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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Abuse Resulting in Self-Harm

This week's assessment comes from Lisa, who was told by someone that a young teenager has to be abused over and over again throughout a lifetime in order to develop pathological tendencies. Lisa's story features Jared*, a young boy who was molested by a member of the family as a toddler. His mother developed cancer before he reached his teens and then the cancer recurred as he entered his teen years. Jared wants his mother to go ahead and die because he believes his father, who travels a great deal on business and practices a different faith, will stay home more. He also thinks his mother's caretaker will take over, which he would prefer since he has developed a closer relationship with her. The boy also has a cutting problem that he's successfully hidden from his parents and teachers.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Lisa's first question was, "How realistically can I pull this off?" Her question likely originated from having been told that children have to be abused over and over again throughout a lifetime to develop severe, pathological tendencies.

Oh...the perils of bad advice! Let me try to correct a wrong.

Whoever told you that was DEAD WRONG. I've seen many clients who have only had one experience with abuse (both young clients and teenagers) who developed many pathologies, the least of which is cutting. And then there are the people who were never abused, sexually or physically, who also develop a self-harm habit.

For those who don't know, cutting is a typical coping mechanism employed by those with prior abuse. While I don't pretend to understand it, from what I've read and heard clients say, there is something about the act of cutting (or burning yourself with erasers/car lighters/cigarettes; pulling hair, picking at wounds, self-flagellation, or otherwise hurting yourself) that relieves the emotional pain the person is in. This could be for several reasons:

1) The person feels like they deserve to be injured. Either they think they are "evil" or that they should be punished for having good thoughts. They might also hope that hurting themselves in some way will stop a worse punishment later from someone/something else.

2) The person wants to distance themselves from emotional pain/numbness. Cutting (or self-harm) is a way to feel something. Don't think of people cutting themselves in a frenzy. It's actually calm, calculated. It can help distract a person from what their going through internally.

3) The person is expressing something for which they have no words. Literally, the term for this is alexithymia ("no words feeling"). There just isn't a label to use to express how they feel. Cutting themselves can display anger, show emotional depth of pain, and shock others. It can also get them help without actually having to ask for it (if a friend were to see an uncovered arm of someone who cuts, they would be extremely concerned).

Jared might very well be suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, based on all the nuances we went over in our email. Cutting is common in those with BPD, but not everyone with BPD cuts, and not every cutter has BPD. You can see my post on BPD to decide for yourself whether he fits the criteria or not. (And yes, parents often do ignore signs of their children's personality disorders until it's too late for treatment to do much more than maintain. Earlier intervention would be better to try to direct, to answer that question from your email.)

You mentioned that he cuts under his ribcage, so that he can wear gym uniforms and sleeveless shirts. If this is what he has to do, it works for your story. Far more common would be along the top or bottom of the forearm, mainly from the wrist to the elbow, and the upper thighs (which is an alternative you could use so people can't see Jared's cuts...and probably a bit more likely than the ribcage...but you do what you need to do to make it fit.) People really do cut everywhere and anywhere depending on their situational needs.

[One of the best posts I've ever read from someone who cut for years was on the blog, The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive. The description Seaneen uses to illustrate her body, and how she sees her skin is beautiful in its transparency. The post is her thinking about her cutting habit in retrospect. She includes pictures, so be forewarned if you have a tendency toward being triggered by photos.]

Props on giving him another self-harm/other-harm fascination with guns/hunting. His hunting blog is a great way to deflect his extreme interest in the subject...but yet keep him connected to it at the same time. I'd make his articles impersonal a bit, which will make your huge downward spiral moment of him wanting to use his gun against his mother to put her out of her misery once and for all that much more shocking. Yet the signs were'll be one of those things the reader will probably thumb back through your book to try to pick up on the signs.

You mentioned not wanting the reader to have an "oh, come on!" moment when Jared tried to make sure his mother dies instead of torturing them with more treatment and false promises. His does his "research," which will be likely connected to his blog, and tries to use his hunting rifle to do the deed. The real driving motivation behind this attempt is his fantasy world...the one he's created about the caretaker and his father coming home more. His lack of bonding with his mother will fuel this fantasy even more, so I say well done!

Thanks for writing in. Hope this was helpful. If there are any other questions about Jared's assessment (or if anyone has a question about self-harm), email me or drop your question in the comment section.

If you missed my survey about character stereotypes, you can still take it! Click here!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Character Stereotypes Survey

I still need your help! If you haven't already taken my character stereotypes survey (which literally takes only a minute), please do so now!

Click here to take the survey!

If you can tweet about it, blog about it, or otherwise get it out in your social media circle, I'd really appreciate it.....and here's why:

Based on the responses to the survey, I'm going to be writing articles for Christian Fiction Online Magazine about the top 4 (maybe more) stereotypes authors use!

Thanks again!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

And the Winner Is....

Thanks everyone for entering! The winner of Roseanna White's A Stray Drop of Blood is Anne!

Congratulations! I will be sending your email Roseanna's way so she can get your snail mail address.

I'll be having another contest soon for Kaye Dacus' A Case for Love, the third installment in her Brides of Bonneterre series, so be sure to come back on April 5th (first Monday in April)!

Hope you're enjoying Palm Sunday!

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Friday, March 26, 2010


I'm doing research for a new series I'm contemplating about for my columns at Christian Fiction Online Magazine. I'm looking at character stereotypes and how prevalent they are in published and yet-to-be published books (thinking positively!).

Won't take you but a minute or two to fill out. Please, please, please share the link on your blogs or websites with other writers/readers you know.

Click here to take my survey!

You still have time to enter to win Roseanna White's A Stray Drop of Blood in time for Easter! Winner will be drawn on Palm Sunday! Click here to leave a comment to enter the giveaway.

Thanks again for helping out!

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

T3 - "Balanced" Parenting Style

Before I get into the ins and outs of a "Balanced" parent (also called a Democratic, Active, or Equalitarian parent), a brief history lesson is in order.


Based on what year your protagonists were born (or their parents were born), this information will actually be useful to figuring out which type of parenting style he or she most likely grew up with.

Children born before and during the 1950s most likely grew up with the Over-Controlling parenting styles (Power Patrol or Micromanager). Those generations resembled society in that there was a clear-cut pecking order. The father (man) was the supreme ruler, and mother was to be obedient to him, while children were to be obedient to both of them. This led to some awful things like child abduction and sexual victimization because children were taught to blindly obey authorities at the expense of their own rights.

By the 1960s, though, there was a major shift in society, from a superior/inferior structure to an emphasis on equal rights and self-worth. Civil rights became front and center, and children (especially teenagers) resented adults telling them what to do. They wanted to voice their opinions (loudly, and with music), and Over-Controlling parenting didn't allow for such individuality. Teens turned to drugs and the "sexual revolution" to escape and rebel, and parents had no idea what to do. Professionals who tried to help encouraged parents to loosen the reins, which swung the pendulum to permissive, Under-Controlling (Avoiders or Over-Indulgers) parenting.

These same teenagers of the 60s blamed their parents and authority figures for their problems. As a result, they vowed to raise their children differently and went to the other extreme in their parenting. By the 1980s, the problems in the 60s had reached epidemic proportions. Drug use had increased, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, gangs/violence, sexual victimization...all a result of permissive, Under-Controlling parenting.

The pendulum began to swing back toward Over-Controlling parenting as a way to gain control, but since both styles resulted in negative results for children and society. So it's wise to avoid both of these extremes, because they are inbalanced, and aim for Balanced parenting.

What do Balanced parents believe? They believe that their job is to teach children the life skills they need to be self-sufficient, responsible members of society. They believe that children are equal in worth and dignity, and that they deserve to be treated with respect. They want children to learn how to meet their own needs and not be unnaturally dependent on their parents to do so. They encourage children to learn from their mistakes and avoid blaming or criticizing them. Children are unique, not little Mini-Mes of the parent or balls play dough to mold into what the parent thinks they should be.

How do Balanced parents discipline? Balanced parents try to prevent discipline by telling children what they can do instead of what they can't. They focus on the value of a rule rather than the power of the rule-maker. They teach behavior skills, and then reveal to their children what the possible outcomes of their behaviors could be. Children misbehave and the parent tries to consider their child's goal and help them meet their goal through a more positive behavior. If the child still chooses to behave inappropriately, Balanced parents allow the revealed outcome to happen. They use logical and natural consequences for misbehavior and don't add suffering or verbal abuse to their punishments.

Long-Term Effects (obviously all of these will be positive):

1) Children learn how to operate within limitations and rules.
2) Children make responsible decisions and now how to be responsible.
3) Children are self-motivated/self-disciplined.
4) Children have excellent leadership and communication skills.
5) Children have good time management and organizational skills.
6) Children are less likely to rebel against authority.

So this wraps up our parenting series. If you missed the quiz somehow, and are totally confused about what I'm talking about, go here to take the quiz and find out what style you or your characters are. Ideally, learning about parenting styles will help you portray your protagonists' (or antagonists') backgrounds and histories more understand what type of family they came from. Hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.

If you have any other ideas for series for the Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts, I'm all ears.

If you haven't left a comment to be entered to win Roseanna White's A Stray Drop of Blood (drawing will be on Palm Sunday for this terrific Easter-themes book), then click here.

Have a great weekend!

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* A lot of the information in this series was derived from Jody Johnston Powel's book, The Parent's Toolshop. Quite a bit is also from my own clinical experiences and opinions.*

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - A Has-Been Model's Future

This week's assessment is for Gertie*. She's writing about Liz*, a 25-year-old high-fashion model in New York City who had traveled the world doing runway shows for around 7 years before she got a 3-year contract with a makeup company. She became accustomed to the industry--the traveling, shows, drinking, and drugs. Ultimately, she finds her validation in men--older men who take advantage of her, but she's a willing participant, even the instigator. She feels powerful when she can seduce a man. Liz doesn't have any close friends, but Gertie is debating about her having an older model take her under her wing and really give her some skewed advice.

The story starts when the makeup company doesn't renew her contract and her uncle/agent wants to send her back home to a small town because she's getting a bad reputation and he can't find her gigs anymore because of her age.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional and not-so-fictional.

Gertie wants to know: What might this character be like? What issues would she have?

You're in luck, Gertie, because I went to a body image continuing education class not too long ago...and if Liz is going to have issues, I think it'll center around her body. Must of this will be based on generalities, but you'll get the drift. First, anyone who works a job where their faces and figures are plastered across glossy magazine covers are going to be obsessed with maintaining their faces and figures.

Weight control is a major issue for them because their jobs depend on it. This means watching everything that passes through her lips, and likely means that she's dabbled in her fair share of eating disorder (ED) symptoms, like binging or purging...or at the very least restricting and over-exercising. I'd think this would be more of a fad/modeling industry type thing for Liz to do instead of her having a true ED, because you said she feels powerful and in control when she seduces men. Most people with a true ED develop the symptoms as a way to control at least one aspect of their out-of-control lives (overbearing mothers, etc.). A person with a real ED also has perception problems with their body where they see a much larger, distorted perception of their figure in a mirror. (Doesn't sound like Liz, however, but I'm just sharing some facts.)

Getting older will be something she'll likely fight tooth and nail, literally. The world, with it's commercials and advertisements, has told her since she was 14 that youthfulness is beautiful. Hitting 20 was probably an ordeal...25 even more so of one. Worst of all would be the makeup company not renewing her contract, which would be validation of that message. She'll fear her usefulness is gone. What else is she really good at besides strutting her stuff? It's what she knows, it's what she's good at it.

That, and the men. I think if you're really wanting to examine the difference between God's beauty and the world's beauty, I'd have the hero be somehow disfigured. Maybe he walks with a limp or has a noticeable scar or birthmark. The heroine's reaction to him at first could be really awful, as she might even be disgusted at the lack of worldly beauty the man has. But this would be a great foil for her character development.

(If you don't want to go with the hero having this, I'd also suggest adding a little girl to the story, perhaps a girl without a mother, a girl who reminds Liz of herself at around the same age she lost her own mother? This little girl might want to latch on to Liz. If she was cripple or maybe had facial scars from a house fire that killed her mother, this would also make Liz grapple with the faith-filled questions of why God would allow such a beautiful little girl to be "ruined." Of course, she'll be looking at the little girl from the world's view, not God's view. Just a suggestion...but I always seem to add a child in my this popped into my head.)

My guess is that she'll crave time out of the spotlight just as much as she craves time in it. Isn't that what all the celebrities say in the rags about just wanting privacy? They can't dress down in sweats and tennis shoes with no makeup without having paparazzi take their picture that way and plaster it everywhere. Perhaps Liz feels she has to be made up like a diva every time she steps out her front door. Hair done, makeup flawless, nails done, and body recently fake-baked or spray-tanned. But I'd make her have a pimple on one of these days, and then juxtapose her overreaction about the red siren on her forehead with the angry red scars on the little girl's face, scars the little girl has to go out into public with every day. These type experiences will bring her down to size, so to speak, and help her start to see things from a heavenly perspective, not just the perspective of a super up-close camera lens.

You wrote that she could be whoever people want her to be, and taking on different personas is what she's been accustomed to doing because she's been modeling for so long. You wrote, "She has no idea who she really is inside, other than this beautiful shell." The first thing that came to mind for her character arc was some sort of alteration to that beautiful shell. That might be the only way God can get her attention. If her body has become her idol, than God won't stand for that. You might want to chew on how to get her attention in this manner. While i think interactions with less-than-"beautiful" people will soften her, someone that entrenched in the modeling culture might need a bit more to wake them up. It would be heartbreaking, of course, if something happened to her, but it wouldn't have to be a car accident or the like. It could be a melanoma scare that causes her to have to get surgery to remove a prized mole (her signature mole, like Cindy Crawford or something).

Just throwing out a few ideas, but I think I've hit the highlights of some of the issues she'd be dealing with. Once she gets back to the smaller town, I imagine she'd still try to play her "role," kind of like how Reese Witherspoon was when she went back home in Sweet Home, Alabama. Clearly, she wasn't suppose to drink like a fish in the town bar, or enjoy planting lighting rods in the sand, or any of those hillbilly hick things she used to do. But the true person was underneath...she just needed the proper motivation to let those true colors shine through...and nothing can be more motivating than a good man. :)

If I missed something, let me know. I'm happy to assess further. You know how to reach me.

If you haven't entered for a chance to win Roseanna White's A Stray Drop of Blood, the contest is still going on. Just click here to read my review and leave a comment with your email address to be entered in the giveaway!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Roseanna White's A Stray Drop of Blood Review and Giveaway!

With Easter fast approaching, I thought it a great time to review Roseanna White's A Stray Drop of Blood. After reading the blurb on this book, I requested to be one of her's influencers. Read on and be intrigued:

Beautiful is a dangerous thing to be when one is unprotected.

For seven years, Abigail has been a slave in the Visibullis house. With a Hebrew mistress and a Roman master, she has always been more family than servant . . . until their son returns to Jerusalem after his years in Rome. Within a few months Jason has taken her to his bed and turned her world upsidedown. Maybe, given time, she can come to love him as he says he loves her. But how does she open her heart to the man who ruined her?

Israel's unrest finds a home in her bosom, but their rebellion tears apart her world. Death descends with Barabbas's sword, and Abigail is determined to be there when the criminal is punished. But when she ventures to the trial, Barabbas is not the one the crowd calls to crucify. Instead, it is the teacher her master and Jason had begun to follow, the man from Nazareth that some call the Son of God...

Born free, made a slave, married out of her bonds, Abigail never knows freedom until she feels the fire of a stray drop of blood from a Jewish carpenter. Disowned by Israel, despised by Rome, desired by all, she never knows love until she receives the smile of a stoic Roman noble.

Roseanna's book broached a niggling question I always had regarding Hadassah and Marcus, characters from Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series: What if Marcus hadn't stopped with just heart-pounding kisses?

I got swept up in this story. I mean, goose-bumps-chills-and-shivers swept up. Roseanna's approach to developing the character of young Abigail was so well done that I felt along with Abigail her shame, desire, shock, hope, betrayal, and happiness.

As a bonus, I got transported back to Jesus' time, and it was hard to shut the book and have to remind myself that what I was reading didn't happen. It was just all so feasible and plausible and was like getting a sideways glimpse into the gospel stories from people who were there. Barabbas' uprising, the crucifixion, the Day of Pentecost...A Stray Drop of Blood got me to thinking about these historic events in a different way.

What about the people who had to deal with the grief Barabbas inflicted upon their families as his group of rebels wreaked havoc upon Jerusalem? What about the guard who had the job of leading Jesus up the path to Golgotha? Or the friends of the man whose son Jesus healed, causing him to run and jump after years of lameness? We tend to read the Bible in a vacuum, I think, and we forget that people back then were just like we are now--curious, disbelieving, outraged, debauched, considerate--they just wore different clothes from us and didn't update their facebook and twitter accounts regularly.

Donning the therapist hat, there were several things Roseanna dealt with in her biblical fiction that are so pertinent to people today, as well. First and probably foremost is rape. Let's just address it. It happened back then, so why not? As a slave--with little to no rights at all--Abigail was forced to do something she didn't want to do. She had to go through the same feelings and thoughts rape victims go through today, and she had to do it all under watchful eyes as she was to still perform her duties and never to say a word to anyone. As a result, Jason isn't my favorite character. He was the quintessential victimizer, using force and manipulation, but he has a redemption story that's worth reading.

The second thing dealt with is harassment. The opening line on the back of the book says it all: Beautiful is a dangerous thing to be when one is unprotected. Abigail garners attention no matter where she goes, most of it unwanted. She had to step lightly, and even that didn't always work.

Roseanna incorporated feelings of being ostracized and forsaken, as well. Most everyone can relate to feeling this way at some point or another. Abigail's entrance to the story is thick with abandonment. How could God have let what happened to her happen? Why her? Even when she marries out of her station, she then faces another type of exclusion: being above her station in life in name only. People still saw her as a slave.

And Abigail wasn't the only one to feel this way. Cleopas, her father-figure, experiences his own rejection, although of a much different kind. I hadn't stopped to consider how a Gentile might feel about Jesus' teachings. Everyone knew that the Jews were God's chosen people. How might a Roman soldier, who tried to live by the Mosaic law, feel about this favoritism? How second-rate they must have felt...until Jesus came and preached to the Gentiles! How freeing and unburdening this must have been for those that fell into that camp of Gentile God-fearers!

Last, Roseanna plunges her characters deep into the throes of grief and trauma. People die, and when they do, survivors grieve. It's natural. Having Abigail present at the crucifixion commanded a large turning point of the story. And with Easter around the corner, it helped me to see Jesus' death and resurrection in a new light. People do bond during traumatic encounters, and this is portrayed very realistically while at the same time spinning the story around to a new, necessary direction. They also do things out of character and perhaps even stupid and dangerous. If you read this book, you'll experience the depths of the characters' emotion yourself, so I need not say more.

Thanks, Roseanna, for such a great read. Losing yourself between the pages of a book is so wonderful. :)

For those of you who would like to win a copy of this book:

If you aren't already a follower, please click on the "Follow" button to the right and then leave a comment with your email address to be entered. If you already are a follower, then just leave a comment (and email address) to be entered. Winner will be drawn and announced on Palm Sunday (28th).

***This book was given to me free of charge from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.***

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

T3 - "Over-Indulger" Parenting Style

In the next to last week of looking at parenting styles, we'll focus on the Over-Indulger. This style is the less severe than the Avoider style, but it's still imbalanced toward the Under-Controlling side.

An Over-Indulger is like an Avoider in that they don't set limits either, but it's not because they don't care. They just don't want to make their child unhappy. Over-Indulgers generally fall into the Golden Retriever/Phlegmatic category. (You can read about them here.) They are tender and kind, understanding and sensitive. Often they avoid conflict at whatever the cost, and for them as parents, this means they give up their own rights to make others happy and keep the peace.

What does an Over-Indulger believe? They believe that children should have a happy childhood, free from negative experiences (even if these experiences could offer valuable lessons). Children should be carefree. These parents are so in tune with what their children need that they give in or give undue service, thinking that happy children are more likely to cooperate more.

How does an Over-Indulger discipline? By spending much of their time on their hands and knees...literally. The quintessential server, they give of their time and energy to their children so much so that their own rights and needs go unfulfilled. They take on many responsibilities and wear many hats--cooks, maids, tutors, financiers, cab drivers--and doormats. They come to their child's rescue entirely too much, protecting them from even what would be considered a healthy hardship, or one that will help them grow and mature or learn something about life or themselves. They want to prevent problems from happening and children from feeling disappointment. So they might drop everything to bring a forgotten lunch to school, or make an extra stop by the grocery store late at night to buy a certain brand cereal, because their child can't start their day without a bowl of that cereal every morning.

While the actions of a Micromanager and an Over-Indulger are similar, the motivations behind them are extremely different. Micromanagers are overly involved so they can control the situation or the child to look like good parents. Over-Indulgers are overly involved so they can protect children and serve their children's whims.

If your hero or heroine had a parent like this, how might they end up as an adult? Let's take a look at some possibilities:

1) Tendency to be self-centered.

These children are led to believe their whole lives that the world revolves around them...and their world did because mommy and daddy saw to it. Spoiled is another way to word this potential flaw. They expect success because they always had success, but they aren't willing to really work for it because it was handed to them on silver platters. This may lead to feeling powerful, because they think they can take advantage of others like they did with their parents. But when it doesn't work out for them in the real world, they'll have trouble coping.

2) Lean toward manipulation to get their way.

These children had it made. They knew exactly what button to push on their Over-Indulger parent to get them to jump and perhaps even say, "How high?" on the way up. They know how to get a parent to give in or give up. As a result, they don't really learn respect or how to be grateful. In fact, they may be ungrateful and demanding, which is shocking to the parents, I assure you. So these children grow up thinking the way to get what they want in life is to do the exact same thing to other people...and quite honestly, might not see anything wrong with it.

3) Can be a drifter of sorts.

As adults, children with this type parent might have problems operating within the limits of a job. Rules, authority figures, and responsibilities are basically new to them. They were the authority figure in their home and they had no real rules or responsbilities. So how are they to function out in the real world? The answer is that they might not be able to. They might go from job to job, searching out the "perfect job" that will allow them to do what they've been accustomed to doing.

4) Might boomerang back home a lot.

When things don't work out (like in #3), they'll come back home because they can't support themselves. Of course, the Over-Indulger welcomes them right back home, offering to do their laundry and make their bed for them. The adult child sighs comfortably, as this is the standard of living they are accustomed to. (Think Matthew McConaughey in Failure to Launch. Perfect example.) The parent feels needed, and the child feels in control.

Next week, we'll look at a brief history of parenting trends before finishing up with the Balanced Parenting Style, a.k.a., Perfect Parent (in theory).

Q4U: Any other series you'd like to see featured on The Character Therapist? I'd love to help out and answer some of those burning questions you might have!

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* A lot of the information in this series will be derived from Jody Johnston Powel's book, The Parent's Toolshop. Quite a bit is also from my own clinical experiences and opinions.*

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Over-Critical Parent

This week's assessment is for T. Ruby Johnson, who's working on a contemporary category romance. Her heroine, Sonya*, was raised by a very loving, but critical woman. Ruby's debating on what role her father played, or if Sonya even knew one. Sonya is extremely shy, very self-conscious, and full of insecurities. Her boss is in love with her, but she can't accept that anyone would be interested in her. Sonya is a very dedicated Christian, but not completely free.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Rubywants to know: If Sonya's controlling mother is the cause of Sonya's insecurity, what would that look like? What would finally open Sonya's eyes to the truth or change her mind that it is possible for someone to love her? Also, would it be realistic for her to open up and even joke with the man she adores when it is just the two of them?

Great questions, Tammy. I'll just dive right in. If you're going to have Sonya's insecurity be a direct result of her critical mother, then the critical nature of their interactions during her childhood will have to be fairly harsh. Going on the excerpt you sent, the mother criticizing Sonya for not making her bed would be incredibly mild.

The focus of the mother's criticism would have to be Sonya herself. Some choice words that Sonya could remember when she sees her boss would only solidify in her mind that he couldn't possibly be interested in her. For example, she might question her clothes matching (blue doesn't go with green) or her style (mother told her to never wear silver with linen or some other such nonsense), or her usage of makeup (too much, too little, wrong colors).

If she doesn't criticize her on her looks or clothes, then on her actions. Based on your excerpt, it looks like you've gotten a start on this. Nothing Sonya does would have been good enough, perhaps, even when it comes to making the bed. So it stands to reason in her mind that a guy wouldn't be interested in someone with her because her internal mantra would be, "I'm not good enough." She's inferior.

What I suggest you add in is her father. A girl's view of her father is very important in how she grows up to view men. Let's say her father was a perfectionist, or very concerned with appearances. If this was the case, then her father would be a convenient reason to give the mother motivation to be so critical. Perhaps the mother was only trying to live up to the father's expectations, and found herself always lacking, so she displaced that disappointment into criticizing her daughter. But adding her father would really add some great backstory, in my personal opinion.

What could open her up to the possibility that someone could be interested in her? Gosh, I don't know. If you're wanting something external to happen, the sky's the limit. How about a nice, long kiss out of left field? I'm such a romantic, though. You could still have her rationalize the kiss off as a "slip," or that he was simply being polite. Or a heartfelt letter or declaration of love? If you want something internal to change for Sonya, that will take a bit more effort.

You could have Sonya come to the realization that not everything her mom said was true. This would take the Lord working in her life, of course. Jesus looks on everyone of his creations as being perfectly made in his image. So even if she doesn't match, or coordinate, or iron all the wrinkles out of everything...he still loves her. You might consider this as her spiritual/faith journey...coming to the conclusion that living up to her mother's expectations isn't nearly as important as living up to Christ's expectations.

I think it would be in keeping with her character to have her joke with her boss, in particular if she makes herself the butt of the joke. You wrote that you have her locked in a storage closet with him with soup spilled on her skirt and she jokes about wearing her soup well. That's a great example of the type of semi-awkward joke she might have, which in essence just puts herself down. Look at how she can't even eat soup without getting it all over her. She must be damaged in some way to not accomplish this simple feat. She might also open up to her boss because of her firm belief that he couldn't be interested in her. That might make him "safe" to disclose things to.

I had a client who had a mother who was as critical as you have made Sonya's. Everything was up for grabs: grades, clothes, friends, chores, food, make-up. My client thought if she could just do a little more, be a little "better," then she could earn her mother's love more. You wrote that Sonya's mother was very loving, but my guess is that Sonya might not feel that love due to the nature of their relationship It also might be that her mother didn't know how to share her love any other way. I believe my client's mother was critical simply because she wanted her daughter to live a better life than she had. If my client could maintain a certain look, a certain grade point average, a certain weight, then life would just come easier for her. That motive is out of love, but it doesn't seem very loving. Some of the things this girl's mother said to her have stayed with her forever. I imagine it'd be the same for Sonya.

So whether you want her internal mantra to be "I'm not good enough," or something else, I'd think about that question long and hard. What do you want Sonya's driving motivation to be when she puts herself down by thinking her boss could never be interested in her? What's the nagging little voice inside her head saying constantly about her? What's that core truth? Make her internal/external motivation solid enough so that the reader will stay with you as she goes through romantic encounter after romantic encounter essentially being a blind dolt. :)

I'm afraid I didn't get around to the boss...that'll have to be in another post. Send me some more on him and I'd be happy to help. Hope this got you thinking about where you want to go with Sonya.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Q4U: Any of you have critical parents in your books? You might want to take a look at the series I'm doing right now on parenting styles, in particular, click here for the Micromanager style. Sounds like Sonya's mom fits perfectly in that category.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

T3 - "Avoider" Parenting Style

This weeks marks the turn from looking at "Over-Controlling" parents to "Under-Controlling" parents. Also called permissive parents, these parents are the polar opposite of their imbalanced counterparts.

As you can see from the diagram, there are two types of Under-Controllers, the Avoider being the most severe (thus at the bottom on the scale) and the Over-Indulger. Though these parents aren't harsh or critical, that doesn't mean there aren't drawbacks associated with each style.

(For a peek at the Power Patrols, click here. For Micromanagers, click here. If you missed taking the quiz to determine what style parent your character is or has, click here.)

Avoiders are the type parent that doesn't do enough for their child. These are the parents who aren't physically or emotionally available for their child, and probably the parents Child Welfare gets calls on for being neglectful. They don't supervise their child, teach their child, discipline or even set limits for their child, and they certainly don't bother with correcting their child. That's just it...they don't want to be bothered with their child. Eventually one might wonder why an Avoider even had a child in the first place, as they are clearly a nuisance.

Avoiders are more than likely going to be your sanguine Otters. (Click here for more info on Otter personality types.) They are easy-going, friendly and engaging. They avoid responsibility and commitments, though, because they like to just laze around. They have a hard time following through, and will break promises at the last minute (yes, to their children, too).

What do Avoiders believe? The believe that their children will eventually "get" what's expected of them just from trial and error. They'll learn not to mix colors when washing their clothes on their own...after that first batch of pink t-shirts come out. They also believe that children shouldn't inconvenience parents.

How does an Avoider discipline? To say that they don't would be accurate. To them, a child's negative behavior will just magically go away if they ignore it or pretend the child just doesn't exist. They have a hands-off approach to parenting. A child can run wild as long as the parent isn't inconvenienced.

If a child grows up with an Avoider for a parent, there are some potentially bad long-term effects. Does your hero or heroine have any of the following tendencies?

1) Tendency to be impulsive.

Children of Avoiders are left alone so much of the time that, being left to their own devices, they often default to being bored. This boredom can lead to poor decision-making. Since their parents never took the time to really explain the reasoning behind why not to do something, these children don't learn from their mistakes.

2) Poor sense of self-worth.

How would you feel if your parents never really took time to be with you? That you weren't worth their time or effort. This would lend itself to probably the biggest personal challenge to overcome in adulthood.

3) Tendency to deny responsibility.

These children pick up on how their parents do things, and eventually, denying responsibility for the things in their lives will become like second nature to them. It's what mom and dad always did, so why wouldn't it work for them? They'll make excuses for their inaction or irresponsibility, and you might frequently hear from them that "I'm too busy," or "I don't feel like it."

4) Bent toward sloppiness.

Let's face it...if your parents aren't on your case to clean your room, make your bed, and fold the towels, you probably won't. A lifetime of not being made to do anything makes it difficult to go into adulthood where expectations are made. What would happen if you had a child of an Avoider who never does dishes marry a neat freak? Yikes! (But good to think about for your WIP as far as tension!)

5) Reckless seeking of attention.

Since I mentioned in #2 that these children are most likely going to have low self-worth, I thought I'd mention a consequence that would come as a result of that, and that's seeking attention any way you can find it. For girls, the consequences of this might be far more dangerous, but both men and women can get in "trouble" when they are looking for it. This kind of goes along with #1 in that they make make impulsive decisions, but attention from any corner is better than no attention at all.

These are just some considerations for your manuscripts. These behaviors and habits wold be great vices for your characters to overcome. Keep in mind that when working in generalities, some stereotype descriptions/outcomes might be prevalent.

Q4U: Any of you have a character with a parent who really didn't want anything to do with them? How did you portray that character? Seeking attention? Irresponsible? Impulsive? Or something else? Please share!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Teen Bonds with Lasting Impact

Today's assessment is for Raquel. She's writing a contemporary romantic suspense about Rainey* a woman with a traumatic past. Beaten and abandoned at a bus station at 8, she awakes from a coma with amnesia. She enters the foster care system and is disappointed by an almost-adoption before going into a locked-down high school where she truly doesn't belong and gets picked on. But one troubled boy, Tate*, befriends and her protects her in the tough school, actually killing one of Rainey's bullies in self-defense, which brings about their separation when Tate leaves the school.

6 years later, she's handing out blankets to the homeless at the start of the book and encounters a hurt man in an alley. She discovers that it's Tate, and she gets him to the hospital. Turns out Tate's a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent working a case in San Diego, where she lives. Eventually they work on a case together because the drug ring he's after is operating through free clinics like the one Rainey runs for runaways.

Through her clinic being burned down by a thug, the DEA wanting her to help Tate with a sting, and being abducted by gang members, Rainey questions her faith and her purpose. She's not sure if God has abandoned her or if she's supposed to be reaching out to the hurt and lost on the streets.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Raquel wants to know: How would Rainey react to a returning love interest? How would the increasing danger and trouble affect her since she'd been in a similar situation as a kid? Would her faith be renewed...would she become bitter? Would she be reactive, or proactive? Would she be whole, or still be searching for the parents that hurt and abandoned her? Would that still be a major issue with her?

I think you are definitely asking the right questions to get to the inner workings of Rainey's psyche. I'd say you're on a roll, actually.

Many people come from a past far more tragic than Rainey's. Her background, while sad and definitely dreadful, wouldn't be enough to hold a strong-willed woman back. She could have all sorts of diagnoses from the events of her past, most likely post-traumatic stress disorder. She could also have an Acute Stress Disorder (which usually only lasts a few on it to read more) from any of the things you mention happen to her 6 years later, like getting abducted by gang members.

You've written in a "returning love interest," and that makes things interesting. The bonds and attachments we form in high school are perhaps some of the strongest in our memory. Especially the bonds that ended abruptly and left little closure. We can probably all recall a painful breakup with someone we thought we were "in love" with and find ourselves wondering where that person is now.

Tate represents that sort of bond for Rainey. Him showing back up is going to be pretty huge for her, especially if you don't have her already attached to some other guy. They'll be drawn to each other, the bond will be tentative at first, as if remembering the painful separation, but eventually, they'll slip back into the comfort of having known each other so well. That attachment can strengthen Rainey as she goes through all these calamities, since she'll be going through it "with" Tate (and likely, as a direct result of her even knowing Tate). That's really going to seal that bond.

I think if you play up the intense emotional whirlwind Tate's cropping up will put her through, I think you can get away with her moving from one misfortune to the other without being the shell-shocked victim. People react differently when they're in love. They can scale mountains, fight bad guys, put on a brave name it. Case in point:

In the movie M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, Ivy Walker is in love with Lucius Hunt. So when he's stabbed, she sets out through Covington Woods to go get medicines for him from the towns. What happens to this blind girl with love on her side? Her escorts bail on her, she nearly falls into a mud pit, her cape made of the safe color yellow is now completely brown, she is chased by one of the Those We Don't Speak Of creatures, manages to kill it by sidestepping just in time for it to careen to the mud pit, then she runs headfirst into a fence that she then proceeds to climb...blind, I might get to a road where she encounters a man she doesn't know who thinks she's a little loco, gets the medicine, and then is on her merry little way like, "Oh, all in a day's work." But Ivy Walker pre-Lucius would have scoffed at setting one toe into Covington Woods.

So, even if you don't want the love interest to blossom too soon, the reader will follow along (in my humble opinion) if you give them enough sizzling expectation before all the stuff starts really happening. Don't underestimate Rainey's desire to help Tate with his job. Perhaps you'll need to up the stakes for Tate so that ups the stakes for him wanting Rainey to help. Maybe he needs to be up for promotion, or the drug ring has something to do with one of his own family members. I think Rainey would give life and limb to help him (after the initial awkward phase of "why did you leave me to deal with the fall-out of you murdering that boy all alone?" of course)...because Tate gave the same thing to help her so many years ago.

Which brings me to that event when she was in high school. You wrote that Tate killed the boy in self-defense. What if it was in defense of Rainey? Perhaps that's what you were implying, but I took it as the other boy came at Tate instead of Tate really saving Rainey from harm's way. But if you make the backstory more involved, that would increase Rainey's feelings of needing to repay the one act of kindness she was really shown her whole life. I think she'd be proactive for sure if this was the case, not reactive. Make sense?

You make the call on the parent issue. She was beaten and abandoned, and you said she didn't remember where she was or who she was, even. So you can make that a major side story for her (because it would be), or leave it alone if you feel you've got enough going on in the book. I don't think a reader would question her not trying to search for her parents. After all...look what they did to her. Maybe she'll visit the woman's grave who almost adopted her a few times, grieving for the lost family she could have had.

If you go this route, I'd think Rainey would be a very lonely young woman, maybe not depressed, but searching. Maybe she throws herself into the dangerous street work because she doesn't have anything to lose...not even a cat or goldfish. She could even be reckless at times, going where others don't dare go (maybe that's where she finds Tate). She doesn't have anything grounding her, holding her back. But Tate could change all that.

About her faith...that's so individual, it's a hard call. Some people are strengthened and upheld in their faith through trials. Others are brought low, and need assistance to set themselves upright again. The answer for this question might be found in Tate. Do you plan on him being a Christian? Saved from his wayward youth? Or is he bitter and disgruntled, maybe poking fun at her wavering faith? I think these questions will help you consider how to handle her faith response to all the crises.

Long, I know, but hopefully this has given you something to chew on. It was a rather complex (but intriguing!) situation you set up, with multiple questions that I did my best to touch on all of them. If I missed some burning question, or a new one cropped up, drop me a comment in the section comment and I'll do what I can to help. Thanks for writing in!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Q4U: Do you ever struggle between making a character devout in their faith or struggling? What pushes you over the edge to decide on either path?

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Jennifer AlLee's The Pastor's Wife

Jennifer AlLee's newest page turner, The Pastor's Wife, released in February 2010. I had the privilege of receiving an advanced ebook copy courtesy of Jen to read and review.

Here's a bit about the book from Jen's website:

Maura Sullivan thought she knew what she was getting into when she married soon-to-be pastor Nick Shepherd. But when “the other woman” in her marriage turned out to be her husband's congregation, she ran. Six years later, she’s back in the small community of Granger, Ohio, for the reading of a will that names both her and Nick as beneficiaries. Now Maura must face the husband – and the congregation – she left behind.

Loved, loved, loved this book...and I'll tell you why. Jen shows how important communication really is. (And the biggest reasons why people get divorced really are sex, money, and communication.)

Married people can look at the same event so differently, and this book points that out beautifully. As a therapist who deals with couples who are contemplating separation or divorce, I could see how Jen's book could be such a ray of hope for them, especially if they know the Lord. God calls out to people, if they keep their hearts open to listening to him. Even insurmountable obstacles, from heavy inner secrets to heavy outward responsibilities, can be overcome.

One of my favorite passages Jen wrote from Maura's point of view. Maura's recalling how her husband had been a recipient of the "laying on of hands" that some churches do as a visible sign of approval and acceptance to a new minister. (My church does this when a new minister is ordained.) In the lives of most people, ordination is such a blessing, seen as a positive career step and even viewed by some as a watershed moment. But for not the case. Instead of seeing the hands as bestowing blessing, she saw them as reaching out and pulling him away from her. Wouldn't Nick have been surprised to know that?

Which leads to my conclusion. Communication is key for couples at all stages in their marriage. Keeping secrets, harboring grudges, and letting things "slide" unattended doesn't do anyone any favors. In fact, it only instills bitterness in the secret-keeper and grudge-holder. Jennifer shows how healing true, unadulterated communication can be.

Marriage is tough. Being married and being in the ministry can be even tougher. I'd recommend this book to all couples, but especially those in the ministry who have to face additional challenges unique to them. Pastors, while put on pedestals by congregation members, face the same troubles everyone does. Thanks for shedding light on these situations, Jen.

If you know a couple in the ministry who might be facing similar struggles, get them this book as a favor to them to show how much you care. You can find it at Amazon,, and Cokesbury.

You can also find Jen at her website, personal blog, group blog, twitter, and facebook.

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