In A Decent Woman, my historical novel about Puerto Rico in the early 1900's, I deal with many issues of the day - racism, poverty, the forces of nature, birth and death. The situations my characters find themselves in are no different from issues we face today. My heroine is a midwife who encounters all those issues. I was familiar with many of the situations that my characters found themselves in, so many times it wasn't a huge stretch for me to write those chapters. When I wasn't familiar with a subject, I used my imagination and research to fill in the gaps.
I put myself in my character's head, body and soul when I write. When I can't come up with an appropriate or poetic word or when I need a more powerful word, I go to the thesaurus and dictionary that sit next to my laptop. I can usually find and select words that convey and enhance what I'm trying to say, but most times, I show and don't tell. A character's actions and behaviors can very often give the reader a good sense of scene, mood and feeling, so I challenge myself to not use fancy words.
One of the most difficult scenes in my first novel to write was when a minor character's infant dies. I've never lost a child which I've always said would be the death of me. I'd surely lose my mind. How cliche those words and phrases sound. Working on the scene, I found words such as palpable, gut wrenching, anguish, sorrow and pain. None of the words seemed appropriate, so I wrote what the mother's face looked like, what she did with her hands, body and eyes. It was a tough scene to get through. There can be nothing more painful than losing a child. I did the best I could. I'm a mother of two adult children.
Yesterday, a good friend invited me to share a late breakfast with her. I was excited to see her as we'd both been so busy this winter. As we sat in the restaurant catching up with omelets and a side of pancakes, she took a phone call. I watched the blood drain from her face as her eyes filled with tears. "I have to go see my friend and you must come with me. I can't go alone." Her face told me that there was no backing out. We quickly paid our bill and left the restaurant. On the drive to her friend's house in another town, my friend told me that she'd found her adult son dead that morning. Her only child. A woman I've never met. My friend had lost her daughter years ago and although I felt like a major, major intruder, I would be there for my friend. No doubt, memories were flooding her mind, as well. I couldn't imagine. I said prayers for everyone.
I won't go into the scene that we walked into. I will tell you that at times of deep sorrow, anguish and pain, there are no words.
Rest in peace.