The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too” – Vincent van Gogh
There’s no escaping the fear and fury these days. It echoes in every news report and flashes in the eyes of neighbors, our faces masked as we scurry about our strange new lives. From our DC condo, we sometimes hear downtown protest chants and helicopters zipping across the night sky. Two weeks back, we felt the stun grenades as forces cleared Lafayette Park several blocks to our south. Given all this and more, I suppose it’s no surprise that I’ve found myself thinking a great deal about trauma. With my work in progress nearly stalled, I’ve taken to crafting brief scenes, short stories, and snippets of dialog for story ideas that may never take shape. But no matter the format, inevitably the emotions captured are tumultuous, erupting from tightly wound characters longing to be heard, needing to be loved. Indeed, they are like the cries of damaged souls, individuals gripped by trauma.
One benefit of the exercises is they have given me a means to consider how injuries and injustices shape individuals, both in fiction and in real life. Along the way, I’ve also reflected upon my first novel, pondering what drew me to the story of a shell-shocked youth returning home from WWI. From the start, I considered it a coming of age tale, and at its heart it is precisely that. To my credit, I hit those marks well – the urgency to find one’s path, the hesitancy of first love, the bristling to break free. And yet, I wonder now, with the benefit of hindsight, if perhaps my protagonist’s wartime trauma, while present in parts, could have been more integrated on the whole. Perhaps I treaded too gingerly, rather than leaning into his painful battle experiences.
All of which has led me to some realizations, as well as ideas for developing characters coping with trauma. The following are ways I plan to approach my future works, regardless of whether the traumas within my characters drive the entire narrative or serve instead as threads within the underlying fabric.