Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Writing About Substance Abuse in Your Fiction — March 11, 2018

Writing About Substance Abuse in Your Fiction

write-drug-alcohol-addict-fiction

Drug addiction and alcoholism are challenging, controversial, and complex to write about, but I personally choose to address both, in my fiction.

I do have personal, although not recent, experience, in the areas of problem drinking and volatile substance abuse – but not of using illegal drugs.

There are many resources that can help with our research online, but definitely, a lack of material dealing specifically with how to write about these issues, in our fiction. I hope that this will change and, even though I can by no means claim to be an expert on substance abuse, I’m going to share what I am able to, at this point in time.

I did touch upon the subject of drug and alcohol abuse, in my post regarding how I address mental health issues, in my fiction. Mental illness and addiction are closely related, so I would suggest reading that post, for further insights.

Now, let’s get into the tips for writing about characters with substance abuse issues.

Just one more quick note first, though – to mention that addiction covers much more than substance abuse. I recognise that addictions to gambling, shopping, and so on, are very real. I simply can’t deal adequately with those, in the context of this one post.

Drug addiction, alcoholism, and binge drinking are also subjects that feature heavily in my WIP, making it natural that I would make it a priority to discuss these matters, here on my blog.

 

It’s vital to know about the physical effects of any substances your characters are abusing.

That’s the absolute minimum, so start your research there.

Know how the drug alters the personality and behaviour of your character.

If a character is introduced to readers prior to the addiction, contrast and changes will be easier to demonstrate. Early warning signs should be evident.

Know in yourself, at least, how the character was before. It may mean delving into back story. Was there any trauma, in the character’s past, that contributed to development of the addiction?

There will be some perceived benefits.

What does the drug do for the character? Does it numb physical or/and emotional pain? Ease symptoms of anxiety? Alcohol, for instance, is often used in an attempt to self-medicate, by sufferers of social anxiety.

There will be specific ways, in which the addiction clearly controls the character. Make sure that you show some of these.

How does the person fund their habit?

Any committing of crimes, such as burglaries? Has the addict become a dealer? And, of course, to say that it is not easy to escape those networks, is an understatement. Attempting to do so could place the person, along with loved ones, in very real danger. This would be an obstacle to recovery, even if the character was able to “get clean”.

How have relationships with family members and friends, who are not themselves addicts, been affected?

People, however close, will draw the line somewhere, and most will, ultimately, walk away. So much damage will have been done, possibly over years or decades.  There can come a point, at which the strain is more than the relationship can take.

Usually, an addict will reach a crisis point – rock bottom, basically – and then decide to change.

Is your character able to give up drugs, drink, or both – as applicable? Does the individual subsequently relapse?

Do your research regarding the long-term health implications.

There could be serious, and even fatal, physical health consequences. Equally so with mental health. The addict is at an increased risk of suicide.

Access your own inner darkness.

Even if you haven’t had the precise experience that you’re describing, you can probably relate, on some level, to aspects. If you were drawn to write dark fiction, in the first place, there’s a reason.

Survivors understand survivors. Research the specifics, but beyond that, write from the heart.

 

Writing about drug addiction and alcoholism is no easy task, but I hope that these tips will guide and inspire you, as you attempt to realistically portray substance abuse, in your fiction.

 

More specific information, regarding substance abuse and addiction

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Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects? — February 5, 2018

Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects?

why-write-depressing

This post was originally published on my previous blog.

So, why would anyone love writing or reading dark fiction?  Or survivors’ poetry?

In December 2017, I did publish slightly revised versions of two other posts: one regarding my personal writing journey, and another about writing modern historical fiction.

I considered also republishing this one, but decided against it, at the time. I didn’t see it as a priority, because I have other posts that cover much of the same ground, including one regarding my approach to mental health issues in my fiction, and another about the process of writing dark fiction. There are also elements that overlap with my post on character development.

However, on balance, I have decided to go ahead, and share it again.

I feel that there is enough here that could potentially be of value, and it doesn’t do any harm, in my opinion, to revisit some of the same subjects, when they are ones that are close to our hearts. So here goes…

I don’t know where to start with the subject, but it’s an important one, so I want to address it.

I know that more people are familiar with my poetry than my fiction, as there isn’t much of the latter “out there”, as yet. The fact is that I deal with dark and controversial subjects throughout all of my writing. I am focusing more upon my fiction here, although much of what I say applies across the board.

Firstly, my fictional characters are not me.

They each contain aspects of myself, to varying degrees, but none are me, as such. That isn’t how fiction works.

Some experiences of certain characters are heavily autobiographical, but there will always be fictionalised aspects, and it shouldn’t be important for a reader to know what is based on my actual life experiences, and what is not.

That’s not to say that readers won’t, or even shouldn’t, be interested – and often, I will be happy to clarify and share my own stories, since I’m a naturally open person.

There is definitely an element of therapy to writing for me, that is essential to my survival – to my sanity, such as it is.

I do write to explore subjects and situations because I’ve been through them myself, or something similar.

Yet, this is not always the case.

I have had, for my writing, to research subjects, including heroin addiction and abortion, and many others, of which I have no direct, personal experience. Is it “depressing”, if you like? Yes, at times. I would say it is deeply painful, and also makes me more compassionate – and, at times, paralysed by my own inability to fully understand, and do justice to the subjects.

The social issues won’t go away by ignoring them.

That said, is it sufficient that many of us attempt to write about them, in our fiction? Isn’t there more that we can and should be doing? Sometimes it isn’t easy to know what to do, but I can’t close my heart or mind to these themes, to which I feel drawn.

I’m so restricted by my own health and circumstances, and I don’t have the answers – only more questions, and they replay, on an endless loop, inside my mind.

I think that the best answer is that I would find it more depressing to ignore the issues, and I don’t know if I will ever achieve what I ideally want to through my work, but I just have to keep going. I hope that this made at least some sense.

Follow me on any or all of my various social media sites, where I regularly share writing related posts.

Killing Off Characters: 10 Tips for Committing Fictional Murder — January 20, 2018

Killing Off Characters: 10 Tips for Committing Fictional Murder

kill-characters

So, time to discuss death: Character death, that is.

Here are 10 points to consider, when it comes to killing off your fictional people.

Whether you love or hate this aspect of storytelling, it’s something that we have to deal with, as writers: that sometimes our “babies” need to die.

This will probably sound disturbing to non-writers, but most of us, to some extent, find it therapeutic, to commit “murder”, on the page.

1. The genre and type of story are factors.

The number, and nature, of character deaths, will be influenced by category and genre, as well as your personal approach and style. If you have a specific target audience in mind, then think about their needs and preferences.

Scenes of extreme graphic violence would generally be deemed unacceptable, in the context of Children’s or YA fiction.

Even within Adult fiction, there are going to be variations. A Romance or Women’s Fiction novel would generally not be littered with fictional corpses.

If you’re venturing into the territory of horror, dark thrillers, or crime, it could be time to bring on those dead bodies.

2. The death of a character – or characters – should advance the plot.

It ought to move the story forward, in one or more respects. If it doesn’t do that, you need to seriously question whether the death is necessary.

It may be that it motivates other characters, thus becoming a catalyst for future events.

Often, you will be able to come up multiple story benefits to a single character death, in which case, you will know that you’re on the right track.

3. Death can create a sense of realism.

This, combined with advancing the plot, is a good reason to kill a character.

If you’re writing about drug addiction and the criminal underworld, it wouldn’t be unexpected for some of your characters to die.

4. Death can sometimes be used to drive home a point, emphasizing the work’s central theme.

This could certainly tie in with my last example, about drug addiction.

5. Avoid killing characters for the shock value alone.

If the only point of the death is to horrify the reader, don’t do it. No-one is going to be impressed.

6. You will sometimes realise that you’ve included an unnecessary character.

In this situation, many writers feel tempted to kill off said character. Almost certainly, not the best solution.

The truth is, there’s no easy fix. If the character never had a significant role in the story, it’s a case of going back, and reworking all scenes in which he or she appears. In other words, delete that character. It’s called editing, right? It has to be worth the extra effort.

7. How about characters who are literally created to die?

No problem, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, if you’re a plotter, as I am, then the aim is to know, in advance, which characters are going to die.

Now, in my own case, this does alter, as I write. I’m not a “synopsis set in stone” writer, even though I do start with an outline. I tend to end up with more character deaths than I started out with, rather than the other way around.

But, anyway – the “born to die” characters are ones whose primary purpose, in the story, literally is to end up dead. As long as the reason for the demise meets the criteria mentioned thus far, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with inventing characters for the purpose of killing them.

8. Research is vital.

Whether a character is stabbed or poisoned, involved in a road traffic accident, or dies of a heart attack, or a form or Cancer, it’s important to get the facts right.

With the internet at our disposal – in addition to more traditional research methods, such as reading books, and talking in person to experts – it’s easier than it’s ever been. Still hard work, but in comparative terms, straight forward – and part of the job, in my opinion.  I find You Tube particularly useful for research.

9. As with other areas of writing, avoid cliché.

You only have to consider a handful of TV dramas, and some cliché death scenes should come to mind. These will jolt your reader out of the story, shattering the illusion, and making it feel fake. So much for the deep emotions that you might otherwise have stirred.

10. Finally, remember that death is followed by grief.

You can choose to leap into the future, skipping the intense mourning period, which is legitimate.

Even then, however, you have to address the issue of ongoing grief, for the characters who remain. The process is not linear.

Everyone goes through grief in real life, and if you truly love your characters, and they feel like real people to you, you won’t shy away from addressing their grief, when people they love die.

Allow yourself to feel their pain, and then hopefully, your readers will, too. We aim to break our readers’ hearts, after all.

 

I hope that these tips will be useful to you, and possibly help you to kill off some characters. If – and only if – necessary, for the sake of your story, of course.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

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Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams: Core Message — November 23, 2017

Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams: Core Message

believe-in-yourself

Just a brief blog post, for now. I wanted to give specific attention to my core message. More than anything, throughout my writing and various online projects, this is what I am telling others.

Please also see my How To Believe companion post.

As someone who struggles with chronic physical and mental illness, I don’t always find it easy to believe in myself and my own dreams.

I would say that my message is aimed, more than anything, at those who need to hear it – the people out there who find it particularly difficult to believe in themselves and their dreams. These are often the ones who, in many respects, have the most to offer.

Yes, everyone struggles – but no, not to the same extent.

Some of us struggle much more than average, with daily life. It can often be a case of running, simply to stand still.

I believe in you.

So, yes – believe in yourself and your dreams. They are words, nothing more, but they are powerful. Too many people out there will discourage you, if you are vulnerable – but I want to be the one who tells you that your dreams are not “unrealistic”. They are achievable. Keep going, and eventually, you will get there. We will get there.

I recently shared a post about how I deal with mental illness and related topics, in my fiction. This may be of interest.

Find me on social media. I also have a new Facebook group for writers, called Writing Forever, where I hope to build a supportive, positive community.

Jane-Austen-House-Museum

 

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach — November 15, 2017

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach

mental-health-realitiesAs someone who suffers from both physical and mental illness, my own experiences definitely influence and inform my writing.

I deal specifically with many issues, including drug and alcohol addictions, and rape and sexual abuse, in my fiction.

Not every subject that I write about is one that I have experienced personally, although I can always relate, on some level. I have never had drug addiction issues, for instance, although I have had problems with alcohol, in the past.

When it comes to mental illness – yes, definitely, I cover that too, as a writer, but not in the usual, neatly packaged way. For myself, it’s a priority to reflect realities that are not usually represented.

Most of my characters are either not diagnosed with mental illnesses, or the diagnosis is not mentioned.

It’s idealistic to suppose that everyone who has a mental illness is diagnosed – and correctly diagnosed, at that – and also, that everyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness necessarily has a mental illness at all.

I refuse to endorse the psychiatric system by going along blindly with the “this diagnosis treated by this type of medication”, textbook version.

I have also had enough of the myth that, following a suicide attempt, people are routinely admitted to psychiatric hospital.

I have never been an inpatient in psychiatric hospital. When I have taken overdoses, for the most part, no-one has actually realised at all. My parents, and others around me, have assumed that I must be sick from drinking too much.

On the few occasions when I have been treated for the physical effects – far from being admitted to psychiatric hospital afterwards, I have simply been sent straight back to full-time work, as soon as physically able. Literally. In fact, it was the same after being raped.

I have not had therapy, and any dealings with the mental health services have ended up causing more distress than if I had simply “got on with it”, and not sought help at all. And, yes, there are others in similar positions. Mine is, by no means, an isolated case.

The lack of support received is effectively then used against those of us who have been denied help, since we receive fewer “illness points” than others who have received medical attention – which, in turn, affects subsequent decisions about medical care, or lack of.

I do have a character who attempts to take her own life, and others who experience suicidal thoughts, and my characters don’t receive the “textbook” version of the NHS service, which is not the reality, for most of us.

I understand that many people have traumatic experiences within psychiatric hospitals, but this is already represented in literature. The experiences of those who are forced to “get on with it”, and offered no support whatsoever, need to be portrayed, as well.

My protagonist, Lucy, has symptoms of anxiety, which I convey in the “show don’t tell” tradition.

The subject of whether or not she has a diagnosis isn’t mentioned. She doesn’t.

Her mother, Helen, does have anxiety too, and is diagnosed – and this can be seen through the fact that she is addicted to prescription tranquillizers.

I have the benefit – the extreme privilege – of being a writer, and as such, I believe, a responsibility to speak out, on behalf of others.

I have done this, at times, through my poetry. As a writer of realistic, modern historical fiction, I hope to achieve more, in this respect. I shall certainly try.

Writing is my therapy and my passion. It has enabled me to survive. There is no greater blessing.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams – always.

Find me on social media.

My post about Sylvia Plath, and my feelings regarding the term “suicide poet”, might be of interest.

Some thoughts on addressing controversial subjects in our writing

hemingway-quote

 

Writing Dark Fiction — November 11, 2017

Writing Dark Fiction

dark-write

I wish that I could write consistently, but this isn’t possible for me, for various reasons.

Apart from anything else, there is one week in every month when I cannot write, due to the severity of my PCOS and endometriosis. I also have other restrictions, caused by my physical and mental health, and personal circumstances.

There is another reason for the slow progress on my novel, and believe me, this is frustrating – but I do have other ongoing projects, and everything ties in, anyway – so I’m not achieving as little as I myself often feel.

The other reason for my lack of progress is that I do write dark fiction.

I wrote a post some time ago, on my previous blog, regarding why I write about so-called “depressing subjects”.  Note: Updated version, on this blog, now exists, also.

I know that I can never make it “easy” for myself, because my heart is in control, and insists that I write about what really matters – that I do not ignore the darkness, but face it, head on, in my fiction. I will never churn out cutesy romance novels – and, no, I have nothing against such novels, and part of me might even envy authors who can write commercial genre fiction, that fits in and sells. It isn’t me. My plots and characters do overwhelm me, and I don’t feel able to write every day.

I’m terrified that I won’t be able to do justice to the stories that I have to tell, but I must try.

It’s my vocation, my passion – so much more than a career, which it is not, as yet – and definitely more than a hobby. Please don’t refer to anyone’s writing as a “hobby”, unless you know for a fact that the writer in question regards it as such – because it is honestly the ultimate insult, for most of us.

I feel that this was “all over the place”, but hopefully it made some sense. I wrote a short post recently, which included details of my various social media sites, and this is currently the best place to find out where I am online: my different pages and projects.

Keep believing.

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