Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects? — February 5, 2018

Why Write About “Depressing” Subjects?

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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.

Writing Believable Dialogue — January 7, 2018

Writing Believable Dialogue

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Dialogue is the representation – as opposed to replication – of realistic conversation.

By this, I mean that it should sound like real life conversation, to a point – but not entirely.

It would be better to consider character dialogue in terms of edited highlights.

In reality, people ramble, go off at tangents, and frequently use phrases such as “um” and “er”. This is boring to read through, so keep it concise and readable.

As with all aspects of telling a great story, conflict is necessary.

Pleasant conversations, where all is happiness and light, and there is no disagreement or problem between your characters, are pointless.

Cut to the drama, wherever possible. Remember that dialogue is a tool, and should be used to move the story forward.

Use dialogue to develop your characters.

Differentiate the dialogue of various characters, in as many ways as you can. Consider the range of vocabulary that each would use – individual word choices.

When you actually reach the point of being able to “hear” the characters talking, in your own mind, you will know that you have created real people.

Then, you will know instinctively, if a line of dialogue doesn’t fit – because it will not be something which this person would actually say, in the particular context.

A major role of dialogue is, as I mentioned, to move the story forward.

As such, dialogue is often the perfect place to convey necessary information. However, be careful not to “info dump”. Dialogue must sound natural.

And, on the subject of natural sounding dialogue – please take care not to overuse character names.

As in:

 

“Hello, Mary. How are you today, Mary?”

“Hello, Tom. I’m fine, thank you, Tom. How are you, Tom?”

 

Okay, so it’s not normally this bad – but, at times, can come close.

Pay attention to real conversations, and you’ll realise that we don’t generally use each other’s names that often: mainly at the start of our interactions, or when trying to emphasize a specific point.

Said is not dead.

It’s generally much better than “exclaimed” and the like, which draw attention to themselves, and are principally used for the sake of it, in a misguided effort to keep dialogue “interesting”.

Some variations, such as “asked” and “yelled”, have their place, but “said” is an “invisible” word, and should be your default option.

Mix it up with action tags, and instances where no tag is used at all. The latter is more difficult when three or more characters are present, but can be used effectively in dialogue between two characters.

Make use of subtext in your dialogue.

It’s unrealistic, as well as tedious, for characters to say exactly what they mean, at all times.

Multiple layers of meaning add that subtle touch, that will make readers believe in your fictional people and situations.

 

Hopefully, these tips will help you to write believable dialogue – an essential aspect of creating strong, and highly relatable, characters.

My posts on character development and describing locations in realistic fiction, may be of interest.  Also, some additional thoughts on writing convincing dialogue.

I would also recommend a post from Standout Books, for another perspective on the subject of writing awesome dialogue.

Find me on social media.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

My Writing Journey — December 20, 2017

My Writing Journey

paula-writerwriting-Gloria-Steinem

Before I could physically write, I was already, in a sense, a writer.

I invented people, worlds, and situations. I daydreamed, and also “played games”, assigning roles to my brother and friends. I talked to myself, as well. Past tense…? Well, not entirely – because I’m a writer, and writers are weird. That’s my excuse, anyway.

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When I was five or six, and able to go beyond the formation of individual sentences, I wrote my first stories.

I was that child who loved writing stories at school, so much that I wrote my own, out of choice.

I found Maths boring and difficult.

I have the co-ordination disorder dyspraxia – which, at the time, was undiagnosed – and was, therefore, useless at the so-called “fun” activities. This covered pretty much every sport, basically. Yes, that’s right – not a fan of PE.

I was bullied relentlessly, right through school, and struggled with depression and anxiety, from a very young age.

I never fitted in, and longed to, but if I had, then maybe I would have been happy but ordinary, and not a writer. It was the one thing that I was able to do better than average, and I focused on that.

I do have periods of writers’ block, for want of a better term.

I also have long reading slumps.

I don’t write every day. I would like to say that I do, but I don’t. That’s just the truth.

I currently have many health issues, physical and mental health.

I have also been let down many times, by people I thought I could rely upon – family members, who have been less than supportive, to put it mildly – and so-called “friends”, who have hurt me deeply.

Poetry, although not my original passion, has often helped me through.

I will probably write a post specifically about my poetry journey, at some point.

I do also have a novel that I’m working on, sporadically – an old project, which I revived in recent years.

I’m making slow progress, but getting there. It’s a project that means so much to me, more than I can express – and yet, I’m terrified of failure. Sometimes, the fear leaves me paralysed, and I don’t get anything done at all.

However, I believe in what I’m doing, with all my heart, and know that I have to finish my book.

I did finish another, and shelved the first draft, without revising, which I am okay with. I felt, and still do, that finishing was enough, in that instance.

This post was originally published on my previous blog, and I simply made a few minor adjustments.

Since then, I have developed more of an interest in blogging. I plan to focus much more on this aspect of my writing in 2018 – and do also hope to make more progress on my novel, than I have in previous years.

If you would like to know more about the themes and topics covered in my fiction, I would suggest reading a recent post of mine, concerning my approach to mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction, in my work.

Also, my piece about writing dark fiction, may be of interest.

Writing is my life.

I’ve been in some dark places, and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be here without my fiction and poetry – and increasingly so, my blog.

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Find me on social media.

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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.

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

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

Describing Locations in Realistic Fiction: 5 Tips

paula-writes-an-imagedoctorow-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.

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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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