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I've had this story idea on my mind for months. It is rather taboo as its centered around a suicide and the afterlife, and I want to know the best ways I can go about it respectfully and considerately or if I should just scrap it as a whole.

Basically, it's about a girl who dies by suicide. The story is told from her perspective in the afterlife, and is centered around her regretting it and having to come to terms with not being able to undo what she's done. The prologue takes place in the moments leading up to her final decision and her looking back on her life and all the situations that went wrong that led her to this. I refuse to include the suicide scene and letter, as I don't want it to have a "13 Reasons Why" kind of effect.

I want to be sensitive about this topic and don't want to seem like I'm glamorizing suicide and am wondering if I'm going about it the right way or if I should just scrap the idea. Any advice on going about it with care is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance

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    The episode "Day of the Dead" of the TV show Babylon Five has this as one of its themes.
    – Allan
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 18:35

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Reading your post, I see you've likely done some research. In case you missed them, and for the benefit of others, here's a link to a 'guide on depictions of suicide and self-harm in literature': https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/media-guidelines/guidance-depictions-suicide-and-self-harm-literature/. Another link, a WHO publication, focuses on fiction for film and TV, but may also be useful for writers: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/preventing-suicide-a-resource-for-filmmakers-and-others-working-on-stage-and-screen.

Yet, nothing beats a good old face-to-face interview with a professional. Most, if not all, suicide prevention organizations have media teams you can contact via their websites. If you come well-prepared, these people will be happy to work with you on specific questions for your unique project. Giving fiction writers advice on how to write about suicide, is part of what they do. After you meet them, I expect you to go home, not only with some very useful, science-based, insights on the matter, but also with a lot of new ideas, that will make your story even better.

Success. I like your idea and think it's worth to be written.

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I don't think that it would be disrespectful, considering the fact that a lot of suicide attempt survivors do express regret. It tells a story of something that really does happen, so there's no reason it should be seen as taboo or wrong. Hope this helps!

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    The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the two most popular spots in the world for people to commit suicide from and it is not 100% fatal. Of the few surviving jumpers, almost all were quoted to have regretted the decision to jump at a point just before the impact with the water. I don't think it's ever inappropriate to portray suicide for what it is: A long term solution to a short-term problem.
    – hszmv
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 18:22
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Lovely. I have such an idea myself, it is about a woman who slowly, slowly, drinks herself to death. Think F. Scott Fitzerald crossed with Sylvia Plath. I wouldn't worry about being disrespectful. Just the way you ask this careful question says a lot about your outlook, and intention.

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You should explore telling your story in the ways that interest you. It is better to try a difficult thing and grow from the experience, than to avoid 'offending' imaginary readers who don't exist.

However, there are some narrative 'problems' with the idea as a story for reader consumption, aside from just being a general downer.

Where is the conflict?

Stories are about an unfolding conflict that obstructs or antagonizes the MC. The story ends when that conflict is resolved. Your story idea has a conflict that already happened, which the MC cannot change.

This story will be difficult to present in a way where the reader can become invested. It suggests you would need to withhold chronological events from the reader, possibly from the MC's memory, to tell this story without giving away the ending.

The downside of telling the story in a non-linear way to entertain the reader with the illusion of an unfolding conflict, is it may distract from your intent of the MC's regret and coming to terms with the finality of her action. The reader will come to this conclusion long before the MC does, and without a twist or the ability to reverse and correct, it becomes a possible Shaggy Dog Story – a story that tells a lot of events but has no payoff.

The reader may wonder what is the point, since the protagonist can't DO anything to change, she just has to get around to 'accepting' a story specific (your) truth. This is a recipe for the reader to feel they are being preached at by the author.

You have a kind of reverse deus ex machina. The MC had agency and acted under her own will, but you (the author) are intervening with divine super-powers to say that she does not have agency and her choices were wrong. She can't 'undo' the suicide, you're just rubbing her nose in it to make her feel bad.

How does that help resolve her conflicts in real life that lead up to this decision?

Afterlives

As a minor frame challenge, another possible issue that your depiction of 'afterlife' will invariably clash with readers' religions and personal beliefs – I don't think it matters how you depict it, it will clash with someone's culture.

The commercial solution is to be as vague as possible as to the 'rules' of this afterlife, so as not to directly contradict or imply any particular belief system. This is the MC's personal afterlife – perhaps she has stalled in a transition state between life and the 'real' afterlife.

a similar, but audience-pleasing story

Consider the Capra film It's a Wonderful Life. An MC wishes he had never been born, and an 'angel' makes his wish come true (something that angels from religious mythology do not do).

Some differences to your premise: the MC is a wholesome character in a bad situation that feels piled on and unresolvable. Hope is lost and the badguy is winning – leading to the MC's crisis of faith, it's not his fault but the 'sin' is that he wants to end it all (not quite suicide, but effectively the same).

Thanks to the angel, the MC is able to view the world without him in it – for the audience these experiences are new (unfolding conflict) and we witness along with the MC creating an empathy-bond. We are invested in him solving this conflict because we are in the same conflict.

Most important, he is able to go back and correct his mistake – he is not able to erase his real-world problems, but he realizes his wish was the mistake – the one mistake he is personally responsible for.

I'm not suggesting your story take this turn, but I am pointing out the 'crowd-pleasing' narrative of allowing a likable, sympathetic MC to sink to a low and make a devastating (unforgivable) mistake –– but with the ability to learn from it, and return to face his problems.

His experience has a payoff that helps resolve his real-world crisis. No matter how awful the situation, he's just witnessed a world that was much worse –and he returns to face the situation but reaffirmed in the beliefs and values he wants to live by.

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  • I've personally felt that the conflict of the story is the conflict is the conflict within herself, as this story was something that came to me as I was getting out of my own personal dark times. Thank you for your suggestions and input!
    – Morgan
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 23:59
  • It should be pointed out that When Clarance grants George his wish, he's immediately "shouted" at for this action by his superiors in the form of a loud gust of wind from the storm outside.
    – hszmv
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 18:25
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It's extremely difficult to be a) objective and b) comprehensive in writing about sensitive subjects. Even if you personally are a survivor or witness, your perspective or beliefs simply may not suit others. That's ok. Your story deserves to be told either way.

It's important to recognize that no book, no matter its topic, no matter its author, will please everybody. Some folks aren't going to like it, for whatever reason, and that's a reality you have to accept as a writer.

If you want to appeal to as many readers as possible, and are willing to modify your perspective or voice to do so, find yourself a sensitivity reader. These are folks who will read your story with an eye towards inclusivity and empathy, provide feedback on how the story made them feel, and highlight potential areas where you can make improvements. Some require payment for their services, and some hang about in community circles, you'll need to dig around to find the right person for you. Like editors, they can be difficult to come by, and even more difficult to match.

Worse case scenario, field your manuscript in some of the aforementioned community sites where other authors exchange efforts in the craft. I learned a lot doing that, and gathered insight into my work that I would not have found on my own.

One word of caution: don't mollify. Some things need to be said in a way that isn't popular. Never mitigate your feelings nor your work to appeal to a common denominator, as often it will be the lowest.

Kudos on being thoughtful. Write your truth.

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    Thank you so so much, I didn't think of such a thing! Good to know! Warm regards!
    – Morgan
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 23:57

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