Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: May 19, 2002
This is part of the "Remembering" series
A challenge in writing is how to present
emotions. Emotions are at
heart of good writing (fiction or non-fiction), yet are so hard to
because they are at the same time so personal and so universal.
have been used, and abused, since writing began, so an added challenge
falling into cliché or triteness, or thinking that just naming
will be adequate.
Our best resource in this regard is our
own experience (followed by
observation of others experiencing these emotions.) By remembering how
reacted in a given situation, how an emotion felt *to me* at various
occasions, I can draw on that in my writing to make the emotions in my
writing more real. I can even project - I will never face a
dragon, but I can remember being cornered by an aggressive dog as a
and extrapolate from that.
This week I'd like us to remember sadness.
But first, a bit of
In past Remembering exercises, we have
seen people dealing with
events in their lives - sometimes at some cost to themselves. Please
remember that you do not have to use the most serious event in your
for these exercises. For this exercise, if you are experiencing grief
which you have not yet come to terms (perhaps you have lost a loved one
recently, for example), then you don't need to use that experience for
submission (in fact, it might be better not to, as it would have harder
you to transpose the experience into words, thus possible detracting
the purpose of the exercise. And such still-active emotions will make
harder to deal with critiques - harder to separate the comments on our
writing from those emotions.)
So, pick an incident you are ready to
present (and yes, it is OK if
your submission helps you deal with unresolved feelings - but if it
ask yourself before posting, "am I ready to accept critiques on this?")
On the other hand, don't pick something so
remote or minor that you
recall how it felt at the time...
In fact, remember that you don't have to
write a submission every
as long as you meet the participation requirements you can elect to
exercise that doesn't suit you (but ask yourself why it doesn't suit
and if this might not be an opportunity rather than a problem...)
Anyway, back to our topic.
Sadness comes in many forms, and this
exercise applies to all of
them. Sadness can take the form of regret, grief, remorse, depression,
etc. It can express itself in anger, in tears, in withdrawal - or in
these ways. It can change how we do things in future, making us wiser,
drive us to extreme acts, making us reckless. So describing sadness
have many aspects: what caused it, what feelings (perhaps mixed or even
contradictory) did it inspire, how did we act as a result?
As you write your submission, consider the
five stages of grief:
anger or resentment, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (See
for a brief description of these
stages, as they apply to death - though they apply to any sad event.)
you experience all those stages? Which were most significant? How did
each stage manifest itself?
(Because this is a complex emotion, we
will have a longer-than-usual
count for this exercise.)
So, in 500 words or less (if possible),
remember a moment of sadness
your life, and describe it for us. Be truthful, don't embellish, don't
(And as noted above, before posting, make
sure you are really
submit this for public critique...)
When critiquing, remember that we are
dealing with personal moments,
make sure to focus on the writing, on how the emotions are
described. Don't question or criticize the emotions themselves, or any
actions that might have resulted.
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: May 28, 2002
I must say, great job everybody! A
difficult topic led to one of our
weeks. The submissions dealt with sadness in various forms, and made
emotion real, not trite or cliché (and this was, after all, the
goal of the
exercise.) I recognize that it took a lot of courage to write many of
those submissions; I hope it has been a positive experience for
It was great also to see the variety of
topics, from major issues
death of a parent or the breakdown of a marriage to (supposedly minor)
experiences like an injured animal. It it important to realize (and the
submissions made this very clear) that sadness is sadness, very real to
person experiencing it.
I am glad I extended the word count. It
was only when I saw the
submissions that I realized that describing sadness means first
what was lost. Love, or hope, or anger, may spring out of nowhere, but
sadness comes from deep within our lives, after we have become attached
someone or to something.
Great work on the critiques as well.
Critiquing such personal,
memories presents a special challenge. Fortunately, the critiques were
positive, emphasizing when sadness was conveyed well, and nit-picking
on the writing itself, respecting the feelings of the authors.
One more comment. One thing I have learned
from my participation in
lists, and through email contacts, is that there are no ordinary
lives. All of us experience moments of happiness - and of tragedy. We
meet challenges that could break us; we all achieve our victories as
as we can. This, in itself, is a valuable lesson which this week's
submissions illustrated very well.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.