I started a story recently, one that has been difficult to write. No, I’m not struggling with the plot or the characters or any of that other stuff that can make writing like wading through an ocean full of muddy waves and crocodiles. It’s the subject matter that is difficult. Many men won’t understand this, but any woman who as been through a miscarriage will. And there is my dilemma, the story is—as you have probably guessed by now—about a woman having a miscarriage.
I wrote the first dozen or so pages without having the first clue as to how a woman would deal with, or even the symptoms of a miscarriage. That, in and of itself, was not a wise idea. So, I put a call out to my friends on Facebook, asking anyone who was willing to answer questions to contact me. Please. Several very helpful women and one gentleman contacted me, willing to offer up any information I needed. Two of the women, in particular, went into the details of their miscarriages. What I learned was sad and tragic and so hard on the women, and yes, the man who responded, as well.
I learned so much I didn’t know and I’m glad I asked for the help. Now, the story that has begged me to write it for a couple weeks now will, not only be written, but will be written accurately. It will, I have no doubt, be one of the most emotionally charged pieces I have ever written. As it should.
Everyone I spoke to said that their miscarriages happened years ago. I found this interesting. There were no recent accounts of miscarriages discussed. Does that mean time really does heal all wounds? No, I don’t think so. Though time doesn’t heal all wounds, the edge of pain seems to ease up after a while, and that dulling of pain is, in many ways, a type of healing.
This has made me think harder about a subject I have often thought about in the past: How long should a writer wait before writing about a true to life tragedy? Let me be a little more forward here: How soon after an event like 9/11 or Sandy Hook or Hurricane Sandy can a fictional story be written based on the events or similar events? It was a long while before I read a story based on the events of 9/11. It’s been a year, and I have no doubts that any fictional piece about shootings in any school (like King’s novella, Rage) would not be received very well right now.
I’ll be honest, when 9/11 happened, I sat up that night handwriting a story titled, Allegiance. I’ve never typed it, but I remember the way I felt when I wrote it The news was on and it was late and I was tired, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the scenes of the planes crashing into the building and the towers falling. I remember one scene from early in the day, where one of the planes had tore through one of the towers and there were a few people standing in the gaping hole the plane had left behind. I have often wondered if any of those people made it out of the building. There’s another image from the newspaper of a man hurtling to his death, having jumped from the building instead of facing the possibilities of burning alive or being crushed when the towers fell.
Forget being a writer for a moment. As a person, I wondered what I would do in that same situation. Would I have jumped? Would I have stood at that hole looking out? Would I have had enough sense to say, ‘we need to get out of here, now’? What would it have been like to have been in that stairwell, trying to get to the bottom while firemen tried to make their way up? What were the firemen thinking as they rushed to their deaths? I’ve always thought about these things, but other than the one story I wrote the night of the attacks, I’ve never written another piece on it.
Sandy Hook happened a year ago. I can’t begin to imagine the grief those parents and family members felt—still feel, now. But what was Adam Lanza thinking when he walked into that school and started shooting adults and children alike? What was going through his head that could make him do this?
What about the Boston Marathon bombing?
What about the Tsunami that hit Asia? Or the typhoon that recently struck the Philippines?
How about when? When is it okay to write a fictional story based on these events or similar ones? My next question would be why is it not okay to write about them when they happen? While the events are fresh in your mind, while the pain of it all is still stinging the heart? Is it insensitive to write about these things when they happen? Why?
My answer to this is simple: It is okay to write about them when you’ve had a chance to digest them, when the information is all out there, when you feel your heart strings being tugged in that direction. In other words, I think it is okay to write about them when you, the writer, feel it is okay for, you, the writer, to write about them. All I say is be respectful to those folks who endured the tragedy at hand. If you show respect for the subject, then by all means, write away. One other thing: if it is something that can happen, that has happened, then it is a real, tangible thing that you can feel. If that is the case, then write about it in your own special way. But be respectful and write nothing disparaging.
I’ve never written about Sandy Hook—I have two children in public schools, and have yet to be able to create a story about something so very close to my own heart. I may never write about something with that particular storyline. I’m not certain I can. The time may never be right for me to write such a story.
I’ve always invited people to comment, to discuss anything on Type AJ Negative. I do so today, as well. Tell me, writers, when do you feel it is okay to write about real life tragic events? Tell me, readers, how long do you wait before picking up something about those real life tragic events? Why do you feel the way you do? What do you consider appropriate in addressing these tragedies?
I think it is up to each individual on when the time is right, but you may have a different opinion. I want to hear it. But for now, I must go. I look forward to your thoughts, and until we meet again, my friends…