QUESTION: A young girl is taken prisoner along with a number of her family members. The women are separated and sent to separate prisons from the men, and my character eventually ends up being held in isolation in a nunnery, though not outright treated cruelly. After eight years, after her father wins his rebellion, she is returned home. What would the emotional effects of this be?
It doesn't sound like she'd be traumatized by the isolation, necessarily, since she wasn't treated poorly, but depending on what you want to do with her, she could be someone who lives very much in her head (ie in fantasy) and who kind of eschews contact with others, possibly because they're loud and unpredictable and therefore frightening. If you wanted to take this to an extreme, she could be very closed off from others, even seeming cold and withdrawn.
Alternately, she could be very clingy with someone who was extremely kind to her once she's been freed, because she's terrified of being alone again. If she was taken care of primarily by women during her isolation, she would probably be freaked out a bit by men.
The writer then supplied me with a little additional information and asked for some clarification: She had healthy relationships before but I think your comment about being fearful of men is a strong possibility. In what way would she be most likely show being freaked out by men do you think? She has grown up into a mature young woman with no interaction with men. This is so totally outside my experience I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around whether she would be more likely to try to please them or avoid them. Also how she would relate to her father who she might blame for years of imprisonment--or might be grateful that he finally managed to force her release. Before she was imprisoned, she witnessed/was part of a couple of horrendous battles thanks to his rebellion...
Since she saw some horrendous battles she could also have some lingering PTSD (nightmares, anxiety attacks, a tendency to withdraw from others, a tendency to startle easily:). If you wanted to, since she's been around women so much, you could make men a trigger for PTSD symptoms -- that is, they might remind her of the awful battles; she might see them as scary and brutish and dangerous. She might experience nightmares or panic attacks, or have trouble sleeping or be extremely watchful around them. She might drink when she had to be around them so she'd feel less anxious. Depending on what you want to do with your story (eg if there's any romance to it), that would give your hero a bit of an uphill battle to overcome her automatic fear reactions. He would have to be patient and kind (though nobody could blame him if he got frustrated sometimes)..
Those are all kind of extreme reactions, but in a lot of ways that's the nice thing about dealing with individual differences -- you can make the story go in the direction you need it to if you understand the basic psychological possibilities. That is, we can say "she could do x, y, or z depending on the temperament she was born with" and you can say, "Ah, y would work best for my story."
So having the reactions above toward men -- fear -- are one possibility.
Another would be to have her want to please them, but I see that being the least likely possibility. If she's mostly spent time around women, she's either going to see women as strong, capable creatures who don't necessarily need men, or as victims of men's behavior -- it depends on the messages she got as a captive. If she was constantly being told in some way that "this is the evil men do," then she will see women as victims and be more obsequeious with men. If men simply weren't a part of these women's lives, though, I think it's more likely she would just see men as strange and different and women as capable. I see her being very cautious around men. They're strange creatures, and how to understand strange creatures? You sit back and observe. I think she'd be a sponge, watching how other people react to men, how they react to each other, how they treat her. She might even respond to them the same way she has learned to respond to other women, and be confused when they don't always respond the way she expects. How analytical she is will depend some on how smart she is, and how curious.
You can go in whichever direction you want with her feelings about her father. It would probably depend on how she remembers him -- as distant and punishing or as kind and loving. It would also depend on the messages she was given about him. If the nuns constantly told her she was there because of her father and seemed angry or disapproving, she'd pick up that attitude.
Finally, given that she needs to get married and whatnot, she might also feel some resentment toward men for changing her life so profoundly. You and I might think of being isolated as horrible, but people adapt to the situations they're in and find ways to survive. Change is hard, and going from being isolated to being around lots of people would probably leave her wishing at times that she could just be left alone, or even that things hadn't changed. Because while being isolated might not have been fun, it was familiar.
You can combine several reactions as she re-integrates into society -- just make sure her changes aren't sudden flips, that they happen gradually and that we see enough of what's going on with her to get why maybe she went from being terrified of men to being willing to sleep with one. :)
Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send me an email at w e b m a s t e r (AT) archetypewriting (DOT) com. (Take out the spaces in the first word and please use Q&A in your Subject Line!). If you would prefer to have the question answered on the QueryTracker.net Blog, you can email your question to c k a u f m a n (AT) querytracker (DOT) net. Again, please use Q&A in your Subject Line!
QUESTIONS: 1. What kind of therapy would a teenage girl go through after she's been in an abusive relationship? 2. Are there any books or websites you could recommend for more information dealing with therapy post break-up? 3. Since there is a new love interest in the MC's life, would he be involved in any sessions? 4. Is there a way for him to learn how to be there for her, or is that something that is never considered? 5. From what I've read, girls who've experienced relationship abuse may have posttraumatic stress disorder after it's over. Do you have any other resources you'd recommend?
- PDF Article: Beyond Victim Blaming: Feminist Therapy and Battered Women
- Online Article: Theory and Techniques of Feminist Therapy
- I have not read Lenore Walker in a long time, but she is one of the experts on DV. You might check Amazon or your local library to see whether they have copies of her work.
Many people believe DV is rooted in sexism, so fighting sexism in himself and the people around him would be huge.
A man who has feminist attitudes can be a great support. I should probably clarify -- a lot of people feel like "feminist" is a bad word. Like many people, until I was exposed to feminist therapy and truly began to understand what feminism meant, I bought into the stereotype that feminists are militaristic man-haters. Though certainly some fall into that category, they are the exception rather than the norm. All feminism is is the belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities.
The Maine Coalition to End Violence has a great resource that shows what a feminist man's attitudes and
behaviors would be like.
The nice thing is that younger men often do have more feminist attitudes than older men. Overall a supportive man would believe that what had been done to your character was wrong and that she didn't deserve it and doesn't deserve any blame for it. He wouldn't push her around, smother her, or breathe down her neck -- he'd trust that she is a capable human being.
I don't know how old your characters are or if they're sexually active, but if she was raped, that's definitely something to address in therapy. He would really need to respect her boundaries and he'd want to make sure she knew it was okay to ask him to stop if she got scared or uneasy.
- What's up with those people who attach big metal balls to the back undercarriage of their trucks? Because that's messed up too. (I did a little Googling. They have all kinds of not-so-clever names, and they've been banned in some states. Unfortunately, Ohio is apparently not one of those states. If you haven't seen them and you really want to put yourself through it, you can see some pictures here and here. No more explicit than what you're probably imagining, but maybe not so good to click at work or around small children who might ask awkward questions.)
I went to DragonCon over Labor Day weekend. It was pure chaos, spread out across four massive hotels with nary a sign in sight to direct you most of the time. DragonCon has panel tracks, and there was a writing track, so I trekked my way up the hill to the Hyatt and then down into the bowels of the place in search of a panel called Strong Female Protagonists. Ah, I thought. Someone was going to talk about the Anti-Bella. Yay feminism!
Not so much.
Some of the authors on the panel talked about how their female protagonists aren't really strong -- they're just so incredibly vulnerable that they have no choice but to buck up a little bit to survive. Others talked about how their heroines' strength was born out of how much said heroines hate themselves. (Which is, sadly, a cliche of the urban fantasy genre.) It felt like half of them were apologizing for female characters who were seen as strong.
And then the whole thing devolved into a discussion of how explicit your sex scenes should be.
You know what I learned from the panel? How incredibly uncomfortable our society still is with strong, independent women. So uncomfortable, in fact, that people retreated into a discussion about the most primitive way for men and women to relate: sex. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good conversation about sex as much as the next person, but not when it's a way to avoid the elephant we really came to discuss.
In fact, the only truly useful part of the panel was when one author mentioned that the role of Lt. Ripley, the heroine of the Aliens movies, was originally written for a man. When Sigourney Weaver was cast instead, nobody bothered to rewrite the script. What we got was one of cinema's most unapologetically powerful women.
My favorite strong female character is probably Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow from TV's Alias series. I was so impressed with Sydney's toughness and independence because it was balanced with heart and intelligence. Sydney was competent and confident, and nobody questioned that. If she and her partner Michael Vaughn got in a tight situation, you know who fought their way out? Well, they worked together, but Syd just happened to be the better fighter. Sydney did dress up and emphasize her sex appeal from time to time, but it was a tool in her arsenal, her way of taking advantage of stereotypes, and just one of the many approaches she was capable of using.
Who are your favorite strong female protagonists? Why do you like them?
Following my post on the double bind theory originally developed to explain why people develop schizophrenia, a couple of people asked me to write more about double binds.
Double-bind theory is Gregory Bateman's 1950's-era proposition that what causes schizophrenia is repeated no-win dilemmas in the child's family life. In other words, the child was repeatedly confronted with statements that contained two contradictory statements (i.e. a double bind). Because of the child's attachment to the caregiver, he was eager to do as the caregiver asked -- the problem was that by meeting one demand, he would be defying the other.So what are some examples of double binds, people asked? Not necessarily with regards to schizophrenia, but in general?
First, it's important to understand that most human communication doesn't involve words. In fact, only 7% of communication is attributable to the words' explicit meaning. Fifty-five percent of communication is body language, and the remaining 38% is vocal inflection and tone. So a double bind may or may not involve two explicit contradictory statements. The contradiction may be between body language and words, or between tone and words.
Sometimes double binds are called "no-win situations," though double binds are often psychologically more complex than the average no-win situation.
The double bind happens like this:
- The individual is given one command, with an explicit or implied "or else." The individual needs the relationship with the person giving the command, and therefore feels obligated to obey.
- The individual is given a contradictory command verbally or nonverbally.
- Sometimes other rules are imposed to keep the person from escaping the double bind. Usually there is something keeping the person from remarking on the paradox, either because she doesn't truly understand the paradox, or because the situation prohibits her from commenting on the paradox to help her resolve it.
For example, imagine a character who has a temper and withdraws love when something upsets him. Now imagine that this character insists that he will leave his partner (or otherwise stop loving her) if she doesn't provide him with negative feedback he knows she holds. Suddenly she's trapped in a double bind. If she doesn't give him the negative feedback, he will withdraw love. If she does give him the negative feedback, he will withdraw love. If she tells him that he's providing her with an unfair situation, he will withdraw love. Several of these messages are nonverbal, but they're there.
Here are a couple websites that address double binds that you may find helpful. Both give examples.
As I'm writing, I keep thinking about the movie Saw. The villain, Jigsaw, confronts people with double binds; I think that's part of what makes the first movie so intriguing psychologically. He provides each victim with something horrific that he can stop only by doing something just as horrific.
For example, in the first movie two men wake up, chained across a filthy washroom from each other. One victim, Dr. Gordon (remember, doctors are taught to "do no harm," and this value is important to Gordon) must kill the other man; otherwise, his family will be killed. But that's not the real double bind. The double bind is that there's another alternative -- Dr. Gordon can also saw off his own leg to get away and go try to save his family himself. There is nothing unethical about sawing off your own leg, and you can even hope that Dr. Gordon will know enough about the human body to tie an effective tourniquet. But both alternatives are so abhorrent psychologically that Gordon (and the watcher) are paralyzed.
Creating truly paralyzing psychological double binds for your characters will raise tension and make the story intriguing. Here's how to do it:
- You must establish your hero's values so we see there is really no out to his situation.
- You must raise the stakes high enough that each alternative is truly perilous for your hero.
- You must demonstrate in some way that the villain will truly follow through with her threats if the hero does not choose one of the (psychologically unacceptable) alternatives.
- You must not be afraid to go there psychologically yourself. (This is what holds a lot of people back from a truly great double bind in their fiction, so really think about this one.)
- You can't remain paralyzed by the situation. Once you paint your character into a truly awful corner, you have to force him to make a decision. Part of what makes Saw so shocking is that Gordon does make a decision, and it really is awful.
- You need to acknowledge the fallout of that decision. If the alternatives are truly awful, there's going to be fallout of some kind, and that should be awful too.
It scares a lot of people to really Go There; that is, to really go through all six of the above steps. It scares them because they have to own up to the fact that they imagined something really awful and inflicted it on their characters. It scares them because they don't want to sully their shining hero with a truly awful decision. It scares them because they don't want to have to make a truly awful choice, and they must if the story is to continue.
It's okay to be scared. Write with the fear, share it with your characters, and see where that takes you.
Labels: double binds
QUESTION: What would a sibling of a person with schizophrenia function like? What are the traits of a schizophrenic family bind that I used to hear about?ANSWER: Because schizophrenia is a biological disease, siblings of people with schizophrenia are 10 times more likely to develop the disorder than other people; they are also at greater risk for schizophrenic spectrum disorders like schizotypal personality disorder and schizoaffective disorder. In other words, some siblings may have schizophrenia-like tendencies of their own, even if they don't have the full-blown disorder.
Double-bind theory is Gregory Bateman's 1950's-era proposition that what causes schizophrenia is repeated no-win dilemmas in the child's family life. In other words, the child was repeatedly confronted with statements that contained two contradictory statements (i.e. a double bind). Because of the child's attachment to the caregiver, he was eager to do as the caregiver asked -- the problem was that by meeting one demand, he would be defying the other. Because he was presented with such double binds on a regular basis, and because he doesn't have the cognitive maturity to know how to choose one statement over the other to escape the double bind, he eventually escapes from the extraordinary stress the double bind causes by retreating from the "real world" and into psychosis (i.e. delusions and hallucinations).
Double-bind theory has fallen out of favor with regards to schizophrenia for two reasons. First, we have so much data that demonstrates a biological cause for schizophrenia, not an environmental one. Second, double-bind theory is nearly impossible to test, so there is little empirical research that can support it.
There is research, however, to support the idea that a problematic family environment can contribute to the relapse of someone who's been treated for schizophrenia. Most notably, people with schizophrenia are likely to relapse when their family is high in expressed emotion (EE). Expressed emotion consists of three parts: criticism, hostility, and emotional overinvolvement.
People with schizophrenia are extremely sensitive to stress, and being treated with constant dislike, disapproval, rejection, disrespect, and the assumption that they are not capable human beings is enough to stress anyone out!
So even if the siblings in your story don't have schizophrenic tendencies themselves, you could make them somewhat critical and hostile people who show a lot of expressed emotion toward their brother or sister!
Hope that's helpful!
Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send me an email at w e b m a s t e r (AT) archetypewriting (DOT) com. (Take out the spaces in the first word and please use Q&A in your Subject Line!). If you would prefer to have the question answered on the QueryTracker.net Blog, you can email your question to c k a u f m a n (AT) querytracker (DOT) net. Again, please use Q&A in your Subject Line!
QUESTION: How realistic is it for a man in his early twenties to have few conscious memories of his childhood? What could account for this volume of lost information (if it's even possible)?
Additional Information: The protagonist was put up for adoption at age two, because his mother had died and his father was unable to support him. After only a few months, he was adopted and raised by an older couple. He has convinced himself that his childhood somehow doesn't "count" because of his father's absence. He is also convinced that he can restore a traditional father/son relationship, and is obsessively looking for him. It seems he holds little or no value in his life with his foster parents, so I can see how he could ignore those years to the point of outright forgetting them.
ANSWER: It's plenty realistic, if it's happening for the reason it normally happens.
What you're talking about is referred to as "repressed memories," or memories that have been pushed down/away from the conscious because they're too painful to recall. Repression, in other words, is a defense mechanism. Painful can mean a lot of things. Humiliating, scary, incredibly sad, confusing, etc.
Not knowing much about your story, I would suggest that perhaps you put the protagonist up for adoption just a bit later in life. I think you need to give him a bit more time to attach to his dad and theoretically have made some memories to repress. I mean, let's face it, most people's first memories are from age three or four or even five years old in the first place. This is arguably because a) The brain hasn't developed far enough to retain memories in an adult way or b) The child hasn't yet developed enough language to store the memories in a way that can later be retrieved by the adult brain.
If your protagonist is put up for adoption at age five or six and then has few memories of his childhood, perhaps including after he got adopted, you've got something pretty darn realistic as far as repressed memories go. It would also help if the couple who adopts your protagonist is not an ideal family. They can be good people, but perhaps they don't really know how to relate to a child and so they're distant, or aloof, or just extremely busy with their own lives. Or maybe they're not great people--not abusive, per se, but maybe they're cold and critical, and your protagonist unconsciously puts his father on a pedestal and that's why he's obsessive about finding him as an adult. I could see someone discounting his life with his adoptive parents if they were never really "there" for him emotionally, and yearning for a connection with this father he's built up in his head.
I hope that's helpful! Let me know if you have additional questions!
Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want answered, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send me an email at w e b m a s t e r (AT) archetypewriting (DOT) com. (Take out the spaces in the first word and please use Q&A in your Subject Line!)
Here are two of my favorites:
Erich Fromm is one of my favorite philosopher/psychologists. He wrote this fantastic paper called "On Disobedience," in which he explains why disobeying authority is sometimes the truest form of doing what is right. If you Google erich fromm on disobedience (I'm too lazy to capitalize sometimes, and Google doesn't care) you get a list of sites that list, quote, or talk about the paper. But say that's not what I want. I want to see if the paper itself is online.
The trick is to put quote around a short phrase from the paper itself exactly, including any punctuation. (Personally, I try to avoid using punctuation, but if there is any, you must use it exactly.) Now, I'm geeky enough to know the first couple of lines of the paper by heart, so I put a phrase in quotes beside my original search. Now my search query looks like this:
Now I'm only getting sources that include that exact phrase. Unfortunately, it's a quotable quote, so what I ended up with is a bunch of websites that sell bad term papers to students.
So I need to pick a more obscure phrase from the paper. I get out the handy-dandy book that contains the paper and search
Bingo. Now I have a Google Books result.
But that's still not good enough. So I'm going to pick an even more obscure phrase that's less likely to be someone's quotable quote. So I pick something that really captures the style of Fromm's writing but isn't likely to be quoted anywhere but in the actual article:
Now I have three results, including a web-based copy of the article. Ta-da! You can read it here.
From time to time I Google my name. (Come on, admit it, you do it too.) My excuse is that sometimes when I work with journalists, they don't tell me they're using a quote I gave them. And sometimes Google Alerts don't catch those articles when they're posted online. So I Google myself in search of them so I can print them for my expert portfolio.
Until the internet age, I thought I had a unique name. Turns out there are other people out there named Carolyn Kaufman. (Humph.)
If you search my name, my information pops up to the top (ha! take that, other Carolyn Kaufmans!), but it turns out that there's also a Carolyn Kaufman who's a former professor and the CEO of a corporation, another who's an RN, and another in Orange County who says she has "Indigo Children" -- kids who have special powers to see the future. (Holy oh noes. What will this do to my professional credibility?) There are a few others out there, too, mostly Twitter and Facebook links and marriage announcements. There's a Carolyn J. Kaufman (not me), a Carolyn C. Kaufman (not me), and a Carolyn A. Kaufman (also not me). Which leaves me a lot to sort through.
So the first thing I'm going to do is make my name into a phrase search to exclude any results with middle initials, because I don't usually use mine: "carolyn kaufman"
Then I'm going to start excluding phrases. In other words, I'm going to tell Google not to give me search results if they include this term or word. So to remove all the Indigo Children listings, I type a minus sign in front of the word I want to avoid:
Fantastic, now all the Indigo Children listings are gone, but let's say I want to exclude all those other CKs I mentioned, too? Well, I just keep excluding terms:
That search leaves me with a Google search page that includes only one listing that isn't about me. I'm pretty happy with that. But let's say you're even picker. So I note that the other CK in the list of my results is from California, so I just add that to my list of exclusions:
And so on. I can also make things more specific by including my unique credentials. For example, I have a doctorate in clinical psychology, a Psy.D., so I can add that (note that I am adding it, not excluding it, so there is no minus before the psyd):
Ooh, now we're really getting somewhere.
If you're name-searching someone, you should also use common variations of their name. If you're looking for a Dave, for example, also try searching with the name David. If you're searching for a John, also try Jonathan, Johnny, and Jon.
Congratulations, you are now a Google Search Ninja! There are more weapons in the Ninja Arsenal, and as I said before, if people find this really helpful, I'll see about writing about more of them
I'm going to do a short series today and Monday to teach you how to use the same mad ninja skillz.
Today we're going to look at basic searches and Google search tools. On Monday we're going to look at my favorite advanced search tools. If I get an overwhelming response, I can add additional parts to the series.
One little caveat: It can be scary to realize just how much information about you is available on the internet. You are not anonymous online. If someone really knows what they're doing, they can track down all kinds of free information about you by using just your email address or just your name. We'll look at name searches tomorrow -- you may find them especially useful if you have a detective in your story.
Most people know how to conduct a basic Google search. You type a word or words into the Google Search box and go. You can even type your query in the form of a question.
So let’s say I want to learn more about plagiarism. I just type plagiarism, and I get results like Plagiarism.org, which explains what it is and how to avoid it; the Wikipedia entry; and the Purdue OWL, which is the college’s writing help center.
Maybe I want to learn about anti-plagiarism software, which compares a paper's contents to a huge database of written material. I change my query to anti-plagiarism software.
Basic Built-In Google Tools
Did you know you can use Google as a calculator? A dictionary? A spellchecker? Here's how.
Calculator: Simply type the equation into the Google search box, and Google will give you an answer.
- For example, 5*9= or 6/3=
- For example, define anorexia
Built-In Google Search Tools
If you want to search for a term and its synonyms, use the tilde sign (~) before your search term.
- Example: ~anorexia pulls up information not only on anorexia, but also on eating disorders.
- Example: related:blogger.com pulls up alternate blogging systems, including WordPress and LiveJournal.
- Example: plagiarism site:archetypewriting.blogspot.com pulls up every incidence of the word plagiarism in this blog.
I'm not a procratinator, really. But sometimes I don't push myself hard enough with my writing schedule. Writing a nonfiction book with a publisher deadline has certainly taught me that I have to push myself the entire time so I can get to the finish line with not just a complete project, but also one that's of excellent quality.
When I was in high school, I got my papers written long before anyone else even started. Same thing with college. In graduate school I had to learn to stop doing that, because when my classmates started asking questions of the professor, the assignment would sometimes morph into something else. Which meant I had to rewrite it.
But when I had 9 months to write an entire nonfiction manuscript, I was like "aw, no problem." I mean, 50,000 words in 9 months? Come on, I wrote that many for NaNoWriMo in one month!
Turns out that writing the sort of nonfiction I'm writing is just a teeeeensy weensy bit different from NaNoWriMo. Whodathunk?
As you all know by now, my nonfiction project, which is going to be published by Quill Driver Books, is to teach writers--especially fiction writers--to use psychology accurately in their stories in far more depth than my website on the same topic. (Don't worry, I'll let you all know the publication date the instant I find out!) So, writers won't embarrass themselves anymore by confusing schizophrenia with multiple personalities, or by showing people having actual full-body convulsions during electroconvulsive therapy.
The trick to all of this is that I have to do a lot of research to make sure I'm getting things accurate. In other words, it's not good enough that I "know" something in my head -- I had to find written evidence to back everything up. Not because this is going to be like a peer-reviewed journal article with a million citations, but because I'm supposed to be the expert here, and I'd darn well better have my expert information straight. I have two full 4" binders full of journal articles, and then shelves and shelves of books I've referenced. At any given time over the past few months, you could walk into my writing room and find towers of reference books.
Anyway, so I started writing back in February, before the contract with Quill Driver was completely hammered out, because I wanted a head start. I did some great interviews with people who worked in mental hospitals and pounded out about half the chapters (unedited).
In May, my awesome agent Kate, who's reading over my chapters after I finish each one (never, ever let anyone badmouth a boutique agency to you--getting that kind of personal attention is such a help), suggested I create a schedule for when I would complete the remaining chapters so she'd know when to look forward to each batch. (I also have to mention my fantastic readers here, who are looking at my chapters before I send them to Kate and helping me clear up anything that's confusing.)
So here's the schedule I sent her:
June 1 - Ch 1-5 (5 ch -- these were attached)
July 1 - ch 6-8 (3 ch)
August 1 - ch 9-10 (2 ch)
September 1- ch 11-12 (2 ch)
September 15: TOC, index, etc.
October 1, 2009: publisher due date
July nearly killed me, with 3 chapters. I mean, I wrote more than half of what I'd gotten done so far (ie 5 chapters) that month. I may not be a procrastinator, but I'd been far too lackadaisical about my writing schedule. Still, somehow I got it all done. This month was kind of rough, too, especially because I burned myself out a bit last month, but I managed. Now I just have to get through August and get my final chapters done.
When everything's written, I'm going to print the whole thing out and read through it with a red pen, trying to clean up any rough edges. I believe in having everything as polished as possible before it goes to an editor. I know that when I edit someone else's work, if I'm dealing with big things I ignore the small things. So when I edit my own work, I try to get all the big things so the editor can teach me new ways to be a better writer with her edits.
Oh...and my contract also says that the book will be published within x months of me submitting the manuscript...assuming the manuscript is satisfactory. If a writer submits a rotten manuscript, it can negate the entire deal. No pressure, right?
So what are you working on, dear Reader? How do you keep yourself on track with your writing?
My writing buddy Annie asked the question for this round of the blog chain:
Do you ever get inspired by a real-life event or news story and fear you're ripping off the story too much? Do you ever get inspired by a song or poem or line from a book and worry you're stealing that original person's idea? What if your research is overtaking your originality?
What popped into my head immediately upon reading this were those old Ecclesiastes verses: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
Like most people, I have been inspired by other people's works, and from time to time I've even used those works as a springboard for my own. For me, the nice thing is that as I find the story's voice and work with the characters, it all becomes uniquely mine.
I just started reading Jessica Verday's upcoming novel The Hollow, and it's set in the town of Sleepy Hollow, and quoted at the beginning of each chapter is a bit of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Jess took a story most of us know and found her own spin on it. That's not plagiarism, that's creativity.
Your question makes me think a bit about fanfiction. Fanfiction is the use of someone else's copyrighted characters and universe in a story. Fanfiction ranges from atrocious to amazing; it also runs the gamut from poorly-retold episodes or stories with an obvious Mary Sue inserted to wildly new and inventive tales that expand the "canonical" story in exciting ways.
Early on, i.e. when the internet was just starting to boom, companies like FOX went after fanfic writers to try to make them stop using copyrighted characters (e.g. The X-Files' Mulder and Scully). Soon, though, even FOX realized that fanfiction was just a way to expand the buzz about a show. These days, writers of shows like Supernatural work inside jokes acknowledging fanfic--and therefore fandom--into their episodes.
None of that is to say that fanfiction can't cross some boundaries that writers need to be wary of. And because the characters are copyrighted, it's rare for fanfiction to find an outlet in the traditional publishing world.
And it's good to be aware that plagiarism is a problem. Certainly Kaavya Viswanathan learned that lesson the hard way. And even Cassie Edwards has been called to the table. But as long as you aren't mimicking entire passages, characters, situations, etc. from someone else's work...that is, as long as you are putting your unique spin on things, really telling the story through a new character's eyes...as long as you're using your inspiring source as nothing more than a springboard...you're on the right track.
What do you think, dear Reader? How do we stay original when we're inspired by someone else's work? And where is the line we must be careful not to cross?
Sandra came before me and Kate is up next!
Like a big old brick wall.
I started to understand better why when I was reading Les Edgerton's Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go. (Recommended, by the way. I don't often learn new things from writing books these days, but I did from this one.) Edgerton argues that "surface problems" aren't enough to carry a story, because they don't launch the character on a journey or force him to change (i.e. to have a character arc) the way a "story-worthy problem" does.
Edgerton says you have to just keep asking yourself "why?" questions. To get from a surface problem to a story-worthy problem, he says, you have to delve into the psychology of the character. Why is this character doing this? What is the psychology behind his actions?
Out of the blue I had a still from a scene float up into my consciousness. I knew there was more story to be told in my NaNo novel world, but I had no idea what it was. And here at last was something, just a fragment of a scene. And that scene led to another scene. So now I have two context-less scenes that are intriguing me, but I'm not sure how to branch out from here. I think I am going to write brief descriptions of the two scenes on notecards (which is how I developed the NaNo novel) and then do my best to mind-map outward from there.
I'd love to hear your advice, dear Reader. What do you do? How do your ideas start and how do you help nurture them until they're worthy of an entire novel?
For this go-round of the blog chain, Christine asked
Now, I'm going to be honest with you. I stared at these questions. And then I stared at them some more. It's like I'm being asked how I breathe. I don't know, I just do! You know, breath in, breath out. Easy, right? Right?
I've been looking at other people's answers to this question -- Michelle's, for example, or Elana's. I mean, Michelle talks about emotions she hasn't experienced. Huh? And Elana says she has trouble with emotional writing. Wha?
For me, the problem is how to dam back the flow of emotion. I once had a friend sit down across from me and say, "It's amazing how many emotions you must experience." And I said, "Huh?" And he said, "From your writing, there's such a rainbow of emotions. I pretty much have two -- okay and pissed off." And I thought, That sounds kinda boring.
I'm extremely comfortable writing about emotions, including the ugly ones--greed, lust, schadenfreude, envy, maliciousness, you name it. I am an emotional maelstrom, and I'm happy to dump some of it off into my stories. Sometimes I'd swear that's why I write in the first place -- it gives me an outlet for all of that emotion.
I guess the most pertinent question for me from the ones Christine asked is the last one: How do you keep it authentic?
The two things that are a challenge for me are 1) Making sure the emotion fits the character (I bleed into my characters from time to time, which isn't so good) and 2) Making sure the reader appreciates why the character is emoting all over the place. Like Annie said, it's not so good when the characters seem to be freaking out over nothing.
I do make character sheets, but they don't include things like hair and eye color. They read like psychological test results, and they help me keep my characters (and their emotions) in character. I also do my very best to have characters respond at a level that wouldn't get them diagnosed as histrionic or borderline. And when all else fails, I have my fantabulous readers to save me from myself!
How would you answer Christine's questions, dear Reader? Feel free to play along using your own blog or the Comments below!
Sandra's post came before mine, and Kate's will come next!
Labels: blog chain
What is a platform?
A platform is name recognition of some kind. Celebrity, if you will.
Why do you need one?
A platform will help you attract the attention of an agent and later a publisher. Why?
Because having a platform proves that you
* Care enough about your project to promote it
* Have some marketing savvy
* Come with a built-in fan based (read: guaranteed sales)
More importantly, a good platform will help sell your book when it comes out. Fewer and fewer publishers are putting money into promoting books — especially books by unknowns and newcomers. That means that the onus of promotion falls almost completely (and sometimes completely) on you, the author. You are the one who’s going to be making people aware of the book, and convincing them to buy it. You are the one who’s responsible for making the book a success.
Just sit with that for a minute.
Your job doesn’t end with writing the book. It doesn’t end with landing an agent or even a publisher. These days, you must also be a marketing expert.
The good news is, you can learn how if you don’t know. And I'm going to help you get started.
Do you already have the makings of a platform?
If you’re writing nonfiction, do you have any of the following in the area you’re writing about?
* Advanced degrees or certifications (e.g. MA, PhD)
* Teaching experience
* Speaking experience (e.g. you’re the pastor of a large church, you give presentations to large corporate groups)
* Professional (i.e. on-the-job) experience
* Expert experience (i.e. have you been quoted in newspapers or magazines as an expert on your topic?
* Published articles in local (good) or national (better) magazines or newspapers
* A polished, professional-looking website or blog
If you’re writing fiction, do you have any of the following?
* Advanced degrees or certifications (e.g. an MFA)
* Published short fiction
* Writing awards from local, regional, or national contests (see below)
* A successful website or blog that spotlights your writing
Help! — I don’t have a platform!
Let’s say you don’t have a platform. You don’t even have a shoebox to stand on. Now what?
Now you sit down with a piece of paper and answer the following questions.
* Why do people need my book (as opposed to the thousands that already line the shelves?) What makes my idea unique? (Everyone must be able to answer this.)
* Why must I be the one to write this book? What about my background or experience makes me the only one who can write this? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers.)
* What do I do really well? (Go ahead and list everything you can think of here, even if it doesn’t seem relevant.)
* How much time and energy am I willing to commit to building this platform? (e.g. I will blog three times a week on my book topic, every week)
* What would I like my platform to look like in a year? (e.g. my blog will have 1000 subscribers)
After you answer these questions, you need to decide how you’re going to get from point A (don’t even have a shoebox) to point B (a real live platform). Look again at the skills you listed — can you use any of them?
For fiction writers
* Try entering some contests. Here’s a great resource to help you find some:
For both fiction and nonfiction writers, some of the best ways to build a platform include:
* Blogging – I know I reference her all the time, but fiction writer (and QT Blogger!) Elana Johnson has a fantastic blog — so good that…well, that I reference her all the time. Which means she’s got word of mouth, and word of mouth means she’s got a platform. Her blog is just that good.
* Using other social networking sites, such as mySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The trick is to provide information that’s really going to intrigue other people and get them invested in your book. Don’t tell them that you wrote 1500 words today — tell them that you did some fascinating research for your story on bondage furniture for that S&M dungeon in your story. Don’t just tell them you’re interviewing people for your nonfiction book — give them outtakes from the interview, or at least tease them with what kinds of nuggets of wisdom are going to be in your finished manuscript.
* A website that provides information related to your story or nonfiction book. Writing a story about psychics? Give people some information about real psychics and how you got interested in the topic. Mary Lindsey provides photographs of real places mentioned in her novel, Soul Purpose. Even if you haven’t read the novel, the pictures are interesting.
For nonfiction writers, find ways to speak or teach publicly.
* Writing a book on a particular kind of craft? Call your local craft store and ask how they find teachers for their classes. (In the US, consider, for example, JoAnn and Michaels crafts stores.) Arrange to meet with the person who organizes the classes, and go armed — take photographs and, if you can, pieces of your very best work. Make a handout that would help your potential students and take that along, too, to show how you would teach.
* If you have an advanced degree or specialized knowledge and are willing to spend some money to get your name into big magazines and newspapers, consider becoming a ProfNet Expert. This is just one way that coaching expert Larina Kase went from being an unknown to being a heavy hitter—not just in business, but as a writer!
* Use your website or blog to answer questions from readers on your topic.
* Read the best books on platform building. My favorites are Guerrilla Marketing for Writers : 100 Weapons to Help You Sell Your Work, Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform, and Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors.
And do all of these things BEFORE you send your query. Don’t tell the agent you’re going to build a platform; tell her you already have a great one in place. Rachelle Gardner puts it this way:
I DON'T want to see in your proposal, "I am willing to start a blog and join social networks to market myself."
I DO want to see: "I've been blogging for a year, with my readership growing steadily. I use Facebook and Twitter to create relationships with potential future readers of my books, and to drive people back to my blog. I'm currently making contact through the blog and social networks with several hundred (or several thousand) people a day."Still have questions? Have other ideas on building platform? Feel free to use the comments area below!
Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. A published writer, she runs Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and an associated blog. She is often quoted by the media as an expert resource.
For this blog chain, Kat chose the topic:
Be sure to check out Sandra's answer before me and Kate's after me!
And of course I want to know about you, dear Reader. How do you research? What have you learned?
Obviously if you have questions or thoughts related to those areas that you want me to be sure to include in the book, now's the time to tell me!
I've also discovered that while it's easy to find movies and books that make mistakes when talking about things like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, it's not so easy to find ones that even address things like ADHD and anorexia.
I've also been brushing up on the Sopranos so I can talk about the show in the book. I also got copies of In Treatment from my library, since I don't get the premium cable channels. Kinda looking forward to In Treatment. (I mean, let's face it, I could definitely do worse than having to look at Gabriel Byrne for an extended period of time.)
On the fiction front, I am nearly done with my NaNo novel -- or at least, done enough to have my readers take a look through it and start hacking it apart. Alas, it is shorter than I want it to be, but I'm vaguely aware of some parts that might be strengthened, and if my readers notice the same things (and hopefully have some suggestions to help me figure out how to make those things better), that might add a few words.
Once people are reading that, I'll have to get back to work on A Touch of Madness. I've decided to switch the whole damn thing into third person. If that doesn't work...well, let's just not even go there, shall we?
For more information on Work In Progress Wednesday, you can visit Kate's blog -- she's the one who started this madness. And definitely feel free to tell me all about how your WIPs are going in the comments below, or to leave a link to your own WIP post!
Labels: wip wednesday
Want to use psychology to give your story authenticity? I'm going to start answering reader psychology/writing questions on the blog. If you have a question, feel free to send it to me using the Q&A form on archetypewriting.com.
Labels: Q and A
I am still working steadily on my NaNo novel. I'm finding myself quite pleased with it. There's just one problem. It's not going to be long enough. (*gnashes teeth*)
Can I just tell you what a strange reversal this is for me? For years I have written ridiculously long novels. Epic sagas, even. Hundreds of thousands of words. I've got one I've been struggling with for quite some time now, trying to get it down to 100K. It's still at 130K, and I can't figure out where else to cut.
And then all of a sudden, two novels are too short? Whassupwiththat?
Annie finished her crit of my novel A Touch of Madness. She did a stream-of-consciousness type of crit, giving me all her reactions. It was so totally helpful, and kind of funny sometimes, too! But I've concluded something I already suspected after I finished.
There is a way to save ToM, a way to make it long enough. And that is to switch it from first person into third person.
Ugh. I am so tired of this novel. I feel like I owe it to my wonderful crit-mates to do what needs to be done, though, and see about sending it out. They've helped me so much with this thing over the last year, I don't feel right about hurling the thing out the window the way I'd like to.
In the meantime, I'm going to continue to agonize about my NaNo novel being too short. I didn't worry a whole lot about it when I wrote it, because I thought it might just end up being a writing exercise, but I really, really like the story. So now I'm praying that after I make it as long as I can manage, my fantabulous crit-mates will be able to help me again.
What do other people do when their stories aren't long enough? How do you find more story without adding fluff, or essentially starting a whole second story? Or does this only happen to me?
My agent asked me to put together a schedule for finishing up the remaining chapters for my book. There are 12 chapters total. Five are complete, 2 are in progress, and 5 still need to be written. I have until October 1, 2009. That's when everything is due to the publisher.
So my goal is to finish 3 chapters by the beginning of next month, two chapters the following month, and two chapters the month after that. That leaves me some time at the end in case something happens to mess up the schedule, and lets me put together the table of contents, index, and so forth.
The chapters I have yet to do are a couple of chapters on psychological disorders, one on physical and biological interventions (stuff like medications, electroconvulsive therapy, vagus nerve stimulation, that kind of thing), and one on the psychology of villains.
It's going to be full speed ahead for the nonfiction, so I hope the words flow!
Labels: wip wednesday
Do you write romantic relationships in your books? If so, what do you do to show the attraction between your characters? What problems do your characters encounter? What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction?
I do write romantic relationships in my books. Relationships in general fascinate me, but the romantic dynamics of a good couple are even better.
What do you do to show the attraction between your characters?
I try to show attraction the way real people show attraction. They look at each other more than at other people, they're comfortable in each other's space, they talk about the person often and with feeling.
What problems do your characters encounter?
In real life, finding and getting along with your “other half” is difficult. Have you ever read a story in which the characters constantly misunderstand, insult, and stonewall each other, yet by the last page you’re to believe that they will live happily ever after with none of the conflict that filled every page before the last? In real life, it doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t in fiction, either. Conflict is the engine that keeps every story going, and the love relationships between your characters are one of the most important parts of that engine.
A problem I see in some fiction is that there is no reason for the characters to fall for each other or be in love -- other than the fact that they're both excruciatingly hot, of course. As in real life, your characters should be attracted to the people they're attracted to for a reason. What attracted your character to the love interest in the first place? What needs does the love interest fulfill? Why is the love interest different from all the other men and women out there?
In real life people choose the partners they do for all kinds of reasons, some of them noble and romantic, some of them less so. For example, maybe they had great "chemistry" with the person. Maybe they had a lot in common. Maybe they need to feel needed. Maybe they wanted to get out of their parents' house. Maybe they were ready to settle down. Maybe they needed someone to help them parent a child. Regardless, there is definitely a reason other than that someone needed them together to make a particular storyline work.
And once people are together, why do they stay together? Doing couples therapy was always a fascinating endeavor, because couples with enormous problems would come in and complain about each other and the relationship -- but still want to make it work. They still loved each other. And they could usually tell you why.
In my stories, relationships are usually messy. People say the wrong things,. have affairs, and hurt each other -- sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose. Ex-partners create havoc, hidden histories drive wedges, but in the end love always prevails for me. I like to pretend to be pragmatic and sensible, but the truth is that I'm a hopeless romantic, and in my stories, love really is the greatest power of all.
What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction?
I'm most drawn to fictional relationships where there is a strong, identifiable reason for an attraction at the same time there are problems (internal or external to the relationship) that are trying to tear the couple apart. Right now I'm writing about a couple with tons of chemistry and lots in common -- the only problem is their respective peoples hate each other. In other stories, I've let misunderstandings or mistakes be what kept the characters apart. For me, the attraction to each other has to be stronger than the problems, but not by much. The characters have to keep coming together the way a pair of magnets will. They might push against each other, but inevitably, they snap together and hold on.
What do you think, dear readers? How would you answer Sandra's questions? I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts! Also be sure to check out Kate's answer -- she's next in the blog chain!