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Heartbreak


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Heartbreak

It hurts.

If any of you guys have been through it, and I'm assuming that you all have at one time or another, same as me...you know just how much pain it can cause when it comes to experiencing a really painful heartbreak. I think the most damaging part behind the psychology of heartbreak itself is the fact that you have to willingly lower your defenses to truly love or be loved by anybody else. You have to break open. There's no way to truly enjoy and embrace love, while still keeping enough of your guard up to remain 'safe'...just in case you end up getting hurt. And that is, I believe, what is at the very core of writing about heartbreak. It's the foolishness behind leaving yourself so vulnerable to such a devastating attack, mixed with the utter betrayal of it all once it's over. And if you can re-submerge yourself into that feeling, even if only for a little while...and translate it into words that truly explain what it is, where it came from, and where you're afraid it might lead in the future...then you will be able to snatch the breath away from every last person who might be reading, and carry them back to that very same place with a sense of understanding, all while giving them something that they can truly identify with.

Like I said...most of us have all been through it before. So today, we're talking about heartbreak. And even though this is your story that you'll be writing, and you control the over all outcome of what happens or doesn't happen in the end...don't expect to be any less vulnerable when you go back to channel some of those feelings into your story, experiencing them all over again as if for the first time.

It can be a bit painful, I know...but when I'm writing, I still feel as though I'm doing so within a place of safety. It doesn't make it any less emotionally draining for me...but it's kind of like jumping over rooftops in a "Matrix" simulation for me at this point. I might miss a step or fall or crash through a window...but it's not all the way 'real'. I'll be ok. A few moments of self torture for my art is worth it. LOL! Omigod, how pretentious does that sound right now?

Basically, the impact of adding a truly horrendous heartbreak into your work goes back to an earlier article that I wrote here for the 'Writing Tips' section of GayAuthors called, "Kill The Dog". To sum it up, it talks about really evoking the deepest of emotions in your readers when it comes to sadness and sympathy. And when writing heartbreak into your story, the same two basic rules apply.

It comes down to the feelings of justice and injustice. It's not natural for us to really want to see our favorite characters hurt and heartbroken...but the weight of the heartbreak depends on their actions and what caused it to happen in the first place. For example, your audience might feel extremely bad if their boyfriend cheats on them for no apparent reason and leaves them a sobbing mess in the wake of it. But...if your protagonist was the one doing the cheating in the relationship, and it ends up costing them their boyfriend when he finds out...well, that sucks...but you kind of reap what you sow in that scenario. Do you see the difference in the impact there? Justice and injustice. Playing with the emotions that exist on either side of that fence can have very different effects in your storytelling, depending on what angle you approach them from. And I've tried to write my true feelings of heartbreak from as many angles as I possibly could so far. But there are always other avenues to explore on that front. And with this article, I'd like to go more in depth into how I look at heartbreak in fiction, and how to get as much emotion out of it as your story will allow.

Full confession here...

I wrote a story called "Save Or Sacrifice" (Completed) about a really bad heartbreak that I was dealing with at that time. I was sort of coming out of it when I began, but basically I had really strong feelings for someone who was gay, and I had a very close friend who was also gay, and all three of us got together to have fun for a weekend. And...basically, the two of them paired up and I was sort of booted out of the whole situation. I had known them both separately for months and poured all of my energy and my humor and my personality and my caring into both of them. Then they meet for the first time, click right away, and all of that heart was wasted. Poof. Gone. This was absolutely soul destroying to me at the time, and my heart felt like it had been completely obliterated in a single evening. To the point where I just left them to be together and went home alone in the middle of the night, in the snow. Heh...you should have seen me. I was soooo pathetic and hurt! LOL! Shivering on a late night subway train while fighting the urge to cry my eyes out. The only thing that was missing was an abused puppy and Sarah MacLachlan's "Angel" playing in the background. I mean, I can look back at it now and kind of smirk at the memory, but at the time...it felt like my whole world was coming to an end. And it had been a long long time since I hated myself that much for not being good enough. You know?

But time passes...wounds heal...and when I finally got tired of feeling like shit all day and all night long for weeks on end...I channeled that pain into a story, and spilled it all out (in a fictional way) while the hurt was still fresh. Looking back at it now, I'd like to think of "Save Or Sacrifice" as a stepping stone for me as a writer. I was focused on trying to express an unfathomably bad heartbreak into words that my readers could somehow understand and possibly relate to. That part was really important to me. However, something else that I didn't want to do was demonize any of the people involved if I could help it. So instead of attacking the narrative like some kind of 'frothing at the mouth' savage...I used it as an opportunity to tackle the situation from all three sides, and create something a bit more sympathetic and somewhat emotionally 'educational' in terms of the characters involved. And that's when I began to look at the concept of writing heartbreak from three different perspectives. Something that evolved over time and a method that I still use to this day.

Trust me, I've had my heart broken many more times since then, and it never gets any easier to take. But I don't want a shield from it. I don't want to build a callous and block out or numb myself from the amazing feelings that love, or even just a strong infatuation, can bring with it. But for those times when I made the wrong choices, screwed something up, or just got kicked to the side for somebody else, I often think about writing those feelings in three different manners.

The exterior approach, the interior approach, and the F.Y.I. (also known as...the 'Fuck You Initiative'! Hehehe!)

Let's begin with Exhibit A...the 'exterior heartbreak'. This is often used when the heartbreak is a betrayal of trust, or some sort of problem that is actually caused by someone other than the protagonist himself. This taps into the 'injustice' part of the equation, and therefore makes for a really heavy emotional part of your story. This is something that you would use for a character that you really want your readers to sympathize with. They were doing their best to do everything right, be romantic, or fun, or beautiful...and in the end, the other person just doesn't feel the same way. Whether it's unrequited love, a nasty break up, or something that simply faded away without any real explanation...this is the kind of heartbreak that your main character has to take like a sucker punch to the stomach. And it's coming from someone else, so there's really nothing else for him to do but bear the brunt of it all and wait for the pain to go away. I find this method to be really useful when the story you're writing is actually about the heartbreak itself. If that's the major focus of the project, this perspective works very well. It all depends on how you approach it in the long run. But it has a very, "What did I do to make you not like me anymore?" vibe to it. Like, how could you do this to me? And why?

 

The second method is an interior heartache. I find this kind of perspective to be very useful when you have a character that is expressing feelings of regret, but it can be used in a variety of different ways. The interior heartache is when your protagonist swallows all of the pain and it begins to eat him alive from the inside. Instead of concentrating on someone else breaking his heart, this method is more of a sad and sullen, 'curl up in a ball and die', kind of feeling. Heh...I've been there too. Believe me. It's a method of explaining the ugliness, self doubt, and weakness, within. When your main character takes the blame for everything falling apart the way it did, whether he's really responsible or not. This is probably one of the methods that I use most often in my own writing, seeing as I'm most familiar with the feeling. This is a good way to get the emotions flowing for certain scenes, and even extended parts of your story...but I wouldn't advise using it for an entire story. Not like the exterior heartbreak maneuver.

Heartbreak hurts, yes. And there are a lot of painful tears involved in struggling through it. But when you internalize that pain in your story and let it drag on for too long...there comes a point where the story begins to suffer from it. You want the pain to take center stage and have it be significant enough to get your readers to be invested and empathize with your protagonist...but you don't want your story to be downright depressing to read. I think the interior heartache method is most effective when used in short bursts here and there. Some inner monologues, some rainy days, a few tears...but don't lay it on TOO thick or you could end up losing some of your audience. At least with the exterior heartbreak, they have somebody that they can look at and find some level of emotional 'balance' and still side with your main character. There's an external enemy there, even if he didn't really do anything wrong. But with interior heartache...it's all doom and gloom, and that gets to be really heavy after a while. So be careful with how you add that to your story.

 

Now...the F.Y.I. is a much angrier approach to the heartbreak scenario, and one that is best used for characters or former love interests that you plan to sideline or use as a motivating factor to get your protagonist to overcome the heartbreak and find something better. This is how you get your readers engaged in a way where they are cheering for your main character and push the pain aside. It's the hero's tale that many of us all wish we had whenever it came to having our hearts broken in two by someone we had deep feelings for. Tell me that you haven't thought about it! Hehehe! Somebody treats your heart like garbage, and you find yourself a perfect ten, who truly adores you for everything that you are. And even though you got hurt in the process of growing up, it's the other guy who ended up missing out. Enjoy your karma, you heartless son of a bitch! :P

This is a method that is best used at the beginning, or at least early on in your story, in my opinion. And out of the three, this is the one that I would use most sparingly. Even if it feels fun to punish the proverbial bad guy by being the one to come out on top, you don't want to keep doing it too harshly or too often, or you end up demonizing your main character. Remember, the idea is to have your readers to cheer for your main character. And that's kind of hard to do when you turn them into a total dick. You don't want them to inflict the kind of pain on other people that was once inflicted on him, otherwise it kind of defeats the purpose of putting in the work needed to get your readers to empathize with him in the first place.

When used correctly...this kind of heartbreak in your story can really push a much bigger story forward, and can be inspiring to a lot of people who have been deeply hurt before in the past. This doesn't necessarily free you up from actually addressing the heartache that your main character originally went through to get to that point, as I think it makes for a better story if you don't skip over that part of their growth and story arc...but if you've got any lingering bitterness over a past heartbreak and want to get rid of it? I say, have fun with this one. Hehehe!

 

Anyway, when it comes to writing heartbreak into your fiction, take some time to really go back and remember what it was like to have someone do that to you in your past. Don't be scared of it...really feel it. It might hurt for a little bit, bring up some bad memories, and may even bring up a few old tears that you didn't know you had left concerning whatever happened there...but once you get yourself in the moment, take all of that emotion and all of that pain...and put it on the screen. It really does feel good in the long run. It might even help you to get the kind of closure that you were looking for.

Just remember that some methods of expressing heartache hit your readers differently than others. Some should be placed at different parts in your story. And some have to be used sparingly, depending on how much of a focus they're going to have in your writing. Play around with the balance a little bit until you find something that you're comfortable with, and use it to your advantage.

I've been doing this for a long time now, and I'm still learning. So don't expect everything to come to you overnight. But give it your all, each and every time you start a new story...and that skill, and those instincts, will evolve all on their own. Cool?

I hope this helps! And for all of us who have had our hearts carelessly tossed into a meat grinder in the past...let's all share a group hug! (((HUGZ))) Love you all! And I'll seezya soon!

 

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I really love how you broke this down into different types of heartbreak and how you use them to engage your readers. I struggle the most with letting bad things happen to my characters. I don’t want their sweet little hearts to get broken 🥺 but I know that’s what good writers do. No pain, no gain… 

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