On Writing Sad Scenes




One scene I’ve been working on this past week is a sad one. My Depression-era story has major themes of love and reconciliation, but, as with real life, sadness makes its way into the characters’ lives.

The scene shows a woman in her refusal to let go when her baby is stillborn. She keeps the body in a bureau drawer, wrapped in her heirloom wedding dress. With his words and his fists, her husband had made known his displeasure throughout the pregnancy.

In the scene, she guards the body fiercely while the women try to reason with her. Soon they leave her alone. She can think now, make plans, share promises.

And as the day-long retreat comes to an end, she has decided on a name:

“You are Esther,” Rose said as she touched the face. First, the forehead, then the lips. Last, the eyelids. “We will pick the flowers for Mattie in the morning. Jesus be with you ’til then, my love.”


She closed the drawer.

As I write the scene, I find myself wondering: Do I want to bring more sadness to this world? Don’t we get enough from what we hear on the news, and in our own lives and those of our friends? And here I am writing a scene about a trinity of deaths.

Sure, it’s a fictional story, but my goal in writing this scene is to make the reader feel a deep sadness. Do I really want to do that?

Yes, I do.

But I won’t leave the reader feeling that way by the end of the story. I promise. I keep this Bible verse in mind when I write about the sad things that happen in life:

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~ Psalm 30:5b

Rose is broken in this scene, and I don’t know yet what’s ahead for her. How long before she snaps out of this delusion? Will she leave her husband (or be left by him) and take to the streets or will he have a change of heart? Will she give up on God for the pain he’s allowed in her life?

I’m not sure yet. But I do know that her morning is going to come. I don’t have it in me to leave it any other way.

Every morning I read the news to see how the world is turning. When I finish, I am mostly full of sorrow for the way we humans are treating God and each other. And so, I write — not to ignore the ugliness that brings such sadness to the world, but to share the hope that I have in the One whom I believe has a plan and a purpose for all of it. That goal is the foundation for every story I write, whether I say the Name of God in it or not.

“Joy comes with the morning.” Hang in there, Rose!

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

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