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What I learned from writing If Only Memories Breathed

//Disclaimer: this post may have spoilers for the story I’m writing about, but I do try to keep them to a minimum. Also trigger warnings for this post, given the topic at hand: depression, suicide, loss of a child, death.

This story has been one of my more difficult stories so far, and not because of the subject matter, but because of it being written from a first person POV of character which might be hard to fully understand (unreliable narrator), and in a secondary fantasy setting.


This story is about a mother who couldn’t deal with the death of her daughter and the depression that follows. Though I’ve never been a mother and thus have never lost a child, I do know what it’s like to be depressed, lost, and overwhelmed. I know what it feels to be unable to deal with all of that.

Writing such an intimate portrayal of grief and depression felt freeing. It felt good to finally express these feelings.

Why in a fantasy setting though?

That’s something I’ve started to explore more. Why do I always choose to add all the fantasy elements? For one, I have always loved fantasy, despite the rightful critiques some works warrant. I’m not quite sure why though…

But this did heavily influence the way this story is experienced by my readers. It has made the story harder to really understand, especially with the first person POV in an immersive fantasy story.

Impact of first person POV

First person POV can lead to highly immersive writing. You’re right inside the characters head, living their story along with them, only knowing what they do, or what they don’t, including all their misunderstandings and misinformation. Since IF ONLY MEMORIES BREATHED is about a mother mourning her child, not being able to let her go that can be hard for some people to really relate, I now understand.

As you might already know, depression is a mood disorder. Emotions and moods aren’t always logical, and they can confuse all involved. They influence so much of our experiences and that’s what’s happening in the story. She needs to believe her daughters not entirely lost to her, because that’s the only thing that kept her going. And I mean that in the extreme way. It’s not explicitly said in the story, but her actions should hint to it. The main character is suicidal.

Keeping that in mind, if you’re unfamiliar with depression (but even when you are since people have different experiences with mental illnesses), it will be hard to relate to the character and understand the story. On top of that, you get a brand new world that’s not your average medieval no technology fantasy setting. When writing through a first person POV, you can’t explain everything. You have to be selective and think what would would make sense to say and to leave out of descriptions and what context to give since you’re inside the characters head. If you don’t, it breaks the immersion. I guess that’s why most fantasies are written from third person perspectives.

The biggest lesson I learned with this story is that first person narratives aren’t only hard to write because you need excellent and distinctive character voices, but also that you risk alienating readers because they can’t always understand the character, and because highly immersive storytelling tends to be more confusing in general. So how do you balance immersion and clearity?

No seriously, I’m asking for the both of us. I don’t know xD

Finding the right target audience is important

You can’t write for everyone. First of all, there’s the matter of taste, and secondly, everyone experiences the world in their own way. Yes, there’s overlap but that’s the whole point of the relatability conversation. Being able to relate to a story isn’t always a necessity to enjoy a story, not to everyone. But it can be important to some, and in some cases. I’m keenly aware that not everyone will relate, because of living it every day. People don’t relate and don’t understand me, and as painful as it is, it’s life. That doesn’t mean though that no one does. There will always be people who understand, you just need to find them.

Same goes for stories. All books have a target audience. Since IF ONLY MEMORIES BREATHED is such a personal story, that narrows my audience. And even amongst my audience, there won’t be 100% of thumbs up. It’s important to understand that.

I have to accept that even after editing the things that don’t need to be confusing, this story will always remain difficult to get for many. It remains a confusing story, because the experience of the character was, in fact, confusing. It’s part of the immersion, in this case. I will have to accept this story is hard to sell. That not everyone will like or understand it and that it’s confusing to most people.

Those aren’t easy things to learn for me. They sting a little, but that doesn’t mean the lessons aren’t necessary. It doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t appropriate either, nor am I trying to make it sound like there weren’t mistakes made or things that I need to improve on in terms of my writing. It just means I’m growing. Meaning I’ll become a better writing, and I’m happy for that.

So who did I write IF ONLY MEMORIES BREATHED for?

Well, to be honest, I wrote it for myself. I wrote it because I needed the emotions off my chest. But also, I wrote it for people who felt unseen in their hurt. This story is a window into what it can be like to be depressed, or struggle with another mental illness and not be able to cope. To not be able to cope with loss and grief. But also for people who like immersive fantasy. Sometimes life is confusing. And sometimes what we think we know and believe isn’t exactly true.

Some of the things I needed to give a place were those feelings of wishing for release. Suicide is a hard topic in every way, but it’s one which I need to explore for myself. Some things can never be said, but they need to go somewhere.

And that somewhere turns out to be some of my writing, it seems.

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