by Pat Phillips West
The other victim the summer my wife left me was my dreamlife, which, like a mirage, dried up completely the closer we came to the absolute end of us. In the fourteen years we were married, I had been a ferocious dreamer, drawing all I knew or feared or loved about the waking world into my sleeplife.
– From “Dreams of Distant Lives” by Lee K. Abbott
Unpleasantness is difficult to write about. A good place to start might be once the dust has settled. Abbott begins his story in the aftermath of a broken relationship. But he finds a way to tell about the pain of something large – his wife’s departure – by talking about the pain of something small – dreaming.
Start at the end, after a significant event has happened. Hit your readers right between the eyes and quickly raise questions they will want answered. You don’t need to give all the details at this point because they can guess the significance of a spouse leaving or some other loss.
You might consider beginning with the word “after.”
After the house burned down … .
After the eulogy at my father’s funeral … .
Open with a tragedy and some parallel behavior that the character starts to experience. When life crises such as death, divorce, or the loss of a job occur, the body manifests physical and psychological symptoms. Perhaps your character develops anxiety attacks, depression, insomnia, a case of hives, irritability or anger.
Pat Phillips West moved so often even her closest friends asked if she was in the Witness Protection Program. She refused to comment, except to say she’s in Portland, OR, for now. Her poems appear or will appear in Imagination & Place: Weather, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher6, Manzanita Writers Press, San Pedro River Review and elsewhere.