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Writing Emotional Baggage

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sempiternallydemure asked: “I’m trying to write a book about a divorced mother falling back in love, but I don’t know how to write a divorce relationship with kids involved. Do you think you could give me some suggestions?”

Okay so I can’t exactly give over any real suggestions in the way of my own real life experience of falling in love following a divorce, but when it comes to writing from experience I think there are aspects that your character’s situation that you probably can tap into. Even if you’ve never been quite literally in their shoes, there’s a chance you’ve been in situations where you can begin to imagine what it might feel like. 

For example, if you’ve ever tried to start a new relationship after having had your heart broken, you might know what it feels like to have emotional baggage. If your character has kids and has gone through a divorce, there very likely would be a lot more emotional baggage. Let’s just take a look at emotional baggage first. In the end, your characters and the specifics of their relationship are created by you. Only you know how your character will act in a certain situation, and even if someone wants to spew statistics at you, saying 98% of women wouldn’t do that in this particular instance, you can still just say my character I guess is in that 2% that would. That’s perfectly fair. 

Then of course there’s the ordeal of how much you want the character’s past relationships to be a part of their new one. I read a short story not too long ago but can’t remember the name of it or the author which is super unhelpful but it was about characters who had a lot of emotional baggage and just by their interactions and how they act with each other, the caution, the care, the things they’re open about, and the things they avoid talking about, you learn so much about their past relationships – even as they are unspoken. They never talked about their past relationships, but focused much more wholly on the one they were developing.  

So when it comes to writing about emotional baggage, it does take knowing what happened in the characters’ past relationships. Emotional baggage does not all need to be from bad things in the relationship. It can be tied to positive things as well. Like for instance a man who lost a daughter to cancer and saw his relationship with his wife crumble under the stress will probably have a lot on his shoulders. Not just the stress of the situation, but when moving on and seeking out a new relationship, he might be haunted by the memory of the happy family he once had. Family traditions he once took part in with his own family might be hard for him to reengage in just because of what has happened to him. That’s an example where good things can stir up difficult feelings. It’s all about knowing your character’s history, what they’ve gone through and how they’ve gotten to where they are. Every character will proverbially carry their baggage a little differently. 

In the end, I think it comes back to knowing your characters. They might be excited by a new relationship and scarcely think of their previous one. It might flit into their mind and out immediately because they’re happy just to be happy where they’re at. It’s ultimately up to you.

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