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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Mutism

Ruth Ann wrote in asking about her character, a 5-year-old girl who goes mute after the trauma of losing her family in a carjacking. Since they were killed, she's now living with a foster mother. She had a brother who was also in the car who is now missing, as well, but no one realizes it.

Ruth Ann wants to know the following:

1) How long would her mutism last?
2) Would it be realistic for her to talk to her dog but not to people?
3) Would an upset such as the destruction of a cache of sweets she was hiding for her brother shock her into speaking again?

I did a post here on selective mutism back in May. Difference in that assessment and this one is that Ruth Ann brings up the additional question of what might get a child to talk again.

That's something I wanted to tackle so all you writers out there can know the answer as well!

One of the things I found out when doing my research is that most children with selective mutism (SM) actually don't experience trauma as described above. That's not to say that children can't develop SM after a trauma (because they can, it's called traumatic mutism), but that's become something of a stereotype in fiction, I'm afraid.

But you're in a unique position with your character, Ruth Ann, because (1) you've got her at the perfect age to develop this disorder and (2) you can go back and quickly add in some of the other common precipitating traits found in children with SM (found at this website), such as:

1) You could give her relationship with her mother one that was overprotective. Perhaps her mother (who dies) was prone to anxiety or depression. There is a high correlation of children developing SM who have a mother like this.

2) You could write in a familial history of developmental delays or speech and language disorders in this little girls' family. There is more of a chance that a child already slightly behind in language will develop SM upon the age of entering school....which is definitely an anxiety factor, as well.

3) If the girl had an anxious temperance, like being shy, worried, socially avoidant, fearful, withdrawal socially, and clingy, then this would also be in line with developing SM.

4) Give a first degree relative a history of social phobia (like her bio mom or dad). The statistic I found was that 70% of children with SM have a first degree relative with a history of a social phobia and 30% have a first degree relative with a history of SM.

5) Over 90% of children with SM also meet the criteria for social phobia, so I'd think about adding a little descriptive ways to make the child more anxious than "normal." For ideas on what social phobia looks like, click here.

Some other things to think about: SM children generally still feel comfortable talking at home. But since this little girl's home life hot majorly overhauled, I can see how she might not feel comfortable talking there. SM children have been known to talk to a sibling at home but not talk to them at school. Generally SM is confined to school or social settings. I can also see how it might be realistic for the girl to talk to her dog, which in her case would be all the comforting loved one she has left. However, it would be highly unlikely for her to talk to this dog in front of other people. (Maybe you can have her foster mother overhear her? You can work that out.)

As for how long she would stay mute....DSM says anywhere from a few months to a few years. Symptoms can usually resolve on their own without treatment in a few weeks or months. There are medications that can help (in particular Fluoxetine).

I looked for some precedent for a child beginning to speak after being selectively mute that might match the scenario you've got in your head, but I couldn't find one. I suppose you can take artistic license and have her speak when the sweets are destroyed. She'll speak when she's good and ready and when she feels comfortable doing so. Perhaps she gets so fired up about the candy that it sparks her to speak or yell or something. I mean, most children with SM do reach full speech recovery. They had to speak some time about something at some point! Maybe that will be encouraging to you. :) Sorry I couldn't find more that might help out on this point.

Thanks for writing in, Ruth Ann. Hope this helps!

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

T3 - Parentification


Parentification is a role reversal between parent and child. The child's needs of comfort, guidance and attention are sacrificed to meet the parent's physical and emotional needs.

There are two types of parentification:

1) Emotional

A child is robbed of a childhood when they have to meet the emotional or psychological needs their parent. Parents sometimes talk to their children as if they are therapists, best friends, or confidants. Even worse is when a parent takes advantage of their child by treating them as a surrogate spouse or significant other. Sometimes this is called emotional incest, and it happens with the child who is the opposite sex of the parent.

2) Physical

Sometimes called instrumental parentification, this is when the child takes up the role of meeting the physical needs of the parent or family. This could include cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, paying bills, getting younger siblings ready for school, helping with homework, giving out medications, and much more. It's not the same as giving a child assigned chores to complete. It's dysfunctional in that the duties are beyond the age-appropriate level for that child, leaving them little/no time to engage in normal childhood activities like playing, going to school, developing peer friendships, and sleeping.


Children learn about their world through experience. They go through developmental milestones each year which allow them to be self-sufficient adults. When they are in a home with responsible parents, they are free to explore their environment and not worry about making mistakes because they have their parents as safety nets.

A parentified child has no such freedom. They are stifled, unable to explore for fear of making mistakes, and they can't afford to make mistakes! They become isolated from their peers and may associate with individuals who are older, putting them at risk of being manipulated or used by older people. They carry an enormous burden which is unhealthy and overwhelming. It's emotional abuse with damaging effects.


What type of parents do parentified children likely have? Usually if there is any kind of drug or alcohol abuse, the child can try to take care of their parent. Stealing their keys so the parent doesn't drive drunk, hiding alcohol or pills so they can't be found...that type thing. If a parent is absent and there are multiple children, the oldest will generally be parentified, stepping in to take care of the younger by doing laundry, learning to cook, making school lunches, etc. Parents with personality disorders or severe mental illness are also prone to parentifying their children. It varies from situation to situation, but rarely (if ever) would you find a parentified child with a perfectly "normal" parent.


There are many. I'll stick to a few main ones below.

1) Rocky relationships as adults - in general, a parentified child has difficulties forming relationships as an adult. Many marriages and friendships fail as adults. Sometimes when a child isn't allowed to act like a child when he/she is a child, they start to act like a child when they grow up. Their partner might think them irresponsible or immature, as if they are sowing wild oats not sown before.

2) Anger - can be explosive or passive. They may not know why they are angry, but find themselves lashing out at people they care about. They can harbor lingering resentment at their parent, long after the parent has died or been incarcerated or institutionalized. Eventually the child will grow up and realize they had no childhood, and they'll never get that time back.

3) Perfectionism - mentioned above, but a parentified child had to live up to high expectations, not only of their incompetent parent, but also of themselves. What child doesn't want to please their parent, to take care of them if need be? As children they believed that their power was unlimited. Rescuing their mom or dad required doing everything just right, and if they failed, they berate themselves and think it's their fault. They do this into adulthood.

4) Control freak - being robbed of any other way of living except being in control, a parentified child might automatically default to being in control (if they don't swing in the other direction), and might react badly when a situation goes beyond their control or they feel their control is being threatened.


Parentified children make excellent grown-up heroes and heroines of books. It's not as much fun to read about the active parentification of a child. It's sad, actually. But once they've grown up, you've got a lot you could deal with for their character arc. You can include some flashbacks to when the child was actively trading their needs to meet their parent's needs, and it could shed so much light onto why they are they way they are at the present time. Peel the layers back of the parentified child when including backstory, though. Just a little bit at a time so the reader doesn't get socked with it all at once in a backstory dump. What these children go through can be intense, and it's a great way to soften a hard-nosed hero or make the reader empathetic to your type-A heroine.

You're reading this Thursday Therapeutic Thought on parentification because Shannon left a comment on this post requesting one! If you have any ideas of a topic you'd want me to cover, let me know!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - When All is Not as it Seems

This week's assessment comes from Shannon. She's writing a historical fantasy about Justin*, who grew up in Rosentia Manor, a manor house where some really strange stuff happens. He thought his father killed his mother, but found out later she was an adoptive mother. His real father had felt unable to protect his son and sought to "hide" him as the son of a woman who had given birth to a newborn. Justin witnesses who he thought was his dad kill his adoptive mother and he was adopted by the nurse. She later tries to kill him when he was 12 because she thought he was a monster.

Justin flees the house with friends to a far-away city and becomes the makeshift leader of his group. Justin spent time with monks before being kidnapped by a cult at 13. At 14, he's a bit of a control freak about his emotions for fear he'll lose everything. He's also very manipulating with great charisma. He ends up being sheltered by the Rosentia family he originally loathed: his real father, who is self-hating, verbally abusive, vicious when drunk, and a former drug abuser and sexually abused teenager; his uncle, who is stern, emotionally flat, and kinda turns into a wolfman when angry; and his real mother, who is his father's closest servant pretending to be a traumatized mute because she's from a noble house who are the enemies of the Rosentias.

Shanon wants to know: What sort of issues will Justin have during his teenage years?

You've got so much going on here that it was a bit difficult to make head or tails of it, but I'll just start with the most important thing first.

This is not the first plot I've read about that features a hero or heroine who grew up thinking one thing about his parents and learning later in life that it was all a lie. What's even more disturbing is that I've met and counseled a young woman who was in the same situation, and the effects are utterly devastating.

Think of the tired cliche of pulling the rug out from under someone's feet. They fall, sputter, injure themselves. Well, Justin would be doing all of these things, but in emotional and behavioral terms instead of physical ailments.

The young girl I'm thinking of was around 12 when she found out her sister was actually her mother, and that who she thought was her mother was actually her grandmother. This young girl spun out of control and ended up hitting the streets, unable to come to terms with the different reality she was presented with. She was physically volatile, unable to control her emotions, and mentally unstable. (But that's not to say everyone presented with something similar would turn out the same. If there's one thing I overly caution about on this blog it's that people are individuals, and formulas don't really work in the mental health field. It's not an exact science.)

Justin would feel no security being in the presence of his real family. Likely he'd feel let down, disappointed, resentful, angry, and possibly even in denial. Depending on how you're going to make him take on the Rosentia curse, Justin would likely react against any characteristic or part of himself that would define him as part of that family or align him with them. Teens are rebellious by nature, and his earlier hurt of finding out all was not as it seems would carry on through his teenage years like a burning torch. But if the curse is drastic enough, one during which he'll need the guiding hand of his father to help him through it, that could nicely overcome the resistance Justin feels.

I'm reminded of the show True Blood on HBO, because I love that show. Sam Merlotte is a shapeshifter (look at is like Justin's curse) and he found out at 15 that he could turn into animals at the full moon. He had no one to guide him into this discovery because he was given up for adoption by his shapeshifter mother, and later, when presented with the chance to meet his mother, grabs it, longing to have connection yet still resentful that he had to learn who and what he was by himself. Justin could very well be like Sam, feeling both of those diametrically opposed feelings like two sides of a coin.

You've also mentioned that Justin lived with monks for a while and gets kidnapped by a cult, but you didn't go into detail. Both of those events could be life-altering for a young preteen. Since you kind of glossed over it in the sketch, I'll gloss over it here, but depending on what happens to him under both circumstances, he could potentially carry that well into his teenage (and adult) years, particularly if there was any kind of abuse, either of the legalistic emotional kind (stereotypically would come from the monks) or physical/sexual/emotional kind (stereotypically from the cult).

If more clarification is needed, just send me some more info in the comment section to work with and I'll do my best. Good luck!

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, June 21, 2010

Author Poll: Therapeutic Edits

I'm toying around with this idea of offering therapeutic editing services through my blog and wanted to see what, if anything, people thought about it.

I've offered edits of this sort to contest winners as a prize, and I've gotten really good feedback from those winning authors. I use track changes and make thoughtful comments about character consistency, plot feasibility, and personality traits as well as did the usual line editing stuff (I was a journalism and psychology double major in undergrad).

This service would be for synopses, first 3 chapters, full length name it, it would be game.

So I'm asking if this is something authors would be interested, and if so, would charging a fee be reasonable? How much? Ludicrous? Genius?

I'm trying to get some perspectives on whether to offer this service or not, so if you could weigh in below in the comment section, I'd really appreciate it. You can just vote yay or nay or if you have some idea to add, feel free! I'm not married to this idea, so no feelings will be hurt. :)

Thanks, and happy Monday!

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

T3 - Five Payoffs of Anger...Or Not

Why does your character holds on to his or her anger?

There are several reasons, so as you read through, try to pinpoint the ultimate motivation behind your character's.

1) Anger reduces stress. Everyone has stress, and no one person's stress is the same. But everyone's stress creates a physiological arousal in the body that is felt as tension. The more stress the person has, the more tension.

The payoff is that a person can blow up and ease this tension temporarily. It's like they feel oddly relaxed, or that they can breath easier. Popping your top can be very reinforcing because the person can just take a break from everything that overwhelms them. Of course, the tension returns, and usually greater than it was before, which is why getting angry as a coping mechanism is ineffective.

2) Anger hides emotional pain. I did a post here on how anger is a secondary emotion. When a person gets angry, the payoff is not having to deal with that primary emotion, whether it's fear, guilt, shame, embarrassment, or jealousy.

The problem with this payoff is that the primary feeling will get worse when it's not dealt with. This means that a person will have to get angrier and angrier to eclipse that emotion. Using anger in this way also becomes habitual, and even the slightest hurt or criticism can set a person off. (For example, you're a little worried/paranoid about your partner not being as into you as you hoped. When you see the partner smile at another person while waiting in line at the grocery store, you pop your lid.)

3) Anger gets your attention. You can blow off steam by yelling and screaming, and some people will sit up and take notice. They might get alarmed and try to calm you down. But not everyone responds to angry people that way. Many will tune out a person an a tirade, or they will get defensive, start avoiding you, or hold a grudge against you. Plus, the people who do respond eventually become seasoned and hardened to the angry person. When at first they were alarmed and listening, later they get disgusted and resentful.

4) Anger can be used for punishment and revenge. When we're hurt or let down, it's human nature to want to inflict as good as we get. So we carefully plan out our revenge or we boil over unexpectedly in the moment, and it feels good. But the problem with acting on this impulse is that you make enemies...usually out of the very people you love the most, because so often it's those we care about who hurt us the most.

5) Anger helps you manipulate others. Anger can be used to extort things from others. The fear of a blow up can coerce someone into complying with a demand (often used by abusers). In the long run, these people will usually turn away from the angry person, because who wants to be controlled by fear?

What's not so often understood is that the angry person is in pain and is placing the responsibility to change that painful situation outside of themselves. This can leave the angry person feeling helpless when others don't "fix" their problems, which can lead to depression.

So why does your character revert to indulging in their anger? Is it one of these 5 reasons, or something else? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - A Hitman Hitwoman

This week features a science fiction/action character created by Angela. Her character is Alaura*, an orphan who witnessed her mother's violent murder when she was 4 or 5. At age 8, the orphanage caretaker began to engage her in molestation. He liked it rough and would get very angry if Alaura cried or showed signs of pain. Alaura endured for several years before she hid a knife in the sheets and murdered him. The other orphans helped cover up the crime and Alaura moved on to become a hitman for a criminal organization. She feels that nothing she does can make her any more "unclean" than she already is. She thinks she's damaged goods and irredeemable.

Interesting quirks about Alaura: she's fixated with blood: it's patterns, color, taste, and consistency. She can find enjoyment in killing if the victim is "bad" in her mind. She has masochistic (enjoyment of pain) tendencies which really flare up when she's hurt or wounded during fights. She also has recurring nightmares where a "demonic" version of herself attacks or comforts her. She mimics this version of herself by tattoos and body modifications.

Angela wants to know: Does it make sense for a character to have as many psychological fixations as Aurora does? Does her mentality as a survivor of abuse justify her criminal behavior?

From reading your detailed sketch, I don't think you've got too many psychological problems wrapped up in this character. You do, however, have some serious issues that you've given her.

Childhood abuse can lend itself to serious mental and physical consequences for the victim. It very well could make a person unstable enough to murder their abuser, as you've had Alaura do. I'd probably include a flashback scene to that murder (depending on when you start the story) and really show how her fixation on blood got started. Maybe she killed the guy and was fascinated at how the blood soaked into the sheets like kitchen yuck onto a Bounty towel in a commercial. His blood flowing out might have been freedom or power infusing her own veins. No doubt that was a critical moment in time for her development.

She'd feel justified in this kill since he was hurting her. This justification could for sure translate to other victims if they were "bad," but I'd never say that her mentality as a survivor of sexual abuse justifies her criminal behavior. That's a slippery slope I wouldn't want to get on. Nothing justifies murder. (Although I'm sure someone, somewhere would get into a debate over this.)

The part that has me concerned is how connected do you want the reader to be to this woman's plight? You've given her some characteristics that are disturbing, such as the fixation on blood, masochism, and enjoyment in killing. I can only assume with the enjoyment comes no feeling of remorse, and that's a scary trait found in most antisocial serial killers, psychopaths, etc.

You mentioned that you didn't want her to think she's redeemable, so she would figure, "What do I have to lose?" That's a different mindset from a psychopath, for sure, because they don't see the value in human life the way a normal person does. Alaura probably values human life, but her job is to take it, which leaves the reader wondering what need is being fed by her occupation to put her in such a quandary. There's dynamic tension there, but why?

Maybe a crucial question to ask would be how she got into the hitman business. Does she just have the stomach for it (with the whole blood fixation and thinking its cool)? Does she have a knack of going undercover to be what the victim needs her to be before offing them? (Kinda reminiscent of how she took it from the orphanage caretaker for so long before killing him.... learning not to cry out in pain, etc.) What's the ultimate reason behind her doing her job?

I'm reminded of the action movie Wanted with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. They were in a "fraternity of assassins" and they killed people whose name popped up in cloth (which is weird, but go with it). They ruthlessly killed, and felt no remorse, mainly because they believed in Fate. Fate would direct them to kill the right people, people who might go on in life to kill others. The good of the many versus the death of one. Something like that. They were able to kill because they believed they were doing the right thing (until it all blows up at the end and they come to find out that all of the assassins names had come up in the cloth, yada yada). If we thought they were just killing for the heck of it, we might not have appreciated the story as much. It would have just been a bunch of pointless gore.

Maybe her being a hitman should have something to do with the vague memory of her mother's violent crime that she witnessed. I think you should revisit this early childhood memory at some point, because things do remain latent in a person's memory like that. That motivation would at least be forgivable by readers...they'd understand that she's seeking revenge, or to seek recompense for her mother's death one death at a time until she gets to the right person. We can at least understand why then. (Oh, and FYI...while she might not remember the actual event, she might retain a sense of anxiety or apprehension around a certain type of man, who she might later find out resembles the killer. Just something to consider.)

Is it possible that she's become a criminal because she was criminalized (although I don't think this justifies it, but I said that before)? Kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy? The man abused her, made her think that's all she was good for, so she just likely falls in with a criminal gang/group of people and does what they do. Perhaps it never feels natural to her, but it's all she knows? Or what if they are "abusing" her by threatening her to do their dirty work for her? Does she have to find any pleasure in it?

To redeem her, I'd give her a very soft spot somewhere. You don't want the reader thinking she's lost her humanity even when she may think she has. Maybe she takes care of a baby rabbit or cat. Maybe there is a street urchin she goes out of her way to feed or protect. And maybe that little street urchin ends up saving her life someway (either literally or metaphorically) because she invested time and love into him, perhaps not even knowing what it was she was doing.

All food for thought. :) Interesting assessment, although I'm not sure I've met my end of the bargain. If I missed something crucial, please let me know in the comment section.

IMPORTANT: If you missed my announcement yesterday that you can pick my brain without writing in with a character sketch, click here or just scroll down.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Pick My Brain Without Writing In!

Here's your chance! Ever so often, I open my blog up to ask my readers what issues they want addressed for my Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts (T3). I'm in between series right now, and would love to make my blog as relevant as possible for you.

So send me your questions! No character sketches needed. Just leave a specific or general question in the comment section and I'll cover them in the order in which I receive them.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

T3: Age-Specific Indicators of Domestic Violence Exposure

Last week, we talked about general effects of domestic violence on children. Whether they are victims of actual physical abuse or not, just witnessing it can cause a lot of emotional damage.

This week, to conclude this sad-but-hopefully-informative series, I want to leave you with a few age-specific indicators so that when you're writing about a child whose parents fight a lot, you'll have a handy quick reference guide to know what types of things to be sure to include in your characterization of that child.

Without further ado:

  • Eating/sleeping routines are disrupted
  • Injuries while "caught in the crossfire"
  • Continual crying or irritability
  • Withdrawal and lack of responsiveness
  • Developmental delays
  • Diarrhea from upset stomach
  • Frequently ill
  • Physical complaints, some of which are real, some aren't
  • Acting younger than their age (regression)
  • Irritable
  • Separation anxiety in the extreme
  • Developmental delays
  • Sympathy toward the mother
  • Fearful of being left alone
Elementary Age
  • Swing from hostility to being eager to please
  • Developmental delays
  • Talk a lot about home life
  • Reduced social skill development
  • Externalized behavior issues (like hitting, pushing, choking, kicking)
  • Not sure about male/female roles (may act like an aggressor or a victim)
  • Behavior problems become more serious (detention and suspension common)
  • Increased depression/isolation/withdrawal
  • Emotional difficulties, like shame, fear, confusion, rage
  • Poor social skills
  • Developmental delays
  • Can swing between wanting to protect mom and seeing her as weak
  • Guarded and secretive about family
  • Behavioral problems can lend toward more antisocial behaviors: skipping school, drugs, gang affiliation, teenage pregnancy/sexual acting out, running away, suicidal thoughts/actions
  • Dating relationships may reflect violence learned or witnessed in the home
Children can work through the above problems with counseling in a supportive, trusting, safe environment. The earlier they seek help, the better their outcome as an adult. Just something to think about!

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - A Daughter of the King

This week's assessment comes from Vickie. She's written in a doozie of a backstory for her heroine, Shelly.* Shelly was a ward of the state before she was 2, and at 4, she was placed with a young couple who started the adoption process. She was inundated with attention and fine things, only to be sent back into the system a few months later when the couple discovers they are expecting their own biological child. Shelly is then placed with a much older couple, who go the distance and adopt Shelly, but they are distantly related to the younger couple, which puts her in occasional contact with them.

At five years old, Shelly communicates little, sucks her thumb, occasionally wets the bed, and is later discovered to have some minor learning disabilities. Her adoptive parents never waver in their expressions of love and determination to help her through whatever she faces, but Shelly never quite believes she belongs, never quits waiting for rejection. She grows into a remarkably beautiful young woman with an artist's eye, but her inability to believe in her own worth keeps her from realizing her full potential in school, in her career, or in her relationships. At twenty-five, she attempts suicide.

*Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Vickie wants to know: Would her childhood problems be consistent with the circumstances? What would convince Shelby that she's truly a daughter of the King? What would it take for her to believe in her worth as God's child and begin to enjoy the abundant life he has waiting for her?

Sounds like you've definitely built up some circumstances in her life that would lead to her inability to see herself as worthy of love. It would be consistent for her to take this feeling of inferiority, of never measuring up, with her through life on many different planes, as you've indicated with school, career, and relationships.

When people have low self-esteem (which is essentially what you're describing), it can take many different forms. Yes, in the extreme sense, it can lead to suicidal ideation (thoughts) and suicide attempts or completions. When people don't feel they have a reason for living, that nothing they do will amount to anything, these types of feelings can persist and become a driving force.

One sure thing to help her esteem dive to the depths (enough to consider suicide) is if the child of the younger couple is somehow around and she would be comparing herself to this child (who would be almost 5 years younger than her, I realize, but in her mind, Shelly would think she was given up for that child--whoever you might consider making them be and how involved in the fringes of Shelly's life you might want them to be. Just something to consider. That would be really powerful, I think.

What I didn't see in your character sketch is any reason, aside from a mention of faith, why she would see herself as something worthy. The faith element alone might not be enough (I know--*gasp*). I think that if you really built her art into some sustaining force in her life--like if she's not painting, she's contemplating ending it all--then turn it from something she does to heal inwardly and give it some outward value, then you could easily write in some little thread of hope for her (aside from the faith component).

It's hard to explain to people who never have seen someone on the brink of committing suicide...but telling them that Christ is bigger than what they're going through just doesn't always work. It's not to say that I don't believe that all things are possible with Christ, but just that the person suffering might not believe that. You want to be realistic, and they are so low, so turned in on themselves, that that concept sometimes isn't feasible. You didn't mention if Shelly was a Christian, and I didn't take it to mean she wasn't a Christian when she attempted suicide because lots of Christians reach the end of their rope and think suicide is a viable option. Sometimes, a person needs some tangible reason to stay--even a very small thread can be significant.

What came to my mind was maybe some public relations or human resources man from a home for the elderly sees her paintings (not sure how, but you could figure that out) and wants to have Shelly paint more to decorate all the rooms in the home to bring brightness and cheer to them. You could throw in a lot of symbolism about how bright she chooses to paint, but yet how dark she sees her life. The painting itself could just open some doors for slowly start to see worth in her talent, if nothing else. Painting could be the avenue for her to eventually see herself as God sees her....maybe a poignant scene where she paints over a "ruined" canvas...I just see lots of room for symbolism of you go this route, but you maybe thinking I'm totally off, which is okay!

I also think giving her a someone from the elderly home she might meet when she agrees to go to a presentation for the press or something. This person would have a history of rejection--perhaps by her very family, as many elderly might feel that way when they are put in a home by family members unable or *unwilling* to care for them. But the difference will be her countenance, her attitude, her smiles. This is where the faith element will bring your story the most bang for your reading buck. Faith in action, right? Let Shelly see someone worse than she is not just eeking out an existence, but reaching out and accepting the inheritance of being a child of a King.

Hopefully this gives you some fodder to go deeper with Shelly's plot. My usual disclaimer always applies....if I misread your sketch, then please feel free to email me or shoot me some comments below. I want these assessments to be as helpful as possible!


Today, I'm blogging over at Inkwell Inspirations about author aliases: to have or not to have! I'm hoping it'll be a lively discussion, so be sure to get your two cents in!

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Michelle Sutton's Never Without Hope Review

Edgy inspirational author Michelle Sutton's latest book release features some incredibly hot and sexy scenes....just not between a wife and her husband.

Here's a blurb about the book:

Hope believes she is above sexual temptation; that she would never break that commandment like her husband's previous wives had done. After all, she is a good Christian and a loving mother. She has no reason to stray . . . until her husband starts neglecting her needs and things begin to look hopeless. Though she clearly communicates her pain to her husband, he refuses to get help. She starts to wonder…Will she never have sex with her husband again? She soon learns that she, too, is capable of such betrayal when she succumbs to the unthinkable.

Under normal circumstances, I don't buy books about a woman cheating on her husband. I've rejected well-known authors simply because I didn't want to "go there" in a book. The reason I bought Michelle's is simple: she reviewed my Genesis submission and I felt like the least I could do was buy her book and write a review.

Then I started reading it. I was sucked in immediately. I thought of all the people I have counseled and am currently counseling who have been led into adultery. How the other man/woman suddenly becomes a an addiction. The heady sensation of losing yourself to something you know is wrong, but which feels so good (at least in the moment).

I was glad Michelle went the extra mile and demonstrated how sex is an emotional connection to someone else. It would have been easy to leave that part out (and no doubt easier to get this puppy published), but I'm so glad she didn't. I've counseled so many women whose guilt overwhelms them....because even though they know what they did was wrong, they still have an emotional connection to the person they cheated on their spouse with. Yes, even love them.

I also appreciated Michelle showing how a man's problem with erectile dysfunction can lead to significant problems in marriage when pride is allowed to run rampant. I just sighed when I read the parts with Hope's husband because it was so true to real life. Men don't want to admit they "have a problem," and many are willing to let their wives' sexual needs go unmet rather than seek medical attention for such a taboo subject.

Michelle portrayed Hope's son a little bit more together than I would have thought he'd be, given the traumatic circumstances and his age, but I really liked how she had Hope view her sin through her son's eyes. Hope realizes how far-reaching the impact of her adultery could have on her son if her family doesn't form a cohesive unit again, and she agonizes over what she does to the point of suicidal ideation, (which is also realistic).

Really, this is an incredible book that I'd recommend to any woman (Christian or not) in my practice who has had an adulterous encounter or is considering one. I think Michelle's book lays it out in pretty stark terms what can happen to a marriage, even one with Christ in it. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series already. Their Separate Ways will explore how both Hope and her lover, Tony, experience the aftereffects of their sin in both their marriages. I'm sure it'll go on my "keeper" Kindle shelf. :)

Right now, you can buy a hard copy of Michelle's book directly from her and she'll autograph it, throw in a couple of bookmarks, and send it to you with free shipping if you order before June 15th. Just contact her directly from her website or blog. You can also buy Never Without Hope on Amazon. don't want to miss out on this book.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

5 Years Ago Today...

In honor of my 5th wedding anniversary,
the following haikus are for my husband.
Allan, I love you more than ever.


Has it really been five years?
More love and laughter.

From husband and wife
To a family of three.
More joy and diapers.

Five houses, six moves,
Cross-country travels three times.
More boxes of junk.

Ten years of service,
A proud US Coastguardsman.
More school years to go.

Fishing and camping,
"Fun" in sub-zero climates.
More hobbies for you.

Licensed therapist,
Three non-profit agencies.
More money at last.

Writing and reading,
A new book or blog posting.
More platform building.

We've gone from plenty
To absolutely nothing.
More strength in our bond.

We'll never forget
Crying to the Lord for help.
More faith, assurance.

Each smile and caress
Conveys the depth of our love.
More praise to heaven.

I can't wait for more.
The next five or fifty-five.
More complete with you.

Here's for many more years of happiness, babe.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

T3 - Effect of Domestic Violence on Children

If you have a character who has been abused in some way as a child, then you need to remember this sentence:

Children exposed to family violence are more likely to develop lasting social, emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems than children who are not.

I'd also remember this:

The longer the conflict goes on--and the more severe it gets--the more lasting the impact on the child.

Notice that I wrote "the impact" instead of "possible impact" or "potential impact." Research backs this statement up.

Children will live in fear when there is domestic violence going on in the home, whether that violence is ever directed at them or not. Witnessing the violence is just as harmful as being physically abused. Studies show that if a child lives in a violent home, they are more at risk for abuse and neglect.

What characteristics do you need to know about, then, to write about one of these children? I want to look at four categories that will help flesh out these poor, traumatized children very realistically in your novel.

  • Acting out or withdrawing
  • Being aggressive (younger kids) or passive-aggressive (older kids)
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Parentified behavior (acting like the parent; like a caretaker)
  • Lying to avoid confrontation
  • Getting very defensive if confronted
  • Excessive attention seeking
  • Bedwetting and nightmares
  • Reduced academic performance (and intellectual capacity)
  • Manipulating situations
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Stormy interpersonal relationships
  • Difficulty trusting anyone (especially adults)
  • Poor anger management
  • Poor problem solving skills
  • Excessive social involvement to avoid home
  • Passivity with peers or the opposite, bullying
  • Can exploit relationships as a perpetrator or be exploited as a victim
  • Complaints of headaches/stomachaches/other somatic pains
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiousness
  • Short attention span/difficulty concentrating
  • Tired or lethargic
  • Frequently ill
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Developmental regression (like in potty training or thumb sucking)
  • High risk play
  • Grief for family and personal losses
  • Shame/guilt/self blame
  • Conflicting emotions toward parents (love & disgust, to name a few) confuse them
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Fear of expressing their emotions
  • Fear of the unknown or sustaining a personal injury
  • Lots and lots of anger
  • Depression/feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness
  • Embarrassment
The nice little flowchart above illustrates all these effects in a colorful graph. Click on it to enlarge.

Not all of you writers out there have a currently abused child in your book, but I bet several of you have heroes or heroines who were abused as children. Think about how the above indicators would manifest in an adult. What if they never got help when they were a child? What kind of wounds would this adult carry around with him or her? What might that look like?

Since this was more of a general overview, next Thursday, we'll look at more age-specific indicators of children exposed to domestic violence so that you'll have even more research to back up your writing. That will be my final post on this subject unless it comes up in a character assessment.

My anniversary is tomorrow...5 years! I might just have to whip up a post reflecting on the first 5 years. What a glorious ride. :)

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Using Enneagrams

This week's assessment comes from Betty, who is writing an inspirational romance. She has been using the Enneagram personality typing for her characters and has a Type One heroine (The Reformer) and a Type Eight (for now) hero (The Challenger). She's wondering how a One and an Eight are going to get along.

Betty wrote, "It would seem that they share some values and could work well together in the social-justice arena, but I'm not sure how those types would be in the love department. I can certainly see conflict (mandatory for the story), and some certainly attraction, but how would/could you see them getting together? Or would they?"

So, first off, the Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram) system is a really quite remarkable personality system. The symbol itself, depending on where you look, can be traced back to the time of Pythagorus or back to ancient Middle Eastern spiritual traditions. "Ennea" is Greek for "9" and "gram" means "drawing.

If your heroine is a Type One, she's a social reformer for sure. She advocates for change, wants to better the world, and her sense of right from wrong is strong. She's probably a tad obsessive-compulsive when it comes to being organized and scheduled. This perfectionism streak can cause some problems in her life, though, and lend itself to a heightened critical and judgmental nature. Type Ones are typically smart, realistic, practical, and have high standards, but can be resentful and impatient.

Type Eights want to be in control of their environment. They can be confrontational with ease, and even intimidating (so a police officer would fit nicely). They want to protect, be resourceful doing so, and are quick to make decisions. They don't talk in circles, present as very strong, assertive and self-confident. They don't ever want to appear vulnerable. They are called Challengers because they enjoy taking on a challenge. They are usually charismatic and able to persuade others to follow them through thick and thin. They can be so industrious with work that they lose emotional contact with people.

As to whether there can be attraction between these betcha. In droves. To quote one source, "Ones can find Eights exciting, physical, and earthy--all the things that they restrain in themselves. ...Eights recognize that Ones are as strong-willed and determined as they are: they cannot easily sway or bowl over Ones. Eights thus admire their conviction and are attracted to the challenge of getting closer to Ones."

They both clearly will share some of the same values, but will just take different means to achieve similar ends. They both want truth and justice in the world, and both are action-oriented to support whatever they believe is right. They'd both sacrifice a lot for their beliefs.

But this wouldn't be a common romantic pairing at all (but that doesn't mean it can't work). I'll give a few tips to make sure it does. :) Most of the tension in their relationship would come from the Type One getting uneasy with the Type Eight if the One sees the Eight pushing too far in the pursuit of self-interest. A One will deny herself in the extreme if something doesn't line up to their moral convictions, and even though they may admire the "go-getter" nature of the Eight, it could be a turn-off if too extreme. Once the One begins to see the Eight as selfish or insensitive, that would be the kiss of death in the relationship from her standpoint.

On the other hand, Eights are likely to see Ones as morally judgmental. Besides that, they might think they are hypocrites who talk the talk publicly, but don't walk the walk privately. They might think of a One as self-righteous, rigid, and unrealistic about how the world should operate. An Eight can even try to goad a One, provoking them with outrageous actions to get a rise out of them. This can often turn into extremely personal attacks, and at the worse, violence.

My advice to you is to be careful in how you portray your leading characters. Your hero doesn't need to be one of those guys who is always losing his head about him. He also doesn't need to show the heroine a selfish side of him. If the heroine always perceives the hero to be acting out of selfless motives (no matter how contrary his actions would feel to her), then there's hope for the relationship to last. You just can't be with someone you don't respect.

I'd also make sure that your heroine isn't one of those morally judgmental people. If you do have her being a bit judgmental, then have her get over that as you move her through her character arc, helping her see people and all their flaws (including her own) through a heavenly lens. She might struggle a bit with the spiritual side of things, as spirituality can't be hedged in the rational way she might like. (Sometimes having faith can seem like a most irrational thing...and this wouldn't sit well with her.) She'll want to be absolutely perfect all the time, and God wouldn't have much room to work with someone that perfect, you know?

I think I'll stop here, as I could go on forever, I'm afraid. The best source I found for Enneagram information was the Enneagram Institute. I'd canvass the site and really camp out there for a while. Amazing what all you can get on each type for free.

Any questions are welcome, of course! Good luck, and thanks for writing in!

If you missed my review of Amanda Flower's Maid of Murder cozy mystery, click here to read it! Her utterly fantastic debut releases today!

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