Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Physical and Mental Illness: Fiction Writing Perspective — November 28, 2019

Physical and Mental Illness: Fiction Writing Perspective

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I’m in the middle of creating a series of posts, relating to mental health, from a fiction writer’s perspective. See my previous post, in which I shared some thoughts regarding research. Now, I’m going to cover an area that’s particularly close to my heart.

As someone with both mental and physical health issues, I face many specific difficulties: one of which is feeling that I’m never quite represented, by organisations, awareness campaigns, and so on, which tend to focus upon one or the other.

And the fact is that, at this point, there is actually more of a tendency, within mental health communities, to be tactless and insensitive about physical disability, than occurs the other way around. Yes, I said that.

I’m not a wheelchair user myself, but do have multiple physical health issues, and am fed-up, to put it mildly, with seeing images of crossed out wheelchairs on social media images, relating to mental health awareness.

Yes, it’s true that many people out there do assume that terms such as “disability” refer exclusively to physical disabilities, and of course that is wrong. But, as the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case, that is certainly applicable.

Making people with physical health issues feel unwelcome within mental health communities is simply not acceptable.

It is also an unhelpful generalisation that all physical illness is visible, and that the opposite is true for mental health.

Can you see a migraine? Would you necessarily know, simply to look at me, that I have dyspraxia?

And are self-harm scars invisible? Or the extreme weight loss associated with anorexia nervosa? In fact, eating disorders, and many addictions, such as drug addiction and alcoholism, are, by definition, both physical and mental health conditions.

Cancer doesn’t avoid us because we have a mental illness. People who use wheelchairs may also be struggling with mental health issues. Assumptions are harmful.

And how does this relate to us specifically, as fiction writers?

Well, we should ensure that we take this into consideration. I myself feel that I probably neglect physical illness in my stories, certainly compared to mental illness, and hopefully, simply becoming aware of this, will plant a seed in my mind.

I would like to be able to say that I cover both, and that I represent the challenges faced by many of us, who struggle daily with mental and physical health issues. That matters to me.

 

Researching Mental Illness as a Fiction Writer —

Researching Mental Illness as a Fiction Writer

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Research is vital, when it comes to writing about mental health issues, in a fictional context.

I can’t place enough emphasis upon this point. We need to get the facts right, whether or not, as I mentioned previously, we have personal experience of struggling with mental illness – because each case is different.

In an area where there is already much stigma and misunderstanding, it’s of particular importance not to make matters worse, by spreading inaccurate information.

Research should not be limited to official sources.

It should definitely include them, but not exclusively.

Personal accounts, from a variety of sources, sufferers and also carers, are essential.

One of the many resources that can help with this is You Tube, where many people openly discuss their own mental health journeys.

Books, blogs, and talking to people you already know, who have “been there” – all of these are readily available, and can provide so much insight and inspiration.

Of course, you shouldn’t actually use any particular person’s actual story, in any way that is identifiable, but listening to various people, who are willing to open up about their struggles with mental illness, will help you to deepen your understanding of mental health issues in general.

The reality certainly cannot be reflected in dry academic accounts alone.

 

Latest post: Physical and Mental Health: Fiction Writing Perspective

Personal Experience, and Addressing Mental Health Issues Through Fiction — November 27, 2019

Personal Experience, and Addressing Mental Health Issues Through Fiction

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Refer to my previous post, in which I discuss why writers should consider addressing mental health themes, through their fiction.

I’m now hoping to expand upon this, and create a series of connected blog posts, and this, therefore, is the second post.

I’ve covered aspects of the subject before, but felt that it deserved more specific attention.

Of course, when it comes to why we might want to address the subject of mental illness in our fiction, often personal experience will be a factor.

Certainly, in my own case, my personal experiences of both mental and physical health issues do motivate me, and make me especially determined to not only cover, but do justice to, the subjects of mental and physical illness.

I definitely don’t want to limit my writing to what I’ve been through.

My characters aren’t me. In fact, they experience many mental health issues that are similar to mine, and many that are not.

I feel that, having been through mental illness of any kind, does make us more compassionate, and able to relate more readily, to many of the extreme emotions, much of the deep distress, associated with other conditions.

In combination with research, this natural sense of empathy and understanding will be invaluable to us, as writers.

Never more so than when it comes to exploring less familiar mental health symptoms, in our own work.

Many mental illnesses are very similar, in certain respects. If you’ve had problems with alcohol, or even eating disorders, this can help you to relate to aspects of heroin addiction, even though you would obviously need to thoroughly research the subject, in order to do it justice.

Also, OCD has a great deal in common with, for example, BPD and Bipolar Disorder – so don’t assume that you necessarily understand very little about a particular mental health problem, merely because you have never had a particular diagnosis.

I would actually advocate thorough research, even if you do have the same mental illness as one or more of your characters, because every case is different. Additionally, not every diagnosis given is even accurate, or as clear-cut and definite as may have been implied by health professionals.

More about research methods.

 

Please also read my recent update about my novel, Distorted Perceptions.

Why Address Mental Health Themes in Fiction? —

Why Address Mental Health Themes in Fiction?

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Let’s begin at the logical starting point, and ask why.

Why should we address mental health themes at all, in our fiction?

The subject tends, after all, to be controversial, and often dark. And in truth, not every work of fiction does need to address mental health themes.

Yet, mental illness is a part of life.

It happens. It has a huge impact upon, not only sufferers but carers, and many others. It has an impact upon both individuals, and society in a wider sense. It needs to be addressed, and to ignore it is damaging, and potentially dangerous.

Fiction, whether it takes the form of a novel, novella, short story, screenplay, or any other type of story, is a powerful art form.

The need for characters, within our fiction, to reflect the true diversity of people that make up society – in terms of, for instance, race, religious beliefs, sexuality, and class background – is, increasingly, being recognised.

We all deserve to find characters, within the fiction we consume and enjoy, with whom we can identify, for a variety of reasons.

The fact is that, within real communities, people do struggle with mental health issues. If far fewer characters apparently deal with similar challenges, we need to examine why this is – and begin to rectify the situation, through our own stories.

 

I aim to address the subject of mental health in fiction in future posts, on this blog.

I continue to make slow but steady progress on revisions for my novel, Distorted Perceptions, and this novel does address mental health themes.

Distorted Perceptions: My Novel — November 11, 2019

Distorted Perceptions: My Novel

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I’m currently revising my WIP, Distorted Perceptions – so time to start discussing the forthcoming novel.

April 2020 Important Update: Distorted Perceptions is now published.

Distorted Perceptions, in its original form, was a novel which I began at the age of eighteen. I wrote it, on and off, in extremely difficult circumstances, until finally forced to give up, when I became severely depressed, at twenty-six. I’d almost completed my first draft, at the time.

For many subsequent years, I worked on other writing projects, and was prolific as a poet, but Distorted Perceptions has never left my heart.

I started to write it again in recent years, but from scratch, since I could only find parts of the original outline, which had pages missing, and none of my previous manuscripts or notes. Anything that is worded as it was before, would literally have to be some part of the novel that I remembered, having read it over so many times. The opening paragraph is, I believe, close to the original.

I retained most of the original plot, although for many parts, had to go by memory alone for the details. I changed a few aspects, which in itself, presented issues. Still more alterations occurred, as I wrote – some of which were major. I did try to stay as true as I could to what I felt, in my heart, my eighteen- to twenty-six-year-old self would have intended, since I do see it as her story, first and foremost. However, the ending changed drastically.

There are strong autobiographical elements, but it is by no means an autobiography or memoir, and should not be read as such. However, I have used the novel as therapy, and it has helped me to work through many of the painful events in my own life.

The novel doesn’t fit neatly into any genre or category. This is perhaps appropriate, as I have never fitted in, either. Coming soon – my novel, Distorted Perceptions.

The story is dedicated to all who have believed in and supported me. You know who you are.

about-distorted

 

Sample my fiction, via a collection of my short stories, Alternative Landscapes. Or read an extract from Distorted Perceptions.

Writing Projects – and a Lack of Blog Posts — October 2, 2019

Writing Projects – and a Lack of Blog Posts

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So, what’s happening with the Paula Writes blog?

 

Why the lack of recent posts?

The answer is: various reasons. I’m struggling with some extremely stressful issues, in my life outside writing.

With regard to writing, I’m at the revision stage with my novel, Distorted Perceptions. More on this, in due course.

I’ve self-published some short writing craft books: Links below. All Ebook versions are free.

I had problems with my Instagram app, but it seems to be resolved – touch wood. But I have been finding it difficult to keep up with posting on social media in general – and yes, I’ve also been blogging considerably less.

Hopefully, I’ll find more time and energy for both blogging and social media, in the future. There’s only so much I can do, however – especially with ongoing health issues.

Paula Writes is still very much alive, but posts will probably not be as frequent as they used to be.

 

Creating Believable Characters – Paperback

Creating Believable Characters – Paperback, alternative version

Creating Believable Characters – Ebook on Lulu

Creating Believable Characters – Ebook on Obooko

Settings and Atmosphere – Ebook on Lulu

Settings and Atmosphere in Your Fiction – Ebook on Obooko

 

If you enjoy my writing craft posts, did you catch my most recent, about themes in fiction?

 

Check out Colourful Darkness, my recent poetry Ebook, which is a free download.

Please also note that Creating Believable Characters is now available in paperback on Amazon.

Why Your Story’s Theme Matters — August 16, 2019

Why Your Story’s Theme Matters

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Your story’s theme is not the same as its plot.

Theme is the deeper meaning, the underlying message, behind your story, and much more Universal.

In three of Jane Austen’s novels, the themes are right there in the titles: “Pride and Prejudice”, “Persuasion”, and “Sense and Sensibility”.

When attempting to define your own themes, think in terms of a phrase, or sentence. Maybe two sentences, but rarely more.

Theme isn’t reserved for Literary Fiction, or any particular genre.

Ideally, theme should be identifiable in any story we create.

Sometimes, our own themes will be obvious to us, but at other times, not at all. We tend to bury the deeper meaning, and may find it difficult to pinpoint.

Whilst it’s possible to tell a great story without specifically considering the theme, it does help to know the intentions, reason, and purpose, behind what we’re doing, as writers.

What compels us to complete a particular novel? What, ultimately, are we hoping to achieve through our works in progress?

Theme is essential, because it’s what makes your work special. Unique.

A plot is a series of connected events.

Characters are of central importance, because they are the people aspect, and the particular people experiencing the events in question.

But, to tie the whole together, there’s going to be a why.

Why should readers be following these specific people, as they go through these specific life events?

What can the reader expect to gain from reading your work?

What will they learn, on an emotional, or even spiritual, level, that can be applied beyond the limited scope of the story world?

 

These are some brief thoughts, on the subject of theme in stories. Hopefully, this will help you, as you begin to consider and explore your own themes.

 

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People Watching as a Fiction Writer — July 13, 2019

People Watching as a Fiction Writer

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In a recent post, I discussed the subject of basing characters on real people.

In general, I wouldn’t suggest basing your characters entirely upon people you know in real life. However, being inspired by actual people, and incorporating some of their personality traits into your characters, is fine.

If done well, this can make your fictional people significantly more believable and interesting.

But here’s the thing: Strangers can provide as much, or more, inspiration, than people you know.

People watching: It can help.

As long as you manage to people watch without appearing to be some sort of crazy stalker, that is.

The fact that you don’t know someone forces you to invent almost everything behind what you see on the surface.

But a snippet of conversation, or an interesting personality trait of any kind, can provide the spark your imagination requires.

And that’s what, as writers, we’re always searching for: sparks. These are the added ingredients that can elevate an okay character to a good character – or, better still, a good character to a great one.

 

So, stay alert. People watch to your heart’s content.

And hopefully, you will find some ideas that will assist you, as you develop your characters, and create more characters, in the future.

 

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Recommended Writing Blogs: Personal Favourites — June 19, 2019

Recommended Writing Blogs: Personal Favourites

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This post is intended to be a resource for writers out there, looking for advice on writing craft, publishing, author platforms, inspiration and motivation, and any other aspects of being a writer.

Paula Writes is one site that covers writing related topics, but it’s important to find as many great sources of information and guidance as possible, to help you on your writing journey.

I am able to personally recommend all of the following sites. I will update this post, on an ongoing basis.

 

The Creative Penn

 

Standout Books

 

Mixtus Media

 

Just Writerly Things

 

Write Good Books

 

Joanne Writes Books

 

Abbie Emmons

 

Emalie Jacobs

 

A Well Told Story

 

Well-Storied

 

Helping Writers Become Authors

 

Online Writing Tips

 

Now Novel

 

E. A. Deverell

 

Draft 2 Digital

 

Obooko

 

All About Romance

 

I would suggest saving this post to favourites, or to one of your Pinterest boards, for future reference, as I will add more sites to the list, over time.

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Characters and the Role of Pets — May 22, 2019

Characters and the Role of Pets

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Does your MC have any pets?

How about your other characters, starting with major characters? If not, why not? And did they ever have pets?

And let’s be as specific as possible.

Two dogs, yes. But try two Labradors. Okay, one Black Labrador, and one Chocolate. Names?

Dog people. Cat people. Someone with a house full of parrots. The fact is that animals are important in many of our lives.

A pet can even become, effectively, another character.

At any rate, the relationships between our fictional people and their pets can speak volumes. It can help from a character development point of view.

If your MC has a pet rabbit and you yourself never have, research pet rabbits, as if you were planning to buy one yourself.

It might not seem necessary, if the rabbit doesn’t actually play a significant role in your story, but knowing such details about aspects of the character’s daily life does matter.

The more effort you put into these areas, the more you will ultimately connect, and come to understand, your protagonist, and other main (and even minor) characters.

In conclusion then, do take the time to consider pets.

This seemingly small tip is one that can actually make a significant different, if you’ve created characters, but they feel somewhat distant, or like cardboard cut-out archetypes.

Pets can give characters the edge, and transform them from names, ages, and traits, into actual people: people readers can believe in, and care about.

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