• Melissa Volker

Drama, Tragedy and all The Feels

Another installment in the process of getting (the right) words on paper:

Every Wednesday I take our teen son on a road trip to spend the day with a group of fabulously geeky, nerdy gamer friends where they hang out, be teenagers, and play Pathfinder (a version of D&D).

It is also a place where classes are offered for homeschool kids (it's Mastermind Adventures. Go look them up because they are brilliant and talented and you'll be sad if you don't. www.mastermindadventures.com)

One of those classes is a creative writing class, which I mention because it means that there are teens there who are aspiring and hard-working writers.

There is one who has begun seeking me out to chat about writing in general, specific techniques, troubling spots, or to get some input on a monumental, epic, impressive project he's been working on for a while. The subject: Drama and Tragedy.


The question was if tragedy can happen without death. This project is so large it's already broken into several volumes and this young author is looking to create something dark and intense. Full of emotion. Tragic. It must be this in the first volume, but there is no death.

There are two parts to this inquiry. The first was to realize that if you write with intention of creating emotion -- any emotion -- it will come out contrived, false, forced. The purpose of your words, the actions, thoughts, events cannot be to create a sense of emotion. The purpose must always be to create Truth -- in characters, storyline, motivation, momentum. If you are writing Truth (I've talked of this before...see how it keeps coming back to that?), then the emotional content will come out of it organically. Just like in life.

Just. Like. In. Life.

So that means as the writer, you must determine your character's Truth. Their content. Their conflict. Out of that will come The Feels, whatever they may be -- love, anger, heartbreak.

The other part is about tragedy in particular. Tragedy without death.


If you haven't read it, for crying out loud, go read it.

The concept of poetic soul viewed as monster, misunderstood, exiled, a being yearning for love, connection, to lift himself above the mundane and be more than what he was thought to be, only to be repeatedly shunned, attacked, spirits dashed, treated like -- a monster -- pushing him until he behaves like one.

While in the end there is physical death, it doesn't take until the end to feel the tragedy. Your heart breaks for the monster through the entire story. He is villain to all but the reader. His struggle, his desire, his loneliness -- the little internal deaths he experiences throughout his story are written with Truth, and so we, as readers, feel it. We ache for his loss, for his thwarted desires. We rage against a world so blind and unfeeling and selfish. And we mourn…long before any real death actually occurs.

And for me, at least, that kind of tragedy is far more impactful than the obvious tragedy of death. It is lingering. It is the slow, painful unraveling. It is the deep, internal, pervasive sadness of the soul.

Tragedy without death? Absolutely.

But only if the characters and story are written with Truth, and the emotional impact is not the driving force in the writing of the story. Manipulating will always backfire. Truth will always succeed.

If you want your readers to feel anything -- fear, love, despair, sadness -- you cannot write the emotion. You must write your characters and their story with honesty, richness, bravery and the emotion will flood into the space you have made by writing the Truth.

For nearly two hours we talked, wending our way through concepts like villains as heroes (a subject for another day), complexity of characters, dialogue, pacing, writer's block, and momentum.

I love talking with passionate teenagers. There can be so much depth and intelligence, their energy and drive infectious and inspiring. I’m not sure he realized that I benefitted from the conversation as much as he did.

Tragedy without death.

Yes -- via Truth.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: Writers must be brave, raw, sincere and exposed. That is what forges a connection between the story and the readers. It is (geek alert!) the Bifrost -- the bridge between here (the mundane) and Asgard (the magical).

Don't write with the intention of making your writers feel anything. Just write the honest Truth and they will feel everything.

Oh yeah…and, Frankenstein -- go read it.


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