Writing Pain in Fiction



by Allison Maruska


Confession: I’m writing this post as a form of procrastination and it may be a bit wandering, but I think we’ll end at a coherent place.

I’m supposed to be working through my editor’s notes for Part 2 of the Project Renovatio series (hereafter known as Project Liberatio, or PL). And I have been. In fact, I’ve been elbow-deep in said edits for the past few days. But yesterday, I reached a certain scene…

I won’t write spoilers for future PL readers, but suffice it to say this scene and those that follow leave me emotionally wrecked. I can only work on them for a short time before I have to do something else. Earlier today, it was clearing the pantry of expired food. Now, I’m blogging. Or so it seems.

The scenes have my character experiencing extreme trauma and grief. When I originally wrote the book nearly three years ago, I became a slug of a human being for several days after writing this part. Now, at the direction of my editor, I have to bring out more emotion and more internals and more reactions. The result of this is me being an even bigger slug.

The events my character experiences are far worse than anything I’ve personally experienced or written, but that by no means lets me off the hook. I have to make his reactions and emotions believable, and that means I have to imagine what it would be like to experience what I’ve written for him.

I have to delve into the physiological effects of rage, shock, and the early stages of grief. I have to imagine what I would do if I were in my character’s place. I have to act out his mannerisms, his body language, what he does with his face when he speaks. I have to reach deep, to that primal place where fear and dread and pain live and where I like to keep them buried. I have to invite them to the creative process.

And I don’t hesitate to do so. These scenes can go really well if I do them right, and by that I mean they will reach readers in a way that the story will linger. They will be difficult to read. I know this because of how difficult they were to write, even three years after I penned the first draft. But I also know readers will continue past these scenes to see how the character grows, what he learns, and how his experience affects his decisions for the rest of the trilogy.

Basically, they’ll want to see how he copes.

We write as a way to capture humanity, and part of being human is experiencing pain. Do it well, and we have characters who ring truly human and speak to the readers in a way that resonates. That’s my goal, and since I can’t meet it until I get back to my edits, I leave my fellow writers with this question: Have you written something that has required you reach so deep?



Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically.

17 thoughts on “Writing Pain in Fiction

  1. I can definitely relate to what you’re going through, Allison. When writing THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, the hardest chapters were writing my mom’s experience in Hiroshima on August 6 1945. It was painful to hear her description with memories, and harder still when I had to put myself in her place so I could describe it vividly for the reader to be, to feel in that moment. I look forward to reading the fruits of your labor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kathleen. Putting yourself in such a personal place must have been especially challenging.
      I’m adding your book to my list – my kids are within the specified ages, but aside from that it looks like something I’d also enjoy. 🙂


  2. I wrote a passage about a woman having a panic attack. I had to really search my own experiences with PTSD. I also did some research online in blogs about people that had gone through such trauma (That was very helpful because it came from the ‘horse’s mouth’, so to speak). The people who have read the passage – so far – have had some very visceral responses to it,. So I guess I did pretty well in conveying the deep emotions that cloud the mind at such a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My book keep whispering to me – “maybe that character is going to die…” It was not until I consciously realised I did not want to him die that I knew I must kill him. Grief is an awful emotion to have to tap into.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d say about 75% to 80% of my current WiP is about psychological pain. I know what you means by having to work with the scenes in small chunks. I find it difficult sometimes to grasp the full extent of what my character is going through, and have to do something “automatic” while I wrap my head around all of it. We push and tug onward.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am living here in my first draft, Tho it has taken me months to move on. I’ve even pushed around just writing in “so and so died” and continue writing the book in hopes to be able to get back to it and add those deep feels that make the reader feel the same. But even after I don’t even know how the character takes another step, says another word. And now I’m stuck. OY! My procrastination even went as far as starting up college again in hopes I’d gain some huge insight into writing in order to finish. And now I’m blogging. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I actually like writing the scenes where characters feel deeply, far more than action scenes or description, because you have such a powerful motivator directing the scene. But you’re right: that doesn’t make them “easy” to write. Thanks for sharing this, and all the best with your edits!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not too many months ago, I was writing a scene that took a complete opposite turn from where I thought it was going. By the time it had played out, there were tears running down my cheeks and it was an hour later. Even now, I don’t remember the act of writing it, and even now it’s hard to read. I’ve tried squeezing emotion like that into my writing before and after that night, but only one other time has my own writing wrecked me emotionally.
    It’s a little frightening when it happens, but so, so honest.


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