Writing About Stress

Stress is a part of life. Regardless of how well we deal with it, we carry it with us everyday, and occasionally it bubbles over. Stress is something that everyone, regardless of place in life, can relate to and should be used to better define our characters.

The descriptions of stress in fiction and non-fiction alike varies based on the writer. It can manifest itself via ‘gut feelings’ or in wild outbursts. Other manifestations are more subtle, such as a tick that a character shows occasionally.

Below is an unedited example of how stress can play into a character:

Frank heard the news from the person on the other end of the phone and it was as if the entire world had gone away. His mouth had gone dry suddenly and he needed a drink. He reached across his desk for the glass that sat there, along with the decanter of whiskey, and poured himself half a glass which he knocked back in a single gulp.

He only vaguely felt the burn of the alcohol as it traveled down his throat into his stomach. Where it landed, a knot grew and a dull throbbing began. He knew that the whiskey would aggravate his ulcers, but the news on the phone signaled the end of life as he knew it. Nothing would be the same again.

The door to his office opened and his receptionist walked through the door. James was a young kid, good at his job, but he too would have his life torn apart when the office closed. Frank didn’t really see him when he looked up at the movement. His mouth was moving, but he didn’t hear what James was saying.

“What?” Frank asked, shaking his head to clear it. “What are you saying?”

“Sorry to bother you, sir, but the police are downstairs. They insist on coming up.” He repeated.

“Go home, James, and don’t come back.” Frank said as he poured another glass of whiskey.

“Excuse me, sir?” James asked, clearly confused.

“Go home!” Frank bellowed suddenly, throwing the decanter across his office at the wall, “It’s over! It’s all over! I’ve lost it all! Let the police up and then go home! They aren’t here for you, they came for me!”

James was already gone by the time he had finished talking, but Frank didn’t care. He looked at the framed picture of his family that sat on his desk. He wouldn’t be seeing any of them again for a long time. He knew it. He thought of all the options he had and, provided he got a good one, his attorney was his only chance of getting out of this with a minimal sentence. The question wasn’t whether or not he was going to jail, it was how long was he going to be in for.


If you feel up to it, comment on this post with some examples of stress, regardless of how it manifests.

Happy Writing!


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