Anyone who sees or hears a tragedy cannot remain untouched by it. They can attempt to stifle or ignore it, but there will be subtle signs. When that tragedy strikes a person directly, the signs will be even greater, and stress will continue to crop up over an extended period of time. However, some authors forget that.
Their character loses a close friend, a dear family member, or their great love. Yet, after this heart-breaking moment the bereft character returns to carrying on as usual within a short time. The shock should not evaporate so quickly. Understanding how to describe the signs of distress will keep the disaster fresh in the mind of the reader.
Characters should respond to the calamity with mental, emotional, and/or physical signs. The one that they exhibit the most is often a challenge to the area of their greatest strength. The mind can play games on a character after a loss. Difficulty concentrating, making mistakes completing simple tasks, being easily startled, or having flash backs or nightmares in which they “relive” the event all point to the seriousness of the tragedy.
The character should show emotions other than the typical sadness or frequent tears. The result might be anger and rage which often flare up after the loss of a loved one. This is typically seen as a male response, but do not overlook it in a female. Conversely denial and guilt can crop up. After a time of mourning, numbness and feelings of detachment or vulnerability often occur. Having the character’s daily life interrupted by these errant emotions remind us that the loss was severe in a more potent way than dialogue discussing it.
Describing a character’s physiological response is one of the keys to keeping a reader on edge. These are the outward signs of heartbreak:
- A racing heart
- Unexplained bodily aches
- Constant exhaustion
- Appetite changes (no appetite or binging on comfort foods)
- Excessive alcohol and drug use
Actually, stress is exhibited by any excessive, compulsive action, such as constant social media scrolling, TV binge watching, always being preoccupied with a book, or listening to podcasts and music because the silence is unbearable. However, the drug and alcohol use compound the problem quickly. It a sign of a pain that creates another challenge for that person to overcome.
Now, if exhibiting these signs seems to create a weak character, you must remember that not exhibiting any of them results in a heartless character.