Some time ago, I was invited by my university org (DLSU Writers’ Guild) to do a talk on the topic of heartbreak. I don’t know why they chose me to do it. I’m not a professional writer. I don’t even write prose all that much, to be honest. Either way, it happened. I did the thing and I got a certificate. Whoop whoop!
As much as I try to live without regrets, sadly I do regret my approach to that particular talk. It wasn’t as informative as I wanted it to be. So as reparation, I decided to write this.
Disclaimer: Again, I’m not a professional writer. My technique comes from personal experience which involved a lot of trial and error. This is just a guide for you to use if you want to. Okay? Okay, cool. 😀
Eri’s Guide to Writing A Convincing Heartbreak
1. Know Your Characters
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Before writing your scene, you have to know your characters. What makes them “them”? What would make them happy? What would make them sad? What circumstances would it take for your character to quit or rage? Understanding what makes your characters tick makes writing scenes with a lot of strong emotions much easier.
My personal technique to developing characters is to make a list of basic attributes I want my character to have and distribute those in percentages until I get to 100%. It helps me to see what their predominant characteristic would be and how that would affect their reaction in a situation.
For example, if I’m writing a high-school teen break-up, my list and its percentiles would look like this:
Another good way to make sure your character is well-developed is to use profile sheets. There are a ton of good ones all over the internet.
Remember, writing about characters with personality makes writing easier and more fun. Also, it’s hard to make an exciting story about plain characters.
2. Build the Scene
“Destroying is easy, Creating is hard, but only one of the two will give you Rewards.”
— Manuel Corazzari
What makes a heartbreak painful is the realization that you have made a significant emotional investment that you cannot withdraw. It’s this emotional investment in a character that will make your reader connect deeply with your character. You know what I’m talking about. How many times have you cried over your favorite fictional character dying? So many times. Too many times.
Emotional investment doesn’t happen suddenly. It takes time and if you’re after high-yielding emotional trauma, you have to build the scene to establish that connection. Describe the scene of how things are going to go down for your characters. Start small and gradually build up the tension to make the situation believable. Consider your character’s personality and how these traits would play out in the story.
I find that playing the situation out as one of the characters makes developing the story easier. It makes the emotions you write more real because they come from your perspective.
3. Choose Your Break
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
— John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
As there are different types of people, there are different causes of heartbreak and different styles of heartbreak. Is the heartbreak romantic (breakups, cheating/infidelity, divorce/annulment, etc.) or non-romantic (friendship breakups, family problems, etc.) in nature? Does it involve other themes or issues like mental health, bullying, or death? On a scale of 1-100, how painful is the heartbreak in relation to your character?
The cause and style that you use should be fitting to the overall story. The heartbreak can be the main conflict in the plot or a transition into another plot device. Just remember your characters’ personality and make sure the style you use still matches up with the direction you want to head in.
I find that when I’m choosing a style and writing how it happens, it helps to draw inspiration from real life. Letting the dialogue and events flow naturally as it comes to me helps ground the story better – making the emotions speak for themselves.
A good way to learn more about what style you want to use is to read your favorite stories and authors. Find what techniques they used that made you want to rip your own heart out and use that as inspiration for your story.
4. Consider Closure
“If you didn’t love him, this never would have happened. But you did. And accepting that love and everything that followed it is part of letting it go.”
— Sarah Dessen, Dreamland
Sometimes, we get an apology for the heartbreak. Sometimes we get a halfhearted shrug. Sometimes we don’t get the closure we want from the people who hurt us. And sometimes, we’re left hanging. The same goes for writing a story. In relation to your characters and your plot, what happens next is in your control. Consider some kind of closure for your characters if it fits into where your story is going.
Is the heartbreak the end of the story? How does your character move on from it, if at all? How does this heartbreak affect your character’s personality? What happens to your character after the band-aid has been ripped off?
Closure is not a requirement of course but it could add another plot point to your story.
5. Commit and Do It
“Success has a simple formula: do your best, and people may like it.”
— Sam Ewing
Take the time to create your story and let the pain out through your writing. Show your readers the where, when, why, and how of the story. Take them on a journey, bring them into your world. This is your chance to go big or go home. Bring in the details, the dialogue, and all the little nuances that would illustrate your world into their imaginations.
What day did this happen? What was the weather like? Immerse your readers’ senses with the sounds, smells and sights of your world. Emotions and confrontation cause a lot of non-verbal cues so you can incorporate those emotion-specific details into your descriptions.But if you’re gonna do it, you have to commit to it. Let it all out.
As Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
6. When in Doubt, Beta
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
— Shannon Hale
So you’re done writing your story but something doesn’t feel quite right with it. You read and re-read it but you can’t seem to put your finger on what’s wrong with the story. When this happens (and if you’re like me, it happens often), get someone you trust to read it and beta it for you.
Getting a beta reader is good for two reasons. One, letting someone else read your work gives you the opportunity to gain someone else’s perspective to your story. It gives your work a fresh pair of eyes which can help develop your story further. Two, since you’ve been working on this story for a long time, there are mistakes that you probably cannot see. You can’t see them because you’ve gotten used to them. A beta reader will see errors (typos, punctuation, verb tenses, etc.) that you have missed out on otherwise.
So, in summary:
- Know Your Characters
- Build The Scene
- Choose Your Break
- Consider Closure
- Commit and Do It
- When in Doubt, Beta
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment down below!
I hope you find this informative and useful, and I’ll see you in the next one~