Writing Trauma

Flannery O’Connor in Mystery and Manners said: “The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene.”

A symptom list of PTSD will give a reader information, but not a fictional character. The most effective fiction writing stays close to the bone, close to a particular character in all her complexity. The character isn’t the trauma, it’s not who they are; rather trauma is what happened to them. In working with trauma survivors I learned each client’s experience and expression were unique.

Let’s apply this knowledge.

My short story, “Sleeping Rough,” is about a runaway. While writing the story I wasn’t thinking about the trauma symptom list. I was thinking about the character and my first image of her asleep on the sidewalk. I watched her wake and saw what she saw when she woke. I kept watching and followed her through the morning. I included her inside world and the world around her, until she felt fully realized.

Of course my knowledge and experience informed me, yet in the actual writing I was not focused on a symptom list, or clients. I spent time with the character and the world she was inhabiting at the time of the scene. When I write, my writer’s eye dominates.

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