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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Doctor is IN:

Dear Doctor Jeff:

I am writing a script about grief – a mother lost her daughter in a car crash. I have read a lot of scripts by aspiring writers like me and whenever I see grief depicted, people show the grief-stricken one staring out windows a lot or going to the dead person’s room and looking at their stuff. But that seems so boring. I know there are several stages of grief that people go through, but without being able to show every stage, do you have any pointers on some of the different ways people handle grief, especially a mother?
-Wondering in Wisconsin

Dear Wondering,
The initial stance in the face of grief and loss is often a self-protective, ‘shut down’ as a way to keep unwanted feelings at bay. We may say things like, “They’ll pull through, they always do” or, “Oh, it was expected. I’m fine.” Recently, a dear friend whose husband died (after a devastating battle with alcohol and painkillers) was chased for two weeks by a series of recurring nightmares after his death.

In the nightmares, she and her husband were at home, completely disconnected from one another; either in separate parts of the house or unable to communicate. My friend would wake up so sad, so bleak and depressed… hating her nightmares.

We explored the possibility that the nightmares were, in fact, friends and teachers. When her husband was alive, she had to emotionally armor herself each time she walked in the home having no idea if he’d be passed out on the floor, called the police again because of people climbing around on the second story roof, or driving drunk. These nightmares were metaphors of their complete disconnect to one another. In separate parts of the house, unable to communicate. These visceral, cellular nightmarish truths needed to be felt, to be allowed. The nightmares served as release valves for the psyche.

Last part of your question, you might consider having someone deal with death or loss in two contrasting ways or worlds; 1) By day, where she speaks one truth. The “Oh, I’m okay. We all go through it.”. And 2) the one experienced through symbols in dreams or chased in nightmares.

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Dave Shepherd said...

You know what's a good book?

Psychology for Screenwriters by William Indick, Ph.D.

It deals with a lot of this stuff. I'd buy it again for the chapter on Ego Defense alone. It also touches on the Hero's Journey, and the Heroine's Journey.

I would warn though that it's for more advanced screenwriters -- it's not the first book you'd want to buy if you were starting out. It would probably overwhelm beginners.

It's good though.

Emily Blake said...

One of my favorite things I've heard about writing in the past few years - I think it comes from Jane Espenson although she may have gotten it somewhere else - is that it is much harder and more moving to watch someone try not to cry than it is to watch them pour buckets of tears at a moment's notice.