Writing About Suicide

Writing about suicide must be done sensitively and appropriately, and carries risk.

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I was recently scrolling through a Facebook group I’m in and I saw a post discussing how to creatively write about suicide. As this is a topic that features quite heavily in my current writing, I thought I’d have a closer look. It turns out that writing about suicide is actually an awful lot harder than it might seem at first.

This isn’t and never will be about censorship or about people being too sensitive. That was my reaction when I saw the post initially and it’s not an unjust conclusion to reach before you look at the reasonings behind why there are guidelines to consider when writing about suicide. But they’re there to protect vulnerable people. There are, generally, three main points to remember if you choose to write about it.

Information

Suicide is not easy. It’s a lot harder than many people realise to actually complete the act. Substances have a very specific lethal dose, some methods require prior preparation for it to work, and there are many different things that a lot of people don’t consider. If you’re writing about a particular method it’s very important that you don’t include this kind of specific information, such as the type of pill and how many it takes to create a fatal dose. It is more responsible to be brief and general than specific.

Portrayal

When you’re writing about suicide, don’t talk about how quick, painless, or peaceful it is. It’s not true but it also can influence others by glorifying suicide as a kind of fantasy, rather than delivering the actuality. It’s also important to not show suicide as something simple or trivial; it’s caused by a complex set of reasons that are incredibly individual. You need to not downplay the impact that it has on those around the character. Having family members talk about how the person is in a better place and they’re glad that the person is at peace massively glosses over a very real and serious part of suicide; the people left behind. If you’re going to show suicide, make it reflect the reality of what it’s like to everybody involved.

Triggering

The other element to consider is how your writing may trigger a response in others. People who have been through or been close to similar experiences may not want to read what you’re writing, so it makes sense to include some kind of trigger warning. If your story addresses suicide, be sure to mention it in the blurb, even in passing. This will prevent an uncomfortable surprise for some, and also put off readers for whom reading that particular story might be unwise.

 

Talking about suicide is a very good way to raise awareness on what is a very serious issue. However, talking about it incorrectly can have some devastating impacts on the people reading whatever it is you’ve written. If you choose to write about suicide, make sure that you approach the topic with sensitivity and really look into the guidelines and suggestions that are publicly available. Most of all, consider your audience. They, after all, are the ones who will be reading it.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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  • 1

    A sensible and sensitive article. I thought I had no plans to write about suicide, then realised I do have a suicide as a background event in one of my novels. My family has not had such a tragedy, but I am shocked when I realise several people I knew well in the past have commited suicide, add to that a person at work or a relative of a friend. Most of us must have the thoughts in our mind of individuals and wonder ‘Why’.

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