Going Deep: A writer’s duty

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.—Robert Frost

Many of us draw from personal experience when writing that pivotal or turning point sentence, scene or chapter. We also rely on our emotions, to help fuel the emotions of our characters.

In my book, “The Heat Between Us,” there is a scene where the heroine’s mother is in the hospital and she rushes to be by her side just before she dies. It’s a long scene, so I’m sharing bits and pieces. I hope it offers some insight.

Harold Middleton stood to embrace his daughter, and it seemed as though his normal height of six-foot three-inches had been diminished by grief.

“Your Momma was hit by a drunk driver, little girl. Doctor said she suffered some trauma to the brain—a broken hip—ribs.” His voice cracked as it faltered just above a whisper. “There are internal injuries and some bleeding. They want to keep her as comfortable as possible.”

Octavia hugged her father and cried into his cotton pullover shirt, her tears creating a wet spot just below his shoulder.

“Lauren and Naomi just left, ” her father continued as his smooth, comforting hand ran across her slumping shoulders. “She’s been asking for a few of you. Sit down and talk to your Momma, little girl …”

Octavia nodded, then pulled away just enough to wipe her eyes and nose with her sleeve, not at all bothered by the thin lines of mucous mingling with her tears …

When her father left the room she made her way to the bed, taking in the elongated tubes of plastic resembling the legs of a spider, affixed to her mother’s mouth and nose. She glanced at the ugly, thick layers of sterile gauze and bandage woven like a ski cap around her mother’s head, and then closed her eyes, in an effort to remember the beauty of the salt and pepper locks. Instead, the memory of her mother sitting still and allowing her to play, “hairdresser” flashed before her. She gasped.

On wobbly legs, she opened her eyes then sat, frowning at the grinding hum of the breathing apparatus. Her voice rattled when she placed her hand on the bed. The sound strange to her own ears.

“Momma, can you hear me?” An absurd, unnecessary question. Of course, she can hear me, Octavia thought. Mothers can hear everything, even our deepest fears.

Groggy and weak, Dionne Middleton’s eyes fluttered open and rested on her daughter’s patchy, wet face. “Tavia?”

“I’m here, Momma.” She reached for her hand and choked back a sob. “I’m here. Don’t talk.”

Writing that scene was extremely painful for me. My mother passed away in 2004, and my sisters and I were at her side, at the hospital. I remember going through at least two boxes of tissues. The tears were constant, the memories vivid, and the writing arduous.

I had to stop several times, and then remind myself that this wasn’t about me. It was about my character, her family, and her feelings.

I had to be careful not to let my experience overpower hers. My experience had to make me empathize and understand what she was going through. Thinking back, it wasn’t a conscious decision to write the scene. I did what my character told me was happening in her life.

The process can be exhausting, and somewhat painful. But not always. Emotions can be drawn from a humorous, embarrassing or a life-changing experience. And in the end, you will have a richer, deeper story—one that a reader will read in the wee hours of the morning.

The wisdom in Robert Frost’s words is the guideline to which we as writers should strive to adhere. And although it may be a difficult task, it is the duty of a writer to dig deep in introspection, bare our souls, and tell our stories.

So dig deep, and create.