There's a phenomenon in life that I find difficult to write in my fiction, and that's The Terrible Moment After. That's how I think of it. It's the minutes, the hours even, after something awful happens, something that changes your life forever.
It's what happens after a drunk driver hits your car, and you stumble disoriented from your vehicle in a multiple car accident.
It's what happens after you find out a friend just died in Iraq, or was murdered, struck down from behind after a stupid drunken fight.
It's what happens after the slow death you've been waiting for finally comes, with its mixture of grief and relief.
Those, unfortunately, are all my own terrible moments after. And to me, they're hard to write, because so little happens, in those moments. Those awful climactic moments, they're easy to write. But what happens next?
I remember all the little details of what happened right before my father died. I was home, hadn't gone to the hospital yet and had given up on school (I was 17). I was doing the dishes. I heard the front door open, the first time my mom had been home in days, and I knew he was gone. I remember the open kitchen window over the sink, the view of our green May yard and the scent of lilacs drifting in. I remember dropping the dish towel on the floor. My mother was trembling, her arms wrapped around the flowers from my father's hospital room, and her blue eyes were full of unreleased tears.
But what came next? I remember going to the funeral home, but that wasn't until later; cleaning the house for the wake; finally crying for the first time weeks after, lying alone in the grass of an open field. Did I curl up on the couch with my dogs and watch TV? Take comfort in my books, as I often did? I don't remember.
And that seems like so little to show, in a novel; Then she laid down on the couch, and her rottweiler laid her head in her lap, and they watched the MTV Real World marathon. There's so much going on in the midst of so little.
I remember, too, the next year, getting the phone call about my friend being murdered. I remember pacing the house, but not what happened next; what do you do when there's nothing you can do? Clean the house? Go for a run to try and burn off some rage?
I think it's a powerful moment to write, don't get me wrong. We don't live our lives in the world-changing moments; we live in what comes after, including the terrible moments after. But there's so little to show, in these moments. And in some ways, there's so little going on -- we process these things so slowly.
But I think that just as much as we write the climaxes, we need to at least cover the aftermath. Even if it's just a few sentences about how the character survives that time, what they do to keep moving and keep the distance, and what happens when they stop.
Hopefully this post makes sense, about writing the aftermaths. Sorry about the dark (and personal) nature of the post -- there are beautiful moments after, too. Even, especially, after you've come through the terrible ones.
What does your MC live through? And how? How have you dealt with your terrible moments after?
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