When Your Fiction Hits Too Close to Home

:: Buffalo Books and Coffee ::
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.  I have not read it.  I don’t plan to read it any time soon and I must be the only person on the planet (or at least in my orbit) who doesn’t.   And I’m aware that I’m missing out.  TFIOS is everywhere.  It’s been the Best Read of the Month for a large number of my bloggy friends.  And it’s John Green, for Pete’s sake.  

I just can’t read about kids with cancer right now.  

And not only can I not read about kids with cancer right now, I really can’t write about them.

In my current WIP, WAITING FOR THE SUN, Luci and Ben deal with the death of Ben’s sister and Luci’s best friend, Trixie.  When I started writing this last summer and Trixie needed a cause of death, for some reason I chose bone cancer.  In the back of my mind, I remembered reading about a local teen with the disease.   

A few months ago I started reading his caringbridge page, written mainly by his mother. 

A mother who was watching her son die and in the end was his primary caregiver.  

He died at home in February.

He was more than just a kid in my town.  He was a real person, someone’s son, and I felt like I got to know the family through their raw, open caringbridge entries.

He was a good kid.  A son, a brother, a friend, a hockey player, a fan of country music.

In a way, I don’t want to trivialize his – or anyone else’s – experience or the pain his family feels every single day in his absence by giving Trixie cancer.

Or any disease, for that matter.  It's just too much right now, for too many reasons, reasons that hit too close to home, reasons I don't have the energy to write about at the moment.

This weekend I made a decision about my manuscript -- no cancer.  No fatal childhood illness.  I had been considering the idea for several weeks.  I am not capable at the moment of googling and researching and reading about the horrible things that could happen to a child and then translating it to the page.  Because everything I read about is real -- all the symptoms, the pain, the death.  The people left behind. 

Over the years I have taken personal experiences and fictionalized them.  Of course I have.  There are pieces of me in every single thing I've written.  But this feels very different to me, of greater importance.  

Trixie will still die.  Luci and Ben will mourn her, together and alone, circling each other in their grief. 

And I know, as I'm sure John Green knew when he was writing TFIOS, that this story must be told with utmost respect.  

Has your fiction -- or other writing -- ever hit too close home? 


  1. Oh, Sara. Beautifulky written, and felt.

  2. Oh Sara, that's so heartbreaking. I wrote a book based on a young man that disappeared. I became emotionally attached to a boy that I never knew and was so curious about what happened. It was almost too close to home. He didn't make it.

    I think when our fiction hits too close to home the emotions are hard to sort through. As writers, we feel things deeper because we are artists of words. It's hard.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Krista. You're right - not easy.

  3. This sounds like a difficult decision to make. I'm sure your story will be wonderful with the choices you've made. It sounds like it's about the characters who are left behind.


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