Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Child Death in Fiction: Dealing With Tragedy in Your Writing — March 9, 2018

Child Death in Fiction: Dealing With Tragedy in Your Writing

address-child-death-fictionElizabeth-Jennings-poem

I have already written posts about killing off characters, and the grief experienced by those left behind.

I would suggest reading both of these, if you haven’t already, as much of the information is applicable here, and I won’t duplicate everything.  My post about how I approach mental health issues, in my fiction, also relates.

I felt the need to address child death, in particular.

It’s such a specific, and heartbreaking, subject – and one with which I myself deal, in my fiction.

One way in which child death can occur is following a terminal illness, and this is something with which I actually haven’t yet dealt, in my own work.

In such cases, the child, along with loved ones, could have potentially been fighting a long, excruciating battle, which he or she has finally lost. The story may have been following the characters throughout the exhausting process of hoping and praying, and trying out various treatment options. The grief, when the death finally takes place, could be laced with a degree of relief – and, at the same time, guilt, for feeling this way. Of course, all of this would apply, no matter how old the person was, who had died in this way. But something like this happening to a child would make everything that much more intense, and add an extra layer of tragedy to the outcome.

Then there is death by sudden illness.

Again, this hasn’t come up in my own writing. An example that comes to mind, however, is cot death. Shock, and possibly total disbelief and denial, are likely to be reactions. Guilt, blame, and questioning.

Accidents, resulting in death, are an area in which I do have experience, from a writing perspective.

For me, this has generally been in the form of road accidents. In terms of how it will affect loved ones, there is certainly much in common with the sudden death due to illness. Shock and denial are likely – as are the guilt, blame and questioning aspects. Some of the close family members may be witnesses. Of course, that could also be the case with the cot death example. But with a car crash, it’s very possible that some of the child’s family were actually involved. Survivors’ guilt could be an issue, and it may even be that the accident really was the fault, or partial fault, of whichever family member was in the driver’s seat.

Miscarriage is another form of child death, and can be overwhelming, and also isolating.

The effects can be felt by fathers, siblings and others, as well as the mother. And there can be a lack of validation, because people don’t generally regard the loss as a bereavement, in the usual sense. Which it still very much is. A couple in my novel, who later lose their daughter in a road accident, do also lose a baby, prior to this, through miscarriage. The double loss, along with other relationship problems, contributes to the mother’s eventual breakdown, and effectively, the disintegration of the whole family.

Abortion results in an even more complex form of grief, and is one of the most controversial, and deeply painful, subjects out there.

One of my characters does have an abortion. Her pregnancy is the consequence of her being raped, at the age of fourteen. The girl’s own mother bullies her into going through with the operation, believing that she is doing the right thing. However, the guilt, along with the loss of her baby, leaves the young girl feeling suicidal.

And yes, suicide is another form of death, which it is too easy to avoid, as writers.

Again, controversial, dark, and complicated. And, in my view, too important to be ignored – or worse still, dealt with poorly.

When it comes to child death, in its various forms, I believe that we do need to go there, in our fiction.

Research any specific issues that come up, in connection with your particular stories. Also, allow yourself to go deep, and feel the raw emotions. When you find yourself able to do so, you’ll know that you’re doing your characters justice. And potentially, your novel could be a source of support and hope, for many of your readers.

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Character Bereavement: Writing About Grief in Your Fiction — February 10, 2018

Character Bereavement: Writing About Grief in Your Fiction

addressing-grief-fictionIt was always my intention to write a post along these lines, following on from the one about killing off characters.

I have noticed that a decent number of writers produce blog posts and You Tube videos about character death, but that very few really delve into the aftermath. Yet, grief is very real, and cannot be ignored in our fiction.

There are various theoretical models of grief, and of course, none can hope to explain the complex and often overwhelming process, which is rarely, if ever, linear.

Probably one of the best, and most widely used, divides grief into 5 main stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Your characters, having lost loved ones, will need to go through the various stages, although not necessarily in order.

It’s perfectly possible that, in the course of the story, you won’t show every stage. Sometimes, a time lapse means that characters have passed through much of the intense anguish, and reached a point of resolution and healing, by the time the story continues.

Also, the story itself may end too soon to take the character through the process. The reader can only imagine how he or she might cope, long-term, with the loss.

If this is how it works out, in the context of your plot, then that’s fine, but it’s important to examine your own feelings, and ensure that you’re taking the right approach for the particular story. To skip over the pain of our characters, because we ourselves cannot face it, is a huge compromise, and will result in shallow, somewhat empty versions of the tales that, in our hearts, we long to tell.

All of us, during the course of our lives, have surely experienced grief: multiple times, in various ways, just one of which is bereavement.

So definitely, it makes sense to draw upon own experiences and memories – and it would be hard not to, to some extent.

At the same time, you should know your characters intimately, and the exact ways in which the loss affects them, will become obvious to you, as you allow yourself to really feel, and stay with, their pain.

As with any other aspect of storytelling, you should show more than you tell, and be specific, rather than general. This is what will make the situation seem real to the reader. Consider any religious or spiritual beliefs that your characters hold, as these will obviously be important.

Of course, the nature and circumstances of any fictional death, the age of the person who has died, the precise relationship to each remaining character – these are all factors that will come into play.

An elderly relative dying of a heart attack, compared to a child being knocked down by a lorry. Vary that yet again to a baby lost due to miscarriage – or abortion. There are so many variables that generalised writing advice will never be adequate. I can only emphasize that the pain needs to be experienced and honoured – and subsequently, portrayed.

For specific advice on writing about child death, please see my post on that subject.

If a grieving character experiences symptoms of PTSD or clinical depression – maybe has panic attacks – research these issues, as fully as you can.

Even if you’ve been through something similar yourself, do your research anyway, because each person’s experience of the same conditions is going to vary. It’s worth taking the time to be thorough, in order to make your work as authentic as possible.

I did write a post about my own approach to mental health and related subjects in my fiction, which may be of interest.

Take your time, and allow yourself as many writing breaks as you need.

Ultimately, what matters is to do justice to your story and characters. Don’t rush them through their grief, just so that you can finish your novel sooner. Your book could end up helping real people through their own darkest moments. It has to be worth taking longer, and going deeper, in order to achieve that.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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