Natural disasters provide fertile ground for stories involving personal loss and the process of grieving. Such catastrophes can assume any number of forms, including earthquakes and tsunamis, landslides caused from torrential downpours and/or histories of deforestation, tornadoes, hurricanes, and so on. A recent critically-acclaimed film revolved around the efforts of a family of tourists in Thailand separated by the 2004 tsunami to reunify in the face of overwhelming obstacles, “The Impossible,” could easily be said to have ended on an artificial and unreasonably optimistic note, with the five members of the family successfully reunited, but the turmoil experienced by parents frantically searching for their missing children resonates with most parents. The reality of such a situation, however, would likely have involved an infinitely sadder outcome. The 1997 film “The Sweet Hereafter” dealt in a more substantive and melancholy manner with the subject of loss and grieving in the wake of a disaster, although the disaster involved a school bus accident. Similarly, the character of Carla in Peter Weir’s film “Fearless” is forced to live with the aftermath of her baby’s death in the context of an aviation disaster in which the surviving mother is wracked with guilt over her failure to protect her child in the midst of an airplane crash. These are a few examples of how writers have handled the issue of loss resulting from disasters.
Writing a fictitious story revolving around personal loss emanating from a natural disaster could involve the personal anguish affecting the families of those lost to the disaster, exposing deep fissures in the relationships involved and the often-failed efforts of maintaining family unity in the wake of a devastating loss. The emotional burden of coping with the loss of a loved one, especially the loss of a child, frequently poses a serious threat to the ability of a married couple to cope with that loss and to remain communicative and emotionally supportive of each other. Additionally, the chaos surrounding natural disasters in even the most technologically advanced societies provides space for creative endeavors. The 2005 hurricane that devastated the city of New Orleans, Katrina, can provide the basis for a story of personal loss resulting from a natural disaster, and there is no shortage of human interest material available to those interested in researching some of the stories of real-life loss that resulted from that event.
Finally, while the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, did not constitute a “natural disaster,” the stories surrounding the surviving families of the firefighters and others who perished in the twin towers of the World Trade Center provide ample material for creative writers seeking material. The tragic losses that occurred that day, including at the Pentagon and in the Pennsylvania field where the fourth aircraft went down, involved hundreds of stories of personal loss that can similarly provide the basis for a fictionalized account.
The key to creative writing is the use of imagination. Imagining oneself experiencing personal losses associated with a hurricane or earthquake may not be the most uplifting way to spend an afternoon, but a story about loss usually can’t be well-written unless the writer has some personal knowledge of or experience with the subject of loss, or possesses the ability to imagine the pain involved in such an experience.