Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

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.

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

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

believe-in-yourself

Just a brief blog post, for now. I wanted to give specific attention to my core message.

More than anything, throughout my writing and various online projects, this is what I’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

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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