Self Care in Fiction

I bet this was a curiosity click, wasn’t it? Would have been for me too, to be honest. Hell, I had no idea I would write about this topic until 10 minutes ago when I was ranting to a friend about how many people brag about not practicing self care. It’s a weird flex, isn’t it? Like the tragedy olympics (the sport of one-upping each other in conversations about hardships), or like taking pride in working oneself to near death.

I’m not here to tell you your business. I know it sounds like I’m judging some of you — I am, just a little — but that’s not what this post is about. This is me making an argument for giving fictional characters moments to practice self care. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call this advice. More like something to consider.

What is Self Care?

Self care isn’t just mani-pedis and a bubble bath. It very well can be, though! It is defined as doing things for your personal health. This can mean your physical health or your mental health. Exercising is self care. Brushing your teeth twice a day, eating healthy, taking the time to wash and moisturize your face, or taking a day off work when you’re sick are all examples of self care.

For me, self care has been forcing myself to take time every day to read a book. Writing these blog posts, albeit not as regularly as I like, has become a form of self care for me, because I’m ignoring the negative self talk that I have been allowing to silence me for thirty years. I am here, yeeting my opinions in strangers’ faces, and trying really hard not to get cold feet about hitting that “publish” button for the sake of my mental health.

Benefits of Self Care in Writing

The primary benefit, as I see it, is normalization. But also, I think it would add substance to your characters. Showing scenes of characters taking care of themselves instead of always being about the hardships and conflict. These little self carey moments could provide both character development opportunities and contrast to the plot conflict.

How to Use Self Care in Writing

I promise you, I am not suggesting you go on for pages upon pages, describing a character soaking in a bubble bath or wax at length about the calm silence as they sit in a chair and read Don Quixote. Of course, we want anything we use to be interesting. Even exciting.

Start with deciding your character’s physical or mental health goal. Is it a reward for accomplishing something? Is it a moment of chill after experiencing something difficult? Are they a big, strong, muscly, badass, action hero who might eat a bit too much red meat, and opts for a big ol salad during a tense dinner with the drug lord antagonist? Maybe the character had a traumatic run in with their abusive parent and they need a moment to recover. You could have them go for a hike. Maybe unload all their emotions by crying and having a moment with a loved one, or screaming into the wilderness to vent their frustration.

A character who is a people pleaser, spending the entire book always wanting to help others, could finally say no. It could be a dramatic moment in their arc. A record scratch moment. A mic drop. A moment where they’re finally making putting their own happiness ahead of others, and showing how that doesn’t mean they have to stop doing things for other people, it just means they’re finding a healthy balance.

Conclusion

Many of you may realize you already include self care in your stories and didn’t know it. But if not, in my slightly-judgmental-but-mostly-humble opinion, I would definitely encourage it. Especially for horror writers like me, because the horror burns even sweeter if you give your characters a moment to breathe. A moment of light to contrast with the darkness.

If you don’t practice self care in reality, that’s okay. It’s a process. And there are so many resources out there — youtube, blogs, nosey neighbours — to tap into when you’re ready. You’d think it would be easy, but it’s not. The pressures of real life are real good at choking things like that out of our day-to-day. Especially in the last few years mired in pandemics, elections, shortages, and so many other things. A lot of us have become that meme of the yellow dog in the burning room.

But maybe, just maybe, if we normalize it for our fictional people, it’ll bleed into our real lives.

Sam Clover

Is a Canadian author. She writes queer romance in a variety of genres, but horror has always been the closest to her withered, blackened heart. Her debut book “Cold Snap” is available in most online retailers.


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