Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

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

Physical and Mental Illness: Fiction Writing Perspective

paula-writes-an-image

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

paula-writes-an-image

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

paula-writes-an-image

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?

paula-writes-an-image

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.

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

Why Your Story’s Theme Matters

paula-writer

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.

 

Follow me on: Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Characters and the Role of Pets — May 22, 2019

Characters and the Role of Pets

characters-pets

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.

Inspirational Quotes for Writers — April 10, 2019

Inspirational Quotes for Writers

paula-writer

Searching for inspirational and motivational quotes for writers?

If you’re a writer, hoping to find positive quotes, then this post is for you. These are some of my personal favourites.

I have to start with the central message of the Paula Writes blog, and associated social media accounts: Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

believe-self

View more Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams images on a specific post, dedicated to these.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem

writing-is-the-only-thing

“What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about.” – Julie Wright

what-does-not-kill-write

“A writer is simply a photographer of thoughts.” – Brandon A. Trean

writer-photographer

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

art-writing

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your own stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott

you-own-your-story

“I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still.” – Sylvia Plath

i-write-only

“Poetry is my deepest health.” – Sylvia Plath

poetry-health

“Poems are moments’ monuments.” – Sylvia Plath

poems-moments

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

creative-self-doubt

“You must stay drunk on writing, so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury

drunk-writing-reality

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” – Ernest Hemingway

write-hard-clear

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

there-is-nothing-to-writing

“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people: people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” – Ernest Hemingway

create-people

“Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” – Octavia E. Butler

every-story

 

Keep believing, always.

For many more inspirational quotes and words of wisdom, follow me on: Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

 

What is Literary Fiction? — March 27, 2019

What is Literary Fiction?

paula-writer

Let’s begin with what Literary Fiction is not: Genre fiction.

Genre fiction includes, for example: Romance, Crime, Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. There will be many subgenres within any particular genre.

Some authors of genre fiction have a very specific niche, and stay within this, whilst others move around within different subgenres, or even genres.

Particular novels may blend two or more genres, with varying degrees of success.

Genre novels adhere, at least to some extent, to conventions and formulas. There will be strong reader expectations, such as the crime being solved, by the detective in a Murder Mystery, and a happy ending in a Romance.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that genre writing is not high quality, or lacking originality. The standard of genre fiction varies widely, and it’s a misconception that genre is automatically inferior to Literary Fiction.

Equally, it’s wrong to assume that Literary Fiction is merely pretentious, and not as genuinely enjoyable to read as genre fiction.

Identifying a Literary novel in a bookstore or library should be relatively straightforward, aside from the section in which you discover the book.

In precisely the same way that a genre and subgenre can usually be established, at a glance: The cover.

Book cover trends vary over time but, whatever the current design trends might be, the tendency is for covers to Do What It Says On The Tin.

It’s how marketing works, and the most immediate way to communicate instantly to potential readers, whether your story is likely to appeal to them.

One vital aspect of Literary Fiction is the tendency to address deeper themes.

It’s true that there is genre fiction out there that also does this, but with Literary Fiction, there’s more focus upon this.

Without the restriction of having to stay within genre rules and guidelines, there is greater opportunity to explore the themes thoroughly – and, often, although not always, at a slower, more reflective pace.

The boundaries are set by the writer, and not the market.

Literary fiction can be successful, and make money, but the tendency is for it to be less popular and commercial than genre fiction.

That’s a major down side. It’s more challenging to market a work of fiction that is less conventional, and doesn’t tick any of the standard boxes.

Character development can be emphasized – something that particularly appeals to me, personally.

I believe characters to be the heart of great fiction.

The quality of prose will be of a high standard.

This is probably one of the few definite requirements.

It often does mean a poetic style, although not necessarily. The style may be more precise than poetic. And we’re not talking purple prose, either – but genuinely fine writing.

For an example of what I would consider to be quality poetic prose, refer to “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath.

Literary fiction is often experimental.

It sometimes has a lack of plot, in the ordinary sense, although not always. Some genre novels have almost a literary feel to them, and are on the borderline.

Some would define Literary Fiction as effectively its own genre.

This makes sense, in some respects.

 

But, however Literary Fiction is or isn’t defined, it does have immense value.

Whilst not “better” than genre fiction, it can often unique perspectives, that simply wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a standard genre.

 

Follow me on: Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Should Your Characters Use Swear Words? — March 12, 2019

Should Your Characters Use Swear Words?

characters-swear

Profanity. Cursing. Offensive language, of various kinds. Is it okay to include this in fiction?

Should your characters use swear words, or is it unnecessary and unacceptable for them to do so?

If you write for children, it’s advisable and ethical to avoid swear words.

YA, or Young Adult, is a somewhat different issue, and a grey area.

I write Adult Fiction, so my main focus is naturally upon books aimed at adults.

If you’re interested in the ongoing debate about swearing in YA literature, I encourage you to Google this specifically. The subject has been extensively covered, but I won’t be addressing it here, beyond this short acknowledgement of the issue.

Genre and target audience are considerations, even within Adult Fiction.

Certain genres, and types of story, are significantly more likely to include swear words.

As with so many other issues, it’s important to know your target audience, and their general preferences. This can then guide your writing and editing decisions.

In a recent post about addressing controversial subjects in fiction, I cautioned against being deliberately controversial, for mere shock value.

This advice is definitely applicable here.

Swearing is undeniably a part of real life.

But not everyone routinely swears. Some people hardly ever – or (apparently) never – swear at all.

The truth is that characters often make the decision for you – to a certain degree. Some people, and therefore also characters, are going to swear. But, even in such cases, the degree of editing that you exercise is your personal decision.

In my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts, I discuss the fact that strong dialogue represents, as opposed to replicating, realistic conversation.

Censorship aside – you would, in general, edit dialogue to exclude anything superfluous, and therefore, many swear words will probably be shed naturally, during revisions.

Any device that is overused tends to lose its impact, and swearing is no exception.

Maybe some of your characters will swear, but others not swear at all, or very rarely.

And, if some particular characters are constantly swearing, ask yourself whether some instances can be cut. Readers get the general idea, without being bombarded by bad language.

And, if you do want to convey, at any stage, that a character is furious, via the use of strong language – well, this technique won’t be effective, if such expressions are part of the character’s regular, casual vocabulary.

If you’re personally very uncomfortable with swearing, it’s probably not advisable to include this in your stories.

There are other ways for your characters to express themselves.

But, if you do feel that swearing is something that you need or/and are content to include in your fiction, don’t feel that you can’t do so for fear of judgement.

Maybe your parents or grandparents, or the woman next-door, would be shocked – but are those people your target audience, anyway? Probably not – and, such being the case, your story is not, or should not be, being written to keep them happy.

 

Some readers will indeed slam down your book in disgust, if you include swear words.

But then again, others will slam down your book if your dialogue doesn’t ring true – and it may be that swear words are one of the many devices that would add authenticity to the dialogue. You’ve heard it before, but you honestly can’t please everyone, and shouldn’t try.

Write from the heart. With or without swear words.

 

Follow me on: Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

How To Write an Effective Plot Twist — February 21, 2019

How To Write an Effective Plot Twist

write-awesome-plot-twists

Plot twist is the term used to describe those completely unexpected turns of event, within your overall plot.

I refer to those story moments, those revelations, that literally turn reader expectations on their head.

Outside of actual spoilers, readers don’t, by definition, know exactly what’s going to happen next in your story. However, they can often guess, or at least have a general idea of what to expect.

The beauty of a plot twist is that readers don’t predict it – or, at least, shouldn’t be able to, if the twist is successfully executed.

Although I primarily discuss novel writing in my blog posts, it’s worth noting that plot twists can be extremely effective in short stories, and especially so in flash fiction.

So, does every story need to include a plot twist?

No, it’s not a requirement, and some stories function fine without a plot twist.

Genre can be a factor, as well as simply the needs of the particular story.

There are stories that do contain multiple plot twists. And some include that one killer plot twist.

Oh, and since I used the term “killer”, it seems like a good time to mention, that plot twists often do come in the form of an unexpected death.

For specific tips, relevant to killing off characters, I recommend reading my post on this subject.

Reversing character roles can often work as a plot twist. For example, the bad guy turning out to be the good guy, and vice versa.

I mentioned unreliable narrators in my POV post, and such narrators can definitely be useful, when it comes to plot twists.

Sometimes what appears to be a subplot can turn out to be more significant. This a good way to introduce a twist of some kind.

Red herrings are false clues, and it’s impossible to discuss plot twists without mentioning them.

Certainly, red herrings and dead ends do have their role, but don’t rely too heavily upon these devices, and be cautious.

If the reader feels that you haven’t “played fair”, it could leave them feeling disappointed and frustrated with your book, which is clearly not the desired effect.

When it comes to plot twists, foreshadowing is essential.

The ideal is to know your own plot twists in advance, and for this reason, it’s much more difficult to pull them off successfully as a “pantser”.

If you didn’t plan a plot twist from the start, you will need to rework earlier scenes, so that everything makes sense.

The most challenging aspect of writing a great plot twist lies in the fact that the reader shouldn’t be able to predict what is coming, and yet, it must also seem logical and believable, in retrospect.

Work on the assumption that a reader will re-read your story. In fact, if the plot twist truly leaves them reeling, this is highly likely to occur.

They should subsequently notice all the signs, the subtle foreshadowing, and be kicking themselves for not connecting the dots sooner.

“Of course! Why didn’t I see it? It’s all here.”

 

Hopefully these tips will help you to create effective plot twists in your fiction.

It’s an invaluable skill to master, when it comes to developing your writing craft. The best plot twists can leave us stunned, and are highly memorable, which is a major bonus, when it comes to gaining loyal fans, eager to devour more of our stories, in the future.

My post about how to build suspense and tension in your writing, is somewhat related, and might be of interest. 

 

Connect with me on Twitter and Pinterest.

%d bloggers like this: