Thursday, August 25, 2016

Character Healing

I didn’t know what to title this blog because the five stages of grief sound so depressing. A romance novel is uplifting, at least at the end, and nothing at all like grief. We read a love story for the joy of ‘happily ever after.’ But grief is a part of life and sometimes our characters suffer from it either before the story begins or during the story itself.

If we’re writing women’s fiction or a literary novel, then emotional pain and angst aren’t particularly unusual. But in a love story, the hero or heroine may have lived through a terrible romantic experience in the past. It could be a break up, a death, or a divorce, though divorce isn’t normally found in Christian fiction.

I always had the impression that the bitterness, sadness, or anger of a great emotional upheaval should take place in the character’s past and not impact the person in the present, at least not to a great degree. The hero or heroine will be influenced by this former relationship, but is now free to love again. The experience might have made her wary of someone hurting her yet again, but it’s given her some wisdom and depth of character. So when the right man comes around she’ll be emotionally ready, even though it won’t happen immediately. While the pain may linger, she’s no longer ‘crippled’ by it. By the end of a romance, ‘love conquers all.’

It’s important that the hero and heroine have some internal obstacles keeping them apart. Sometimes it’s a romance gone terribly wrong. In historicals, it’s often the death of a loved one that’s quite traumatic to the character.

A story needs both internal and external conflicts to make it the best it can be. A conflict relating to a past romance gives it an excellent backstory which helps the reader understand the hero or heroine.

In my opinion, a problem between the main character and a parent or sibling is weaker than a romantic problem experienced in the past. It’ll have a direct lingering effect that will impact the characters in present love story.

But I wonder what would a story be like if either the hero or heroine was still in the middle of recovering from their grief when a new, potential love came into their live. Could one help the other to recover from the pain that keeps him from moving forward into a new, happy life? Or does the main character have to already be past every one of the five stages of grief first? Tell us what you think.

Teddy Roosevelt is an interesting example. A baby girl was born to Teddy and his beloved young wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt. Two days later Alice died from undiagnosed kidney failure which had been masked by her pregnancy. He said, “The light has gone out of my life.” That same day his mother, Mittie, died from typhoid fever in the same house.

Distressed and grieving, Teddy left the baby in the care of his sister for three years! He focused on his work to forget his awful loss. He rarely spoke about Alice and didn’t mention her or his second wife, Edith, in his autobiography.

He married Edith a few years after Alice’s untimely death. They had five children but he worried he’d lose her in childbirth, too. He didn’t. She outlived him.

It’s a fascinating story to me because obviously Teddy recovered enough to remarry, continue on with his life and even become President. The pain never completely left him. But after his initial shock and grief subsided, he married again and accepted the risk of another tragedy. I think he was brave not to wallow forever in his misery. He didn’t wait until he’d fully recovered to marry Edith. If he had, he’d probably have been single for the rest of his life because he never completely overcame his loss of Alice.

Our story people who suffer a big loss also go through the five stages of grief just as real people do. Some go through fewer stagers, some go through more.

Life makes no sense, we feel numb. It’s God’s way of letting in only as much as reality as we can handle at the beginning. We’re shocked and in denial. As we begin to accept the loss, we are starting the healing process. But all our feelings come to the surface.

We might feel anger toward the doctors, family, friends, the loved one herself and even God. Underneath the anger is the pain of feeling deserted and abandoned. It may be anger at the situation and not the person.

Before a loss we may bargain with God to heal our loved one. We may promise God to be a better person or help the poor etc. We want our old life back. Sometimes we think we could’ve done something differently and saved the person we love. We remain in the past as we try to rid ourselves of the pain.

This is a normal state after a great loss, not a true mental health issue. Our grief is deep and it feels as if it will last forever. We will be sad, we may withdraw from family and friends, or think life isn’t worth living. But this is just part of the healing process.

We finally accept what we can’t change. We don’t want to accept our loss, but we don’t have a choice. This is about accepting reality. We learn to live with the new normal even when we don’t like it. We can even feel happiness once in a while. We have to change, grow and evolve. We start to live again, but first we have to give ourselves time to grieve.

I think one of our main story people can be at any stage when he meets someone he’s attracted to. Personally, the Depression Stage or the Acceptance Stage seem plausible to me. The hero needs her to help him work through his loss and his grief and then they can begin their own love relationship. By the end of the story, the hero heals with the help of his new love.

At what stage would you start the story if your heroine is still grieving?

I’m giving away a $15.00 gift certificate to Starbucks. Please leave your e-mail address.


Trixi said...

Hi Cara! I'm not a writer but I've read many books where I've seen your examples here. I think either stage you mentioned (depression or acceptance) would be a good way to start the story. Depression because the hero can help the heroine through the loss, thus I think it would deepen the relationship and bond the two together closer. Acceptance because she'd be at the point where she can begin to let a new love into her life & maybe be at a stage where she can express her emotions easily after the loss. Thus, the hero can have open ears to hear and sympathize or just be there to listen...again, deepening the new love relationship.

Never really thought of the stages of grief when it comes to love stories! But thinking back, I can see where I've read many a book that deals with loss in some way and how the characters grow from it :-) Great examples, thanks for a thought provoking post today

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Laurie Wood said...

I can see starting her story in the depression stage and using the hero's love + acceptance to help her heal and accept her loss. I often find that love stories where the person's grief is too far back, but they're still unwilling to risk love to be a bit "staged" reality, most emotionally healthy people don't hang on to their risk aversion for years.

Laurie Wood said...

I forgot, - thanks for the chance to enjoy Starbucks :)

Vince said...

Hi Cara:

I've read that not all people go thru the phases of grief at the same rate, in the same order, nor do they spend an equal amount of time in each given phase. When a stage is skipped sometimes specific pathologies will follow. The problems of skipping a stage might make for some interesting and insightful complications for the story.

I like the hero and heroine to be both in the early stages of grief. That way their character ARCs can show the progress they make as they pass thru each phase as the healing takes place. I also like for both the hero and heroine to have problems. It is not as much fun when only the hero or heroine's conflicts are holding up the HEA.

For example, I recently read a romance where the hero and one of his relatives were treated so badly by ex-wives that neither wouldn't even consider another relationship. Well, for the last part of the story the only question was, 'will the hero give in, change his mind, and seek love again?'.

Waiting for the hero make up his mind, when all other characters are 'go', is not very interesting.

I think the ideal conflict of this maximum sort is, "The Lawman's Second Chance", in which the hero lost a wife to breast cancer and the heroine is undergoing treatment for breast cancer herself. To make mattes more stressful, the heroine's ex-husband left her because he could not deal with the stress her cancer was giving him!

I really enjoyed the slow process as these two characters dropped their objections, one by one, to entering another relationship. I felt the HEA was fully earned in this story.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Having been there and done that, nothing annoys me more than a hero or heroine who fall in love right after a death of a spouse. is a longer novel with a longer time line.

I prefer stories that begin at the end stages of grief because they are more realistic.

In the early stages, your mind is so clouded and your judgement is so poor that it's not believable to think you can make a lifetime commitment and decision. Any therapist will tell you not to make big decisions during this time.

This is the opposite of Vince's thoughts. But we all have different parameters for suspending belief as a reader.

Tina Radcliffe said...

And as Vince pointed out, everyone goes through the stages of grief at different times and for differing amounts of time. There is a problem if you stay in any one stage too long.

Cindy W. said...

I think a story should begin at the end stages of grief as well. As Tina mentioned above, to start a romance too soon isn't right. To me that would darken the characters persona to the reader.

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Cindy W.

Mary Connealy said...

Cara thanks for this.
I deal with this is my books some but of course you can't call it the Stages of Grief, so you skirt around it, have it be the real thing it is, but drop the modern terminology. I'm glad to have it all laid out so tidy.
Thank you!

Mary Connealy said...

I even had a bout of arrested grief in one book where the denial just froze the guy for a long time. Then anger was like half a day and depression ... he moved along well after he finally got past denial.

Jill Weatherholt said...

I prefer to write and read a story where the character is more toward the end stages of grief. For me, it would seem to rushed, especially in a 55k-70k word book.
Thanks for visiting, Cara! I'd love to be entered in the drawing.

Cara Lynn James said...

Trixi, I think I'd start a story with loss at the depression stage. Unless the story covers several years, I wouldn't start at Denial unless it's women's fiction or literary.

Josee Telfer said...

Cara, you did a bang-up job with this post.

I agree that you don't want your character to be crippled by the loss. When you lose someone, you're staring out into a black abyss for a while. It's bleak and its brutal and you need time, BUT you never really "get over" someone when they leave the physical world.

I don't believe there is a time frame or rule book for grief. It's as individual as a fingerprint, and it can take years...YEARS.

So, while it would be nice and tidy to have the character "healed" from the loss, I just don't believe it works that way. I know someone who is happily re-married (24 years now) and she still mourns her first husband, particularly on their wedding anniversary, his birthday, the anniversary of his death.

I do believe that a new love can help heal the wounds of the past but that no one will be fully healed without the grace of God. Another reason why I love Christian fiction.

Now, if the marriage was unhealthy and unhappy, well that's a different story. I know a woman who was torn apart because her second love was so much more powerful than her first. She had guilt over the fact that her spouse with whom she had children, was not in fact the love of her life, but her second marriage was.

Or the woman who lived down the street and had buried THREE husbands and was getting married a fourth time. Can you imagine?! I swear, life really is stranger than fiction!

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Cara Lynn James said...

Laurie, I agree that after a while a healthy person recovers from their grief and moves on with their life. A death of a loved one might be harder to overcome than the end of a relationship break up although that depends on the person. In my experience a death will take longer, but others may disagree.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, CARA! I didn't know that story about Roosevelt. How tragic.

Thank you for your sensitive handling of this topic that touches all of us at one time or another--and for a fresh way of looking at the classic "stages."

Cara Lynn James said...

Vince, I also like both the hero and heroine to have problems, both internal and external. I don't think I've ever read a book where the two main characters are going through the stages of grief at the same time but it would be intriguing to try to write one. I think it would be hard for me if both were at different stages. It could make a very interesting and unusual story.

Cara Lynn James said...

Tina, it would be interesting if a heroine fell in love with a hero soon after she's just broken up with her boyfriend. I guess that would be a 'on the rebound' story. It might work for a historical, especially if she's pushed into marriage by her parents or guardians.

I don't think it could realistically work if the loved one had died. That takes a long time to heal from.

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Cindy! You and Tina both have a valid point. And It would hard to write the story with realism and sensitivity.

Cara Lynn James said...

Mary, I'm glad your guy recovered so well! As Vince said, there is no set time for each stage of grief.

Josee Telfer said...

This post got me thinking...can you have two great loves in your life?

The heart has an endless capacity for love but with regards to romantic love, will you inevitably compare one with the other?

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Cara I sure do know the stages of grief and I think they are an element that definitely deepens a charachter. Thanks for reminding us and sharing the different stages.

I'm not of any opinion of when one should enter into a relationship. That is what makes it so fun to write. You have to make it believable and it will be different for each character. Or at least it should be.

Like Mary said, great to see you back.

cathyann40 said...

I enjoyed reading this. I love Starbucks coffee.

Cate Nolan said...

Good morning, Cara.

I know I've read books where the person was still grieving. One memorable one for me was one of Irene Hannon's Love Inspired books. The hero's wife was still technically alive for part of the book although she was brain dead with no hope of recovering. That posed a really interesting moral conflict for the characters, but Irene handled it flawlessly so you believed the conflict and the resolution.

I don't remember the exact details of the story since I read it many years ago, but what has stayed with me all these years is the strong character of the hero and his unfailing faith.

Connie Queen said...

I think it was more common back then for a dad to leave his children w/family if his wife died. I know several true stories where that happened.

Is it me, or do most men remarry sooner after their spouse dies than women?

Interesting post, Cara!

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

Actually, I think we would agree, consider what you wrote:

"I prefer stories that begin at the end stages of grief because they are more realistic.

In the early stages, your mind is so clouded and your judgement is so poor that it's not believable to think you can make a lifetime commitment and decision. Any therapist will tell you not to make big decisions during this time.

This is the opposite of Vince's thoughts. But we all have different parameters for suspending belief as a reader."

I concur with your views as given above. This is what I had in mind when I wrote my comment:

The hero or heroine is still in denial three years after the death of their spouse. They still find themselves waking up in the morning by moving their arm over to wake their departed mate thinking he or she is still alive!

It is at the denial stage's three-year point, long past its expiration date, that the story opens. This way the reader gets to see the ARC pass thru all grief's stages.

Dramatically speaking, exiting the denial stage and going full blast into the anger stage seems to be a very powerful approach to starting the story with enough power to drive it for a full length novel. (Even a Lessman novel.)

Of course, you could have a fresh-grief individual, at the start of the denial process, fall in love with a therapist or minister. The professional well knows that this is a common case of transference and that a relationship would constitute a supreme ethical violation. Thus the professional waits for years before allowing a relationship to start.

If the professional had loved the grieving person before the death of the spouse, this would add greatly to the conflict and add gunpowder to the black moment explosion. (Something Mary has probably done already.) There would be lots of guilt to work out as well as the typical objections to making a lifelong commitment. But then who ever said the course of true love runs smoothly? : )


Vince said...

Hi Cara:

I was intrigued by your comment:

"I didn’t know what to title this blog because the five stages of grief sound so depressing. A romance novel is uplifting, at least at the end, and nothing at all like grief. "

What do you think of coming up with the five stages of joy?

Below is a suggested list:

Sublimity (the sublime).

Can you imagine the conflicts inherent with working out your contentment conflicts and dealing with an unprecedented 'white moment'? This is not getting out of the box: it's turning the box inside out!

Clear the buffer!


Josee Telfer said...


It's not just you. I don't know stats or anything but it definitely seems true to me that men tend to remarry faster. Just off the top of my head, I can think of three who remarried less than a year after their wives died.

Who can give us insight?

Barbara Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chill N said...

HI Cara! I definitely want the story to start after the characters have worked through grief. I can't set disbelief aside enough to believe many people can make rational decisions during the process. Of course, if not making rational decisions is part of the story ... :-)

Thanks for making me think about where my characters are in the process!

Nancy C

Cara Lynn James said...

Jill, these 5 stages of grief are only applicable if the hero and heroine are kept apart because one or both of them had a great loss, often the death of a loved one or the break up of a romantic relationship. There are lots of ways to keep the couple apart that don't have anything to do with the end of a love relationship. We need to find as many ways as possible to keep them from getting together before we reach the end of the book!

Cara Lynn James said...

I can't imagine marrying for a fourth time! But if it makes her happy then more power to her.

Teddy Roosevelt is a good example of someone who recovered from his loss and managed to get on with his life. But he never got over Alice, his first wife.

Marianne Barkman said...

Great post, Cara. I think that the end stages of grief is a place to start a romance novel. I have read a few novels where divorce is thought of (abusive or unfaithful spouse) but I am disappointed that in each case that spouse dies an untimely death. Divorce happens, though not something we embrace.

Cara Lynn James said...

Good morning, Cathy and Glynna! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Cara Lynn James said...

Josee, great question! I guess you could have two great loves during your life but may not in fiction. It probably depends on the individual.

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Sandra! You're right, each time we create a different character they have to be different from every other one. Some writers are accused of writing the same characters over and over again. That's easier for the writer but after a while the readers must get bored.

Cara Lynn James said...

Cate, do you remember the name of Irene Hannon's book? I'd like to read it.

Trixi said...

CARA...I totally agree about not starting a story in the denial stage. It would take a long time for that character to be able to move on with their life, let alone be ready for a new love.

If I were a writer (which I am not), I would start at either the depression or acceptance stage as I said. In fact, I read a story recently that I could hardly choke down because the heroine fled her abusive husband and relocated in a town far away to start a new life. Only after a year's time, she was ready to move on to a new love. She fell head over heels in love in a short amount of time. To me anyway, I would think a woman who was abused that badly (and it was horrible) would need much more time and counseling to be able to move past the abuse and feel like she can let someone in her heart again. I understand that some people can do it that quickly, but it was the way the author wrote it that made it so unrealistic! In cases of abuse, I think the emotions and stages of grief are much deeper and take much more time to heal. That's just my opinion anyway! :-)

Cate Nolan said...

Hi Cara,

It was The Unexpected Gift (Sisters and Brides #3).

It was released in 2011, but it's still available for Kindle.

Cara Lynn James said...

Connie, I agree. My grandmother died when her third child was a few weeks old. My grandfather's parents were dead but his sisters said they'd each take one child. My mother was 2 and her brother was 4. He thanked them but said no because he didn't want to break up his family.

So my grandfather moved in with his deceased wife's parents along with the 3 kids. Seven years later he remarried and they moved a few blocks away. This was in 'the olden days.' But I suppose if there wasn't any family support a man might feel he had to remarry so someone would take care of his children.

Cara Lynn James said...

Josee, my mother died 9 years before my father. He said he would never marry again and he didn't. But that didn't stop widows his age flirting with him. It really surprised me. On the other hand, my uncle who lost his wife after almost 50 years of marriage got a lady friend within a year, maybe 2. His grown kids loved his friend! You never know how people will react.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Interesting chatter, folks.

I did a little research.

Men remarry faster because they LIKE being married.

I would imagine women don't for the same reason. They like not having to take care of another child for a while.

Yes. I did say that. I am not apologizing.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Yes. Okay, Vince. I like the way you explained it. A character who is STUCK in a stage of grief, but in reality not freshly a widow or widower. THAT actually sounds like a good story.

Kristan Higgins has a story like that called THE NEXT BEST THING. NOT CHRISTIAN, but a thoroughly fun book you would love.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I believe our hearts are fully capable of more than one love in a lifetime. It's finding that love that's the problem. Which is why of course, we write romance.

Kav said...

Oh, great dialogue here and as I'm reading I realize that I've read a lot of books lately where the hero or heroine are dealing with the grieving process. Just finished Close to Home by Deborah Raney and the heroine, Bree, has been widowed five years and is grappling with feeling attraction to a man after all those years. To complicate matters, she has become rooted in her deceased husband's family -- they consider her theirs so how does she even begin to navigate romance without feeling like she's letting them down in some way. Brilliantly written.

And I'm with Tina on a decent timeline between the death of a spouse and falling in love again. I feel like I can't trust a hero to be my hero if he can so easily turn to another so quickly. However, having said that, I recently read a book which I loved, but the romance takes place a few months after the spouse's death. I had to block that aspect from my mind so I could enjoy the story though.

DebH said...

I would imagine women don't for the same reason. They like not having to take care of another child for a while. Yes. I did say that. I am not apologizing.

Hoo boy TINA, I am sooooo laughing at this comment, mainly because I agree. I will apologize to Vince and Walt, but only because they appear to be exceptions to the rule...

As for the rest, I am most fortunate to have not suffered a great loss via death... yet. My father died a few years back, but I had already gone through the stages of grief many years before while dealing with his abandonment of our family via divorce. He was a deadbeat dad who found the Lord and eventually forgiveness from us kids much later in life. The catalyst for the forgiveness was when my younger brother had his first child and presented her to my dad saying "Here's a clean slate Dad, you can be the same as always, or you can be the greatest Grandpa in the world. Your choice."

He chose to be the greatest Grandpa in the world. When he passed, there was grief, but also relief for us because he had been really, really sick. I think that tempered the pain of loss so, for me, it wasn't as deep as it may have been for others.

Not sure I want to consider losing my mom. I guess my understanding of grief is a bit stunted at this time (for lack of experience, thank God).

This post is great Cara.

Cara Lynn James said...

Nancy, I definitely agree a person shouldn't make important decisions when they're still grieving. I suspect most wouldn't but some would. They probably aren't thinking rationally. But if they're lonely they might make a mistake.

Cara Lynn James said...

Trixi, maybe we don't like to read about a heroine who is abused jumping into a new relationship very quickly.We can see she's probably making a big mistake. I'd think she'd need a long time to heal.

Cara Lynn James said...

Cate, thanks for the name of the book.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, DebH, that's quite a victory story with your dad.

Just wow.

Cara Lynn James said...

Tina, LOL! Raising another child. That's so true, in many instances.

Cara Lynn James said...

Kav, close to home sounds like a great book. The plot sounds realistic to me and complicated, just as life is.

Vince said...


I didn't laugh at your comment:

"I would imagine women don't for the same reason. They like not having to take care of another child for a while. Yes. I did say that. I am not apologizing."

because I believe that competent research has shown, several times over, that your comment is true! The last research I've read also showed that married men live longer. Widowers in addition often need child care as soon as possible. This need is a motivating factor in men remarrying sooner than women.

Women, on the other hand, often have a big insurance payment to ease their transition into remarriage. It just makes good sense to shop wisely!

Of course, one should keep in mind that all this research excludes gold diggers and sugar daddy seekers. : )


Cara Lynn James said...

Deb H, your brother sounds like a really forgiving person. Most people are not as generous.

Connie Queen said...

My mom once surmised men get married faster because they aren't used to being alone. Like w/me and my husband, I'm home all day, many times by myself. The house is quiet (good thing).
My husband never comes home to a quiet house or an empty house.
I cook supper for him.
It's not like he can't do it himself because he helps a lot.

I don't know if there's an validity to that, but it sorta makes sense. I've never lost a spouse so I can't really put myself in that position.

Connie Queen said...

A man from church lost his wife in a car accident. They had 9 kids, the oldest married and the youngest 4. He married a lady that was 40 but had never been married and no kids. Even though he still talks about his first wife all the time, he and his new wife seem to get along great. He waited about 2 years, but I think he felt very guilty. (He posts way too much of his feelings on facebook...):)

Tina Radcliffe said...

BTW, your little vignette on the Roosevelt's caused me to go and read up on their history. FASCINATING. Especially little Alice Roosevelt.

Thanks for the history lesson.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Hehehehe, Vince.

I love it when you vindicate me.

Barbara Scott said...

Hi Cara! I never thought about romance and the stages of grief, but I will now. In my BC days (before Christ) I was a bit of a butterfly flitting from flower

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Loved this post, CARA! I have two characters going through grief "stages" right now and I plan to refer back to this as I go. Thank you! And thanks for including the info on Teddy Roosevelt - so interesting!

Dee Mynatt said...

I would begin in the early stages of grief...

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, DEE!!!

Reader or Writer???

Vince said...


If you think the story of Alice Roosevelt, and baby Alice is fascinating, I think you'd really enjoy the story of Frances Cleveland and baby Ruth (yes, the Baby Ruth candy bar was named for her.)

Frances Ruth was so popular at the time that she is now called "The First Celebrity First Lady." Grover thought all the publicity might hurt their family and he acted to reduce it but his efforts to do so had almost no results. Teddy Roosevelt, on the other hand, sought the publicy for his First Lady and did his best to maximize it.

The Cleveland's darling Ruth died as a child and it devastated Grover. The whole country mourned the lost of this beloved child!

BTW: I checked out "The Next Best Thing" and it is a very interesting theme for a romance: marry safely the second time by avoiding all passion. Just try to make that work! :)


Tina Radcliffe said...

Vince, I'll look that up.

My dirty little secret is reading biography books. Love them.

The Next Best Thing has Italians too!!!!! Lots of food.

Julie Lessman said...


Oh. My Goodness!! I LOVED the background on Teddy Roosevelt -- I had NO idea!! And what a perfect example for your blog!

YOU ASKED: "At what stage would you start the story if your heroine is still grieving?"

That's a very interesting question, my friend, and one I actually can answer because I just did it. I have a Christmas novella coming out with Gilead, which is part of an anthology with Mary and Ruthy, and My story is about a pastor who's beloved wife whom he adored died in childbirth a year past. I wrestled with how long of a mourning period I needed to have before my hero could acceptably fall in love and felt one year of grieving was more than enough for a historical novella, especially since the pastor has four motherless girls, one of which is a baby. I personally feel any sooner than that would be somewhat insensitive unless it's a story where the hero or heroine is helping the other get past their grief as a friend.

YOU SAID: "But I wonder what would a story be like if either the hero or heroine was still in the middle of recovering from their grief when a new, potential love came into their live. Could one help the other to recover from the pain that keeps him from moving forward into a new, happy life? Or does the main character have to already be past every one of the five stages of grief first? Tell us what you think."

Again, I have a definite opinion on this since I am actually going through this in my current WIP where the heroine underwent an extensive grieving process of 3 or 4 years after a "player" crushed her. So when she meets the "player" hero, her grieving is past, but the residue remains. In her case, any sooner than two years would not have worked since the heroine is an extremely fragile and gentle person who was almost destroyed by the grief over the past relationship.

Ironically, in the same story, the secondary heroine is grieving the loss of her ex-husband who died five months prior, and a male friend is helping her get through the process until he starts to fall for her. So I suppose I would give it at least six months to a year (preferably a year) if the grieving is over the loss of a true love.

VERY interesting blog, Cara!


Nicky Chapelway said...

This is a very interesting blog and I agree that the emotional turmoil in the characters lives is important to the story and their characterization. I like to consider that my books have three plots: the main plot (the conflict, the goal of the characters), the romantic plot (what is happening to the main characters during the course of this story to make them fall in love, when do they realize their feelings for each other, what do they do after they realize that they love each other), and the emotional plot (are they overcoming grief, do they have things standing in their way emotionally that makes a Happily Ever After seem impossible).

You asked if I thought that a character needs to be out of the grieving process before they can move on and get their story and happily ever after. My answer is, no. It might be a longer story, more emotionally drawn out, and harder for the romance to develop (for a time,at least), but it would make it a much more interesting and (I believe) worthwhile story. As for which of the stages of grief I would start my heroine off in, well... I think I would start her off in either the anger or depression stages because those seem like they would be the most interesting to write.

Nicky Chapelway said...

Oh and also my e-mail is

Boo Smelser said...

I think it depends on the situation- like, for instance, how long they've been married, how dire is it (as in for kids) for them to marry again, and how much was unresolved at the passing of their first love.

For instance, I'm working on a short story about a widower who is getting a second (well, more third chance since she's his first flame) at romance. It's been four years, so he's past all the stages but perhaps acceptance because he still has bouts of the other four stages (in just what I wrote today, he went through denial and anger and there was hints of bargaining and depression- this both because of the tragic death of his wife and even before that because he was separated from his first flame against his will). However, he does reach the acceptance stage by the end of the story and chooses to pursue a future with his first flame instead of wallowing in regret and fear and grief.

My email address is

Boo Smelser said...

Now what I want to know, is there anyone really ready to write a story in the middle of nitty gritty loss?

Cara Lynn James said...

Connie, I can't imagine how his second wife coped with nine children! It's reminds me of the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music.

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Barbara! We don't really like to talk about or even write about grief but it's good to know where it can fit into a romance, I think.

Cara Lynn James said...

Julie, your story sounds very heart-felt and dramatic. If someone loses a spouse I'd give him at least a year to recover. Realistically, it would probably be a lot longer. But we're writing fiction, not non-fiction.

Cara Lynn James said...

Thanks, Laura! I'd glad you liked the part about Teddy R. and Alice. I read a book about him, his political life and his personal life. It was fascinating. His grief was enormous.

Cara Lynn James said...

Dee, I think you'd have a challenge and end up with a great story!

Cara Lynn James said...

Tina, you should write a blog about Italians, food and romance! And then write the story.

Cara Lynn James said...

Nicky, I wrote the blog about starting a romance during one of the stages of grief because I think it would make a great story and a little bit different from most love stories. It would be challenging and emotional which is what a romance calls for.

Cara Lynn James said...

Boo, your story sounds wonderful. It would be difficult to write a story that takes place in the midst of terrible loss but I'm sure readers would like to read it. I think it's easier to read about strong emotion than to write about it.

JenBCo said...

I was just commenting on the grieving process upon receiving a cancer diagnosis and how you have to rush through to get to acceptance so you can begin to fight it. Grief appears in many forms -- it doesn't always have to mean the worst has happened. You can grieve because something that once was is no longer -- even moving from childhood to adulthood, moving towns for a career, even fulfilling that lifelong dream.

Cara Lynn James said...

Jen, I'm so sorry about the cancer. Twenty years ago I had ovarian cancer and then chemo and almost three years ago I had breast cancer with radiation afterwards. It's scary. I was horrified it was happening to me. But I'm fine and I'll pray you'll be too.

Edwina said...

Having gone through the five stages of grief when my first husband left, I found that you don't go through them one time and move on to the next stage, Many times, through the months and months, I would move from, for example, depression to anger and back to depression and then, maybe to bargaining. As you said, everyone is different and will go through the grieving process at different times and in different ways. But they will, ultimately go through it. In my book, Abandoned into the Heart of God, coming out by year's end, I spend almost a full chapter on the grief cycle.

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