Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

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.

Find me on social media.

Writing Modern Historical Fiction — December 21, 2017

Writing Modern Historical Fiction

write-retro-fiction

So, what is “modern historical fiction”, right?

Well, my work in progress (novel) is modern historical. It’s set primarily in the 1980s, although readers will be given a glimpse of the early 1990s.

We can debate as to where the line is drawn.

Some would say that, if anyone is alive today who remembers a given period of time, then it’s modern historical. It would generally be accepted that the 1950s through to the end of the 1990s qualifies.

As to anything later than 1999, but more recent than – well, now, pretty much – as in, contemporary…

This is a grey area, and one that it’s not easy to sell publishers or readers on. If your novel is set in 2005, it’s basically “dated” – neither historical nor contemporary.

If you can’t “move” the characters from 2005, then it might be a case of holding on to the manuscript until it is old enough to be considered historical. Harsh, I know – but that’s pretty much how it is.

What defines historical fiction, in general?

Obviously, the story must take place in a historical period – but is that sufficient?

In my opinion, the historical setting does need to play a central role in the story.

The genre may be more specific than simply historical of course, and genres can be combined. A historical romance, for example, would need to meet the requirements of both historical fiction and romance.

Is it easier to write modern historical fiction, as opposed to stories set in more ancient times?

The obvious answer would be that it is – as, from a research point of view, it’s easier to find out about more recent time periods.

Everything has its down side, however. Mistakes will be spotted more readily.

If you weren’t alive during the period you’re writing about, try talking to people who were, as well as doing research online, and reading relevant books.

If you were born at the time, do your research anyway, as you can’t rely upon memory for every detail, particularly if you were a child, during the era in question.

Keep in mind that you may have to research aspects of life prior to the period that you actually cover, in order to relate fully to the experiences of your characters.

Character names are important.

Classic names work well, but avoid modern, trendy ones, that may not even have existed, at the time. Replace these with “dated” names, which would have been the trendy ones.

It’s easy enough to Google the popular given names for any particular era, and remember to take the age of the characters into account, too.

I love writing modern historical.

It’s not significantly different from writing contemporary fiction, and I get to address many of the social issues that are close to my heart – but the music is better (personal opinion only), and no-one has a mobile phone, or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

 

Writing Modern Historical Fiction – Pinterest Board

Writing Modern Historical Fiction – Reddit (subreddit)

 

This post is a slightly updated version of one published on my previous blog.

 

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Find me on social media.

vintage-transport-event

Facebook Groups, Facebook Pages, and Twitter: Going Into 2018 — December 12, 2017

Facebook Groups, Facebook Pages, and Twitter: Going Into 2018

facebook-group-page-twitter

Like many of us, I’ve seen the best and worst side of Facebook.

From personal experience, the best place to start, for a writer, when trying to grow an audience from scratch (or close), is definitely Twitter.

Facebook is much more challenging, and it’s beyond discouraging when you are posting your consistent, hopefully quality, content, and Facebook is showing some of these posts to about two people.

Literally. You can throw a “one hundred percent conversion rate” party, when a post is shown to three people, and you actually manage to get three “likes”. I know, I know – “pay to play” – but that doesn’t work for those of us who are starting out, and don’t have an advertising budget. There are strategies that help with organic growth on Facebook, but I’m not in a position to give much specific advice about these right now, because I’m honestly not there yet.

However, I’m not giving up, and I do believe that organic growth on Facebook is possible.

It takes time and effort, like everything else in life. I sometimes think it’s ironic, that I’ve watched so many You Tube videos, and read so many blog posts, about all things social media related, and yet, I don’t see to get anywhere fast. But hey, do I need to get anywhere fast? If it takes me longer, so be it. This is a journey, and I can appreciate it.

At the start of 2017, I had Vibrant Darkness, my poetry page, which I had more or less abandoned.

Other than that, only my profile page. This year, I started to update Vibrant Darkness, and also set up my author page, and 80s/90s Music page. The retro music angle, incidentally, does tie in with my writing somewhat, as well as covering an area of interest, since I write modern historical fiction, set primarily in the 1980s. And very recently, I ventured into setting up Facebook groups, Writing Forever and Music Forever, to help build more of a community, which is a major difference between Facebook pages and groups. I’m in the early stages, but hopeful.

This time last year, my approach to social media was completely random and chaotic.

I only had a few hundred followers on Twitter: now my main social media channel, where I’m currently working towards 3k, my next milestone – but, more importantly, enjoying the community, and trying to give back something of value, to the amazing people I’ve been able to connect with on there. I’m still random and chaotic, but perhaps a little less so – a work in very slow progress, just like my novel. And, yes – I have now officially updated this blog in December: consistently inconsistent, right?

January 2018 update: I’ve written another post, covering Facebook pages and groups, and Pinterest, in which I touch upon the latest changes, announced by Facebook.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Find me on social media.

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

 

Describing Locations in Realistic Fiction: 5 Tips — November 12, 2017

Describing Locations in Realistic Fiction: 5 Tips

describe-location-fictiondoctorow-writing-quote

 First things first: Why in realistic fiction, exclusively?

Because that’s what I write myself, and the majority of what I’ve read has also been realistic fiction. I don’t feel qualified to give advice relating to speculative genres.

Reading-Berkshire-UK

1. Keep descriptions brief.

This does vary, depending upon the type of story, and your own particular writing style – but, in general, modern readers don’t appreciate page upon page of descriptive writing. Mixing it up with other elements, such as dialogue, can help, as it does make it much easier to consume.

2. Use specific details.

Yes, this does come under the “show don’t tell” umbrella. If there’s a tree, is it an oak tree? Lime tree? Birch tree? It makes a difference, and makes the scene feel more authentic, if we have a little more information – and it doesn’t exactly require many additional words.

writing-quote-Chekhov

3. Use all five senses.

A sound or aroma, for example, might be the extra touch, that brings a visual image to life.

4. Be inspired by real places – but, at the same time, not confined or restricted by them.

The amazing aspect of writing fiction for me, is the blending of fact and fiction, so don’t be afraid to mix it up.

5. If you find that you don’t naturally include much description in your first draft – don’t worry.

I personally tend to write mainly dialogue, and minimal narrative, initially. It’s easy enough to add more description during rewrites, and anything that slows down your writing process should probably be avoided. My post on White Room Syndrome is particularly relevant to this point.

 

I hope that this short post has provided some useful suggestions, to help you with the important task of bringing your realistic, fictional settings to life. 

For further related reading, I would suggest my brief posts about avoiding filter words, and using foreshadowing.

In addition, I’ve covered how to create atmosphere in your fiction, and how to build suspense and tension.

 

Find me on social media.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Chawton-Hampshire-cottage

 

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