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Bertha’s Son by Joseph Waddy is one of the better stories responsibly talking about trauma and violence in a way that does not glorify these horrible situations.

Trauma and violence are, unfortunately, everyday experiences for many people. Although they are weightless, in a sense, they can often be the heaviest thing that can profoundly impact our lives on a daily basis, both physically and emotionally. While it can be challenging to talk about these experiences, stories can provide a powerful way to explore them and help us to understand them better.

That is why talking about trauma in stories should be done responsibly and empathically.

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Why even depict trauma and violence in stories anyway?

For many reasons, writers have it in them to try and depict trauma and violence in their stories. Some of them wish to raise and promote a better understanding and awareness of social acts that result in trauma, such as domestic violence, police brutality, child abuse, and plenty of others. Others may simply have a desire to explore the complexities and intricacies of how psychological and emotional trauma affects individuals. 

And there are some, like Joseph Waddy in Bertha’s Son, that want to convey stories and narratives that stay true to life, even if they are quite difficult to read about and relate to.

Talking About Trauma Responsibly

When talking about trauma and violence in stories, it is critical to be respectful of the survivors of these experiences. This does not mean attempting to get their say-so or anything like that; rather, first and foremost, every depiction must come from a source of empathy and humanization—you shouldn’t be merely using trauma and violence as vehicles for moving the plot in your stories.
It is also necessary to be aware of the potential impact that your writing could have on readers. With that in mind, here are some tips for depicting trauma and violence responsibly:

  • Avoid glorifying violence. Violence should never be portrayed as something to be desired or admired—especially don’t try to say that it will make you stronger or anything similar to those kinds of ideas.
  • Be realistic. Trauma and violence can have devastating consequences (like survivor’s guilt), and it is essential to depict these consequences honestly. Don’t try to level both sides; a terrible idea would be to somehow paint the abuser or perpetrator in a positive or justifying light.
  • Be respectful. Avoid using language or descriptions that could be triggering for survivors of trauma. If you do wish to be more graphic with your depictions, at the very least, be mindful of what that can do and—always—place trigger warnings.
    • It is also important to remember that trauma and violence are not the only defining characteristics of a person’s life. When writing about these experiences, showing the full range of the character’s humanity is vital.
  • Offer some form of hope. Even in the darkest of stories, it is essential to offer readers a sense of hope. Show that healing from trauma and rebuilding a meaningful life is possible; don’t necessarily show that one can be “stronger,” but be optimistic.

Depicting Trauma and Violence

There are several narrative techniques that a writer can adopt to convey trauma and violence in fiction—these do much to mitigate potential traumatic triggers. Some of the most common include:

  • Flashbacks: Instead of showing the trauma happening in real-time, a flashback can be used instead—which effectively ties the trauma to the present reality of the characters who suffered through it.
  • Dream imagery: Dream sequences are also a novel way of depicting trauma through the tangled logic and abstract imagery of an individual’s subconscious thoughts and feelings regarding their trauma without ever having to portray the event as it is.
  • Symbolism: Precise and potent imagery that symbolizes the trauma can be a compelling way of trying to explain trauma in a subtle and indirect way without having to walk around potentially damaging triggers and graphic events.

Talking about trauma and violence in stories can be a difficult task, but it is an important one. Stories can help us understand these experiences and come to terms with them. When responsibly depicting trauma and violence, writers can create powerful and meaningful stories.

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