Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

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

Writing About Substance Abuse in Your Fiction

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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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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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When Life Happens, and Writing Doesn’t — January 11, 2018

When Life Happens, and Writing Doesn’t

The title says it all, about where I’m at, right now.

when-life-happens

Health issues are happening. Stressful life events are happening. Writing? It will come. Pressure from within is the last thing I need – and guilt.

Baby steps are the way forward.

Starting somewhere, as opposed to either everywhere or nowhere.

New year, new start.

It isn’t exactly working out that way. Yet, now and again, I hear my characters’ voices, letting me know that they are still there, inside my heart and mind.

As for the blogging – well, this is my second post of 2018.

Such as it is. There will be more, and they will be better.

It’s okay to struggle sometimes.

That’s what I would tell anyone else, after all. It isn’t always easy to believe in yourself and your dreams, but since when has anything worthwhile been easy, right?

Previous related posts include one about procrastination, and another about slow progress.

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

Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams: Core Message

paula-writer

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’m telling others.

Please also see my How To Believe companion post. And, if you’d like to see a selection of Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams images, visit a post of mine dedicated to these visuals.

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.

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Jane-Austen-House-Museum

 

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

Writing About Mental Health in Fiction: My Approach

paula-writes-an-imageAs 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.

Sylvia Plath: Not a “Suicide Poet” — September 26, 2017

Sylvia Plath: Not a “Suicide Poet”

term-suicide-poetpoetry-prose-Sylvia-PlathFirstly, I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend, and fellow survivor poet, John Hirst, who passed away recently.

John and I discussed this subject via Facebook, not so long ago.

sylvia-plath-poetry-quotes

Speaking as someone who has been deeply inspired by the works of Sylvia Plath, I don’t find it acceptable that people refer to Sylvia as a “suicide poet”.

For a start, many of the writers whose works we still enjoy, are no longer with us – and yet, how many of these are referred to by their causes of death?

You don’t hear them spoken of as “heart attack novelists” or “stroke poets”. Why, then, define Sylvia by her cause of death? It is often assumed that she wrote mainly or exclusively about mental illness, suicide and death, but that just goes to show that many are judging, without having read much, if any, of her actual work.

The most dangerous aspect, for me, is the glamorization, for want of a better term, of Sylvia’s suicide.

Anyone who has actually read her, heavily autobiographical, novel, “The Bell Jar” – and, yes, that does deal with the subject of mental health – will not come away with the impression that there is anything glamorous about mental illness.

And that ties in with my final point – that Sylvia was a writer, and not exclusively a poet.

“The Bell Jar” is a fine example of moving, and beautifully written, prose. I would imagine that Sylvia’s mental health was a factor in why she was not more prolific, and this is definitely something to which I can relate. She was so much more than a “suicide poet”.

If this was of interest, I would recommend reading another of my posts, in which I explore the subject of mental illness, and my approach to the issue, in my own fiction.  Also, my piece about the challenges, as well as blessings, associated with being a writer, whilst struggling with both physical and mental health issues.

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Believe in yourself and your dreams.

 

 

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