days, one after another after another.

    And now I had lost it. How would I live without? How could I go on?

    Reply
    • Lucy Crabtree

      I am so nervous for your protagonist! I hope she finds the ring! I like the double-pronged approach of her panic over losing the ring and her still mourning her (husband? boyfriend?). Great job covering both angles.

    • Lauren

      Thanks!

  13. Elliot

    Tommorow will be the day. Everything will be
    cleared up at once. The world will allow me to make amends for what has
    happened, for what I have done. It was my karma that has dealt me this hand
    that I must now fix after all. I just need to get some sleep.

    Of course, however, I woke up in the dead of night
    sweating uncontrollably. Another long night; No sleep. That’s fine, I don’t
    deserve any because I know the things that I have done…the things they made me
    do. Or did they? Yes of course they did! For it was they who started it, it was
    they who treated us like rats, closed us off in a corner of the city, reduced
    us to sub-human trash and then when it was all said and done slaughtered us one
    by one. Had I not escaped then it would be me buried amongst the mass graves.
    They got what they deserved and now I am getting what I deserve.

    I made my way out of bed and over to the dimly lit
    bathroom. I looked to my mirror and saw the picture that reminds me of the life
    I should have had. There they were. Beautiful. Innocent. No idea what was about
    to happen to their country, to their world or even to their family. It was then
    that my heart suddenly felt like it was being pressed in from every side. I
    couldn’t breath. I fell to the floor in tears with that damned picture in my
    hands, cursing at the heavens for what they did to me. I started screaming at
    the mirror, “You! You did this! Non of this would have happened if you let
    those kids live. Non of it! You were in the clear. You had your out. You
    idiot!” I looked down and realized my hand was bleeding from punching the
    ground. I regained what little composure I had inside of me and grabbed the
    Star of David hanging around my neck with my bloodied palm. Whispering now I
    started to chant to myself “Please God, bring them back. Please bring them
    back. I will give myself to you for what I did if you just bring them back to
    me. Take me. Take me.”

    The next thing I remember is the sun striking my
    face at an angle that jolted me awake. I was in the bathroom with dried blood
    on my hands. Now it was time to go. I washed up and got dressed. Walked down
    the stairs. Today is the day.

    Reply
  14. Winnie

    As he listened to the young mother tell her story, Brandon felt a hot anger creep up his body. His face became hot. Even though it was another tropical midsummer day, the heat had never affected him like this.
    Listening to her describe how she paid good money to get her son a new life in another country, which tragically never materialised, a picture of Cecilia filled his mind. His ex now sat thousands of miles away in another country, happily married.
    “I paid $1 000 dollars to get my Sergio a new life. Instead his life was taken away.”
    A fortune for poor struggling mother, that was reason enough to get upset, especially when the ill-fated flight was only a short flip over the border.
    But Brandon’s anger was not directed at the agent and the pilot of the plane that crashed, but against – his father! The though of the old man who’d dominated is life until two months back made his blood boil.
    It was on his insistence that he’d divorced Cecilia. And given up his son, Brandon junior.

    Reply
  15. cc

    Not my best work at 1 in the morning, but I figured I’d post anyway just for kicks.

    You were the boy I wrote poetry about. And I didn’t just write about everyone. It was your exceptional way of knowing everything to say that completely captivated me. Out of selfishness, of course. But you couldn’t know that. You’ve always thought far too highly of me.

    And why was that? What was it about me that caught your eye? Because I am not pretty like the girls you’ve known for years. I was not as good as them. But somehow, us two, out of the blue, had a connection. You even told me as much, that chilly October afternoon. We sat down, and you told me you liked me for me.

    You have changed my life, and you don’t even know it. Not that I could even explain why you have changed me, why I am so thankful. But you have done wonders for a lonely girl with more blessings than she can imagine.

    And yet, among all the times you have made me fall asleep with a smile on my face, there is a dark spot between us of which you are blissfully oblivious. It is in my head, and it is the truth that makes you so wonderful and so horrible at the same time. When you put your whole heart into something, you get the most pleasure. But you also get the most pain. And that is how you have both healed me and broken me. Doubt. Desire. You have changed me, but what have I become?

    You would never hurt me. But I hurt myself because of you. And yet I can come out of this with my shoulders back. It’s been a while since we talked, you know, and I miss you terribly. But you’ll be back soon, you promised.

    I’ll see you soon, Ash.

    (A bit of a transition between stages)

    Reply
  16. Eugine

    I tried to get down denial here, but maybe the narrative clouds up the grief I was trying to show. Any and all feedback is very very very much appreciated!

    My hands are perpetually dripping.

    I cannot process this. There is that man lying on the floor. Why is he there? Why? Why? What put him on the ground? Is he sleeping? He is sleeping, maybe. What is he dreaming about? Does he dream?

    There is a hand. It is smooth and graceful. The five fingers are long, slender. They close around a round handle and open back up again. It is a beautiful hand.

    Everything is chopped up, like pieces of puzzle. They are not put together in any way to make sense. I see a pale hand and a man on the floor and the floor. I also see a candle. The candle’s flame sways left and right. Is there a wind? Why does it sway?

    There is breath. Actually, there are breaths: short breaths. They are white mini-fogs that paint the air. The air is canvas. Canvas is white, but the mini-fog is white. So the canvas is not white; it is black. Night air, cold and damp. There we are.

    Where?

    A few pieces of the puzzle ground me, then appall me.

    The man on the floor. His face. Beard, sideburns, messy hair. Eyebrows. Cheeks. Then cheekbones. Lips and chin. Nose. Nostrils. Forehead. Eyes. Rolled up. Showing white, not clear blue.

    Paul.

    So it is Paul. And then comes all the other pieces, flying into me, crashing and piercing my skin like ragged knives, or maybe they are just very sharp puzzle pieces. I bleed from the holes the pieces have left in my skin. It is not very pretty at all.

    And the worst part is the knife I am holding.

    My hands are dripping with Paul. Or what is left of him, anyway.

    I am calm, though. I am not the one who’s ended Paul. The thought gives me some relief, sagging my shoulders. What a relief, I have not used this knife.

    What a relief!

    A tear on my cheek, so warm that I couldn’t even feel it, betrays me.

    Reply
    • Eliese

      I like how confused the narrator is. Even the person telling the story doesn’t know ‘who dunnit’. It is a whole different kind of denial. It could be interesting to see more synonyms, but then again the way it is may help show the narrators confusion.

    • Eugine

      Thank you for the feedback, and yes I’ll try to put in a few synonyms there 🙂

    • Dawn Atkin

      Fabulous faltering and dither between real and unreal. Feels like the narrator is slipping on the narrow and treacherous track between dissociation and reality.
      A few moments in time where fear and truth fight each other for centre stage.

      And the candle in the wind, it’s uncertain flame, seems to be the turning point to begin to assemble some sense of what’s real and what has happened.

      Cool. Thanks for sharing.

    • Eugine

      Thank you for the very specific details 🙂 I’ll sharpen up the points mentioned.

    • Dawn Atkin

      Eugine…I really liked it…no points to sharpen up. I loved it and I was trying to explain why.

  17. erickwrites

    I’ve always found it troubling that the 5 stages of grief do not include a stage for forgiveness. It is merely treated as an option within acceptance. Is Carl forgiven for eating all of the Queso? The earlier forgiveness is offered, the tastier that guacamole will be.

    Reply
    • Elise Martel

      True. Acceptance is definitely not the same as forgiveness. Acceptance doesn’t prevent the breeding of resentment and bitterness. Carl may not be invited to any more parties, even if he is so super fun to be around, unless stage five moves to stage six.

  18. Eliese

    Tiny piece from an old WIP. This article help me realize that my character is in denial. Thanks.
    ~

    I feel my feet sink into the warm dry earth. I fall to the ground sobbing. I curl up into a ball. I hold myself as tight as I can to try to stop my heart from breaking. The torture is unbearable. My breath comes short and fast. The tears rushing down the side of my face are trying to escape my pain. I can’t believe that I saw that again. Her face just the way I remembered when I found her there, lovely and disgusting. I don’t ever want to think of that day again. I would rather pretend it never happened. I don’t know how I long I lay there, maybe hours. Slowly my sobbing slows and I begin to recover.

    Reply
    • Elise Martel

      Your character is definitely denying something. I really liked how you talked about the tears trying to escape the pain.
      I always wonder about the setting when someone is crying. Who is watching? I think if you described the setting more, it may be more powerful. Where is this dry, warm earth you can sink your feet into? Is it dust? Sand? Freshly tilled soil for a field/garden about to be planted? Also, you began 7 sentences with ‘I’, which to me sounded a little jarring.

    • Eliese

      The setting is shown in the next paragraph of my WIP. Thank you for the very useful criticism. I appreciate it and will fix it. So many i’s! Yikes! Thanks again

  19. Dawn Atkin

    This is just a 15 minute play with the stages…

    “No. No. He said he’d come straight home. He told me that it was all ok. He said …he said.” Her voice trailed into a whimper, her legs crumpled beneath her and she fell to the floor.

    Charlie kneeled down beside her and placed his old withered hand gently on her head. He could not speak, his eyes glistened with restrained tears and years of unshared truths.The large oval of her pregnant belly heaved with sobs and erratic breath.

    “Damn. I shouldn’t have let him go. I should have said no.” She thumped the floor with her fist, kicked her legs in thin air. “I should have known better. Those idiots he calls friends. What kind of friends are they?”

    She looked toward the front door.
    “Let me go and talk to them. Maybe if I explain. Maybe I can tell them the truth.” She began to shake.

    “No Shelley. It’s to late now…” Charlie cupped her cheek tenderly.

    Shelley pushed herself up and slumped back against the wall. Her small white fingers raked through her hair, pulling at tufts and, letting the weight of her head succumb, she leaned forward in to her palms. She drew her knees up as far as her belly would allow and
    lowered her head to her knees. The familiar cocooned darkness welcomed her.

    The shadow arrived. Wrapped its dark cloak of grey about her shoulders. Anchored itself into the depths and chambers of the unrevealed, unseen, unlighted. All signs of Shelley slipped away. Slunk into the faraway corners. Dissolved into the worn out carpet.

    Silence. Tick tock of the wall clock. Dog barks. A child cries. Time circles in on itself. A door slams. An engine starts. The world beyond the walls keeps moving through space. Tick tock.

    Shelly sighed, lifted her head and looked up at the ceiling. She glanced to the window and smiled as a swirl of soft net curtain kissed the vase of roses on the ledge.

    “Oh well here we go again. It’ll get better one day Pa. It will won’t it.”

    Charley pushed his old hands deep into his corduroy pockets.

    “Life goes on my love. Life just keeps on going on.”

    Reply
  20. LisaYang

    They sent me to Tyler to help me deal with my depression. Apparently I have to get to the last stage of grieving, to acceptance. Like there is anything to accept. Like I will ever be able to accept. Coping process they call it, I prefer slow-demise-process. It’s them who have to accept. They should all stop pretending that a person can live without having something to live for, because that’s what I lost. The sense of life or whatever you might call it. I’m alive without feeling alive. Tyler calls this depressive, I prefer suicidal. You see, I really should hurry up getting to acceptance and it better not be the acceptance of my own death. Although honestly speaking, I wouldn’t mind me heading that way.

    I have learned that the universe gives a damn about what you need. I mean, why should it? At the end of the day, we are just some living organisms stuck on a random planet. And just in case you are considering pursuing a career or anything else you are not really interested in for whatever reason, I advise you to reconsider. Because as you might just noticed, I got taught a lesson I really did not want to learn and it made me really unhappy. So don’t go after things you don’t want. Focus on what you do want, at least you’ll feel contented until everything falls apart and trust me, those moments of sheer happiness might be the only good memories left to make you remember that there is actually such a thing as a bright side to life.

    Sometimes I still miss him so much it hurts. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror because then I just want to smash my fist against it, no, I want to smash myself against it. I did a couple of times. I thought the pain would numb my senses, my conscience and it worked, well for some time. But physical wounds heal. Too bad I’m not that kind of a wreck.
    The guilt is draining the last bits of energy I have left, I’m nothing more than a dried up leave hanging loosely from a tree. I don’t want to fight anymore. I have fought all my life, I have been brave for enough time now.
    You know what’s sick? I would feel like the happiest person in the world if I could just go back to being a cancer patient. At least he would still be here with me, running a hand through my wispy hair, pressing me against his chest, warming my heart with a smile, a word, a touch.
    Every time Tyler tells me to take a deep breath, I break into hysteric laughter and won’t stop for hours. I took a lung from him (of course not Tyler), so that I would be able to breath, to live. But the point was not to merely breath and live, we were supposed to breath together, to live together.
    “I’m sorry for your loss” they told me afterwards. But instead they should have gone and offered their condolences to his parents. I’m not the victim here, I’m the one who got him killed.
    “You have to learn to live with it” Tyler said. I was tempted to asked whether he meant the lung, but I didn’t. Dark humor is another thing I should get rid of I guess. Just a couple more lessons I didn’t ask for.

    Reply

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