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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Reforming a Sex Addict?

This week's character assessment comes from fellow 2010 Genesis Finalist Rebecca Lynn. She's writing a contemporary romance about Kathy*, a 29-year-old heroine who's something of a sex addict. Kathy tells people she's a Christian, but she's been sexually active for many years. She feels very guilty about her exploits, but that doesn't stop her from picking up guy after guy. She'll chose guys hoping to be together, but once they've had sex, she either continues to use them or bail out/dumps them when they want to be more serious. Then she meets hero Donny*. Donny's not on her radar at first because he's arrogant, on a power trip, and quite a bit older than her. He's had a horrible divorce where he lost his son and is no longer able to see him, and he's decided he'll never be in another relationship. They work together in close proximity for a year and fight a lot, and just as his walls start to come down to allow for an attraction to Kathy, her sexually exploitative past comes up.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Rebecca wants to know: Is it even realistic to expect that Donny, whose wife cheated on him, would be willing to accept the past of someone who has sexually exploited men (even without Kathy knowing she's done this)?

There is no rule book for the rules of attraction. While our sensibilities would say Donny wouldn't fall for someone so like his ex, how many women do you know who get into relationship after relationship with "bad boys" who all treat them terribly? None of these women get out of an awful relationship thinking they want to do that again. 

So I think the immediate answer to your question is that it's possible, but it would be more realistic if he didn't know on the front end, either by willful denial of Kathy's actions or blissful ignorance. That would be the key. No sensible, conscientious person would fall in love with someone like Kathy if he knew her full, sordid history. But if he were oblivious, attraction could take root before the apprehension of being used or abused would.

I think you're actually asking if Donny could still love Kathy if he found this out about her. Since I don't really know much of Donny's history other than a painful divorce, I can't really answer this. But I can give you some questions to ask Donny that might help.

1) How does having Kathy in his life bring about positive change?
2) Can he imagine a life without her? Is that life better or worse?
3) A year is a long time to have a relationship with someone, even if it's not romantic. How does this information about Kathy's past gel with what he already knows about her? How does it feel in his gut?

Rebecca also wants to know: Is it psychologically plausible for someone with Kathy's sexual addiction to find fulfillment in a monogamous relationship, or will she need extensive therapy in addition to finding someone who accepts that part of her and loves her as a whole person?

Sexual addiction isn't officially recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th edition, text revision). It's also not up for inclusion in the 5th edition. But there are a lot of sexual disorders, usually involving some unusual fetish or urge, but there is a diagnosis of Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, and that's where Kathy might fit in. Within this disorder, you'd find someone who experiences "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used." Symptoms generally focus more on a compulsive sexual behavior, like fixating on an unattainable target or compulsively searching for more partners.

Really, Kathy isn't as bad as I've known some people with true sexual addictions to act. When a person has multiple anonymous partners, masturbates constantly, is into porn/fetishes/strip clubs/adult stores, and unsafe sexual practices/prostitution, this is more the idea sexual addiction conveys. These exploits take up a tremendous amount of the person's time and energy.

Kathy's symptoms fall more into having repeated/sequential affairs and possibly objectifying men. She's had a large amount of shallow, short-lived affairs, and likely has viewed men as only objects to see to her needs, whether that's physical (sexual) or emotional (need for security, acceptance, etc) as well. Basically, she's been a little slutty. If I had Kathy in my office, I'd want to ask her tons of questions, because increased sexual desire (also called hypersexuality) is a symptom of bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, impulse control disorder, cyclothymic disorder, adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct and PTSD.

With that in mind, her chances of finding a monogamous relationship increase exponentially. Many sexual addicts join 12-step programs, much like an alcoholic or drug addict or gambler. There are communities out there for sexual addicts, even the website Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, dedicated to the world of sexual addicts (even though it's not even clinically agreed upon what, exactly, that means!). Antidepressants are also commonly prescribed to help treat this.

In conjunction with therapy, her chances are fairly high at maintaining a normal, one-man kind of life. Therapy would help her find the deep wounds from her childhood that have driven her to her sexual behaviors. You wrote that you had read a book, Soul Wounds, that made you wonder if Donny and Kathy could actually make it. I'd just caution you not to take everything in a book like this to heart. I've not read it, but lots of therapists/psychologists come up with these great concepts for books that make a lot of sense, but it's never a hard-and-fast rule for life.

What I like about your premise is the seeming impossibility of Donny and Kathy's match. You'd have the reader rooting for this from page 1. Yes, Kathy needs to work through why she's felt compelled to use 'em and lose 'em. Donny needs to work through the trauma of his divorce and the pain that's caused. But I'm a firm believer in God taking two broken people and making a whole that just fits together perfect.

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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Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Free Association Chain

Free association is the spontaneous paring of one word with another. A Freudian psychoanalyst would want a client to say the very first thing that pops into their head at the mention of certain words, and I'd like to try the same thing on this blog on Fridays.

I think writers are an interesting bunch, and I'm convinced our brains work differently. I want to have a little reader participation and try doing a free association chain, where every link in the chain is a new comment below.

I'll give the start up word, and then the brave first taker free associates on that word and leaves a comment. Second commenter would free association on the first commenter's word, etc, etc.

Get it?

I don't want to look silly, so PLEASE participate! It'll be fun!

The word is........


Who's brave enough to go first? :)

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

T3 - Stages of Change: Preparation

We've already covered the first two stages of Precontemplation and Contemplation, and this week, we're looking at the third stage of Preparation.

Depending on the type book and genre, either the Contemplation stage or Preparation stage might take the bulk part of your book. I  imagine that characters can vacillate between the two frequently. Either way, you want to make sure that the tension ramps up to a point where at some point they have to make some sort of decision.

During the Preparation stage, the character realizes that they can't put off the decision heralded by the inciting event any longer. They begin to get their ducks in a row, so to speak, to enable them to run for office, attract the elusive guy, or try to catch the killer without getting killed.

Think about the movie Rambo: First Blood Part II. (Bear with me, ladies. I had two older brothers.) Rambo agreed to search for POWs in Vietnam in order to photograph them, not rescue them. He of course doesn't follow rules, and ends up getting captured. He escapes, and has a little kiss scene with the native girl--who then dies. Rambo gets ticked, and begins to assemble his weapons.

This scene goes on for maybe a minute or so, as he's saddling up all his knives and explosives and guns and ammo, cinching them into place on his body. This is Rambo's Preparation stage, as he gets ready for what's sure to be a big "shoot 'em up, kill 'em" event, as my dad would say.

Let's say you have a heroine who is deciding that she needs to lose weight and get healthier. Her first act of Preparation might be to toss out her carb-heavy dinner-in-a-boxes and give away her private chocolate stash. She might stock the pantry with low-fat snacks and more fruit. She might even invest in new walking shoes or a gym membership. This is all in preparation to tackle a new diet and exercise regime, but she can do all of this and not actually lift a finger to cook better or get off the couch. That would be the Action stage.

So the Preparation stage takes the reader right to the brink of action with the character. In a way, it makes every book a little suspenseful. The reader should be just as invested in the character's preparation for action as the character is.

The Preparation stage is also a time when most characters turn to an outside person for advice or support. Friends can give encouragement, therapists can be great sounding boards. Characters (and people) are often driven by an internal mantra of sorts that is their motivation for change. You might be able to discover this mantra by looking at your client's GMC chart (Goal, Motivation, Conflictby Debra Dixon).

For example, if a person thinks they aren't good enough for someone to love them, typically during the Preparation stage, that mantra will begin to morph. They might think, "I'm good enough for some people," (or some other variation), which suffices to motivate them through their preparation.

Let's revisit Edward from Twilight.  Last week, we left him contemplating what to do about Bella, the smell of whose blood he can hardly withstand but who is so intriguing because he can't hear her thoughts. Edward's Contemplation moves into Preparation dramatically when he saves Bella's life from her friend's van. If he'd not, though, Bella would be dead, and then his contemplation would be for nothing. At least with her alive, he still has a decision to be made (and the movie can go on). So in a way, he was preparing for the decision he made to get to know her.

Edward's Preparation goes further, of course, when he takes her into the forest on that day when they both just kinda skip off from school. He tries to scare her by getting her to admit that he's a vampire and watching him run fast and chunk trees, etc. He's preparing Bella for his decision. Preparing others is also part of this stage. He's even preparing for his decision when he sneaks up into her bedroom and says he has one thing he wants to try, and that's to kiss her. All of these actions, while being active, are still Edward's way of preparing to have Bella in his life on a more permanent basis.

Q4U: If you're still hanging with me, what are some more famous Preparation stage scenes from books or movies that you can think of?

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

This week's assessment comes from Shannon. Carter* is the sheltered youngest son in the Rosentia house. Gene*, his oldest brother by 10 years, began forcing Carter to watch increasingly twisted and debauched encounters with women and manipulating him into doing certain things, like taking frightening hallucinogenics, etc., or Gene would hurt the women more.

Carter was to be ritualistically inducted into the Family between the ages of 12 and 16. It's usually done in a way to acknowledge the curse placed upon the Rosentia house and which allows the curse to blossom into its full potential. Carter's experiences with Gene had warped him and influenced his curse so that he was turning into an incubus. His ritual was to be the rape and murder of Elaine*, a 15-year-old girl from an enemy noble house. If he couldn't do it, she would be given to Gene. Carter decided to kill Elaine with a shard from a consecrated mirror and then kill himself. He didn't count on her will to live, as Elaine would rather be raped than die. Elaine begins to seduce him, and given his incubus tendencies, it isn't hard to do.

Gene comes in the next morning and Carter has to seduce him to keep him away from Elaine. The violation breaks a part of him, as does the fact that Elaine is pregnant. Due to failing the ritual induction and allowing himself to be dominated rather than the dominator, Carter is labeled "Chastened" and loses the protection of his family. Carter managed to smuggle the baby out as he kept Elaine secluded from the rest of the family. To keep Elaine safe, he taught her to meditate herself into a trance so that she would appear to others that her mind was broken and she was harmless. The Rosentia family allowed her to be Carter's Campanion, to obey his orders unquestioningly while also trying to ignore Carter's supernaturally potent sexuality, while Carter is driven to alcohol and drugs as a means of coping and deadening his own twisted sexuality.

Shannon wants to know: What sort of issues might crop up between Carter and Elaine in their dealings with each other? What sort of psychological issues might they each have themselves? If they get their son back, and they become a family again, what sort of emotional issues would they have to deal with?

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

I would say the overwhelming emotion between these two would be resentment. Elaine, as a 15-year-old being abducted, held hostage, threatened to be raped and killed, then impregnated and then forced to act like she's mentally off to keep her neck, and Carter, being forced to watch harrowing sexual exploits, being labeled "chastened" and losing his family's protection for doing the right thing, and Elaine for basically emasculating him.

I mean, each character would likely have serious traumatic issues - from PTSD to Acute Stress Disorder to Depression to possibly some sort of Shared Psychosis Disorder. Seriously, they are both "off," you know?

Carter's brother is abusive, and witnessing that abuse would likely give him a leaning in that direction, so incubus isn't hard to imagine and actually fits well with the curse he'd get being a part of this majorly jacked-up family. He obviously has a drug/alcohol dependence (as it looks like it's far above just drug abuse). Substances dull the senses and capacity to execute sound judgment, making him a force to be reckoned with when his sex drive kicks into gear.

Elaine is forced into her decision by her sheer will to live. She's a survivor, no doubt. Seducing a man holding a mirror shard trying to reason with you that it's better to die than be introduced to his brother likely isn't high on her list. And getting pregnant with that man even less so. And then living her life out in service to him while she goes about in a fugue state to appear mentally daft even less than that. She had to give up everything about her former life. She even had to give up her son. Resentment would be a huge obstacle, I'd imagine. 

I'm not really sure if Carter would hold resentment against her. You intimated that he was rather weak, and musically inclined, which gives that same softer picture of a man. Perhaps he wouldn't care that he didn't dominate Elaine in the ritual. Maybe he'd be proud of that, even though he lost his family's protection? I mean, what would the respect from members of this house of horrors really mean to him after all?

As to issues that might crop up between them, I think their conversations in private would be laced with tension, as Elaine is no mute. I'd make her a very sharp, intuitive girl, and living the lie of being mentally broken is would rub on her maybe worse than anything else. Rape victims might never forget, but most eventually move on. Pregnant women lose newborns to fates much worse than Elaine's. At least her baby is alive and hidden from these crazy people. But her mind...the one thing that no one should be able to confined, and that's mentally oppressive and emotionally defeating. 

I'm not sure if you have written her in actual fugue states, or how easy it is for her to "come out" of these states, but I'd play this area up BIG. Lots of almost-being-caught-acting-normal type suspenseful encounters. And the resentment. Oh, yeah. 

Issues they have if they get back together as a family would depend on how old their child was, how heavily Carter is into drugs/alcohol, and where they live. If I remember correctly from the first assessment, their son comes back to them as a teenager, and quite honestly, it'd be almost better if he came back as an adult. Teenagers have so much angst and I've heard from so many clients and older friends that managing the teenage years are the hardest parts of parenting ever. If you've actually wanting the family to solidify, and Carter and Elaine to be "together forever," then I wouldn't put that additional stress of having to worry about their son skipping curfew and staying out all night or getting some teen girl pregnant. 

This family would have a better chance of "making it" if they are outside of the Rosentia Manor and away from the curse as much as possible. Besides, that just seems a healthier way to start a new life anyway. 

I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't point out that two wrongs don't make a right. This family has decks and decks of cards stacked against it. The first time I heard that expression with regards to relationships, it was in the context of pushing to people to get married simply because they had a child. But the wrong of getting married without loving each other won't make the wrong of having a child out of wedlock (depending on who you're talking to) right. I think this same concept might apply to these characters, depending on how you wrote them.

Hope this helps! Thanks for writing in again.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

T3 - Stages of Change: Contemplation

We're up to week two in our new series about the Stages of Change. If you missed week one, you can read about the Precontemplation Stage here.

The second stage is called the Contemplation Stage.  This stage takes up most of the most of the novel...probably all the way through Act II at least. At the start of this stage, the main character faces the inciting event (also called the change element or trigger in my world of psychology) where they are introduced to the fact that they do have a problem or some hurdle that they need to overcome. 

This inciting event throws their life into chaos, and they sorely miss the days of their Precontemplative status quo. They are forced to begin to think about making a change or overcoming things, but they are in no way ready to commit. In fact, they might be begrudging to the representative of the new way of things (in a romance, this is usually the lead opposite character) and very resistant to even the idea of change, much less making it for themselves.

In real life, this stage can last months to years. People like things the way they are, and change usually isn't received well. It's messes up the flow of someone's life, so it's not welcome.  All readers can relate to characters going through this same thing, as this is a universal human experience.

Characters in this stage have been known to make pro/con lists or do a cost/benefit analysis to see if it's worth their while to even try to prepare for the change. Usually the costs outweigh the benefits to the person contemplating this, and they tend to focus on every reason why they shouldn't make the change.  
WRITERS: these reasons make for great plot points to address through your sagging middle!! As you unfold your story, you will painstakingly (and meanly!) strip away your characters excuses and defenses, driving them toward the third stage of Preparation.

Writers should show the conflicting emotions of characters contemplating the literary change they need to make. Typically, even though the character can see more cons and pros, they also usually know that they should make the change. This leads to their ambivalence, because along with the pros of the change, they also have to face those perceived cons.

Let me conclude with an example from Twilight. Edward's status quo was going to school forever on overcast days, pretending to be human. This is the Precontemplative Stage. His inciting event is getting a whiff of Bella's scent, his "own personal brand of heroin." He then enters the Contemplative Stage, i.e., What the heck do I do about this girl whose mind I can't read but the temptation of whose blood I can hardly withstand? He weighs the pros/cons, as seen in when he talks to her, trying to get to know her, but then turns around and is rude to her to keep her at arm's length. 

Next week we'll address the Preparation Stage and where this fits into our novels.

Q4U: How long do you give your characters to contemplate what's before them for the rest of the novel? Does this differ according to genre?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Motivating Beavers

This weeks assessment is from RJ, who is writing a science fiction book set in present day. In this story world, an Inventor (Otter/Lion hero) made a world-changing breakthrough that involves using Personality Science to organize the Web. To launch this invention, he needs access to a program that is managed by a group of Programmers (Extreme Beavers) who want the hero to follow strict procedure (the Beaver way of life). The hero, however, is being pressured to launch his invention sooner than later or forever lose control of it. Inventor needs to find a way to motivate the Beaver Programmers to "lighten up" and "move faster," two things they are loathe to do.

The Hero then decides to overcome their reluctance by creating a series of Personas, avatar-like spokespeople who communicate with the Programmers through digital media. The Hero creates these Personas to be persuasive, in effect deceiving the Programmers to do what he needs them to do. 

RJ wants to know:

1. What would motivate Beavers to speed up/ignore the rules and what Personality Types would best deliver this message to Beavers?
2. What secondary personality for a Beaver would help bring the Programmers around collectively? Which secondary personality for a Beaver would make them most oppositional?
2. If the deception is discovered after the fact what would motivate/prevent the Beavers from acting vindictively and shutting it down?  

One of my favorite areas to delve into is personality types. I think it's great that your Inventor's combination is primarily Otter with some Lion mixed in. That makes him diametrically opposed to the Beavers by nature.

So how to motivate them to go against their grain? Behavior therapy tells us that just about anybody can do just about anything under the right set of circumstances. People can be trained to do things a certain way if they are given the right motivators or demotivators. Beavers are motivated by acknowledgment and approval. They want to be seen as the best at what they do, so the Hero could try at first to appeal to this vanity side of the Beaver. Even offering some sort of promotion or recognition could be highly motivating, and perhaps one of the Personas could be a faux representative from some non-existent company who might want to hire the Beaver Programmer in charge...something like that.

As for the best personality type to present this motivation to the Beaver, I'd say either the Lion of the Golden Retriever, because the Beaver occurs naturally with both of these types (meaning there are many Beaver/Lions and Beaver/Golden Retrievers out there).  To go a bit further, I'd say the Beaver would take it better from a Lion in a work-related position (such as the Lion is the direct supervisor of the Beaver and could prohibit raises, etc.) and from a Golden Retriever more in a personal-related position (such as a friend saying, "If you do this for me, it would make X and Y difference in my life. Pretty please?") The only personality a Beaver would not appreciate it coming from is without a doubt the Otter.

Your second question about which secondary type would help bring them about to seeing the Hero's way of doing things is easier. The Golden Retriever subtype would theoretically be less oppositional than the Lion. Lions can be stubborn and argumentative, sometimes even arguing for the sake of arguing. Golden Retrievers want everyone to get along, so I could see a Beaver/Golden Retriever trying to make things better by facilitating a compromise or something like that.

Finally, if the Beaver Programmer was to discover the deceptive use of digital tools in creating a Persona meant to persuade them to go against their own grain, they'd be totally ticked. Revenge would definitely be a factor. Now to purely speculate, I imagine that the Beaver wouldn't seek revenge if they could be convinced that what happened had to happen for some greater good--preferably to help them further their own work. For example, of the Hero's invention will simplify the Beavers lives or revolutionize how they do their work, then I would think they'd be more likely to let things lie. (I'm guessing this based on human behavioral trends. We don't tend to bite the hand that feeds us.)

Hopefully I've covered everything, but if I missed something, please drop me your questions in the comment section (that goes for anyone!). Good luck, RJ! Sounds like a fascinating and creative read.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Movies & Madness: The Phantom

Someone suggested a while back that I review movie characters from a therapist perspective, so I picked The Phantom of the Opera because it's a favorite.

One reason is dichotomy between the dark, sexy Phantom and the heroic, noble Raoul. Besides the fact that Gerard Butler (an all-time fav of mine) plays the Phantom in the Hollywood film version, the therapist side of me really feels for the guy, which is another reason I love the flick. I mean, come on. He doesn't even have a name (although he did in the book). He was "Devil's Child" when being paraded around the the circus and then just "Phantom." His facial scarring left him emotionally scarred, as well. I don't condone his killing or anything like that, but I can see how his anger and angst provide the raw materials to do the things he did. The Phantom has got to be one of the most haunted (no pun intended) characters in the history of filmography/theater.

I'm also just blown away by the lyrics. Charles Hart did most of them, but there was some collaboration on some songs. I'll be looking at two songs in particular.

Both the Phantom and Raoul do their best to woo Christine, and the girl has to decide between the two. Phantom woos her with his song "Music of the Night." I've included a few lines below, or you can click on the YouTube video if you have a few more minutes and want to listen to Gerard belt it out:

Softly, deftly music shall caress you
Hear it, feel it secretly possess you
Open up you mind let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night.

Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation
let the dream begin let your darker side give in
to the power of the music that I write
The power of the music of the night

Then Christine gets wooed by Raoul with a song that's almost the polar opposite, "All I Ask of You." Patrick Wilson seriously has one of the best voices ever. I like to close my eyes and imagine Jesus singing this song to me. Try it yourself:

No more talk of darkness,
Forget these wide-eyed fears
I'm here, nothing can harm you
my words will warm and calm you
Let me be your freedom,
let daylight dry your tears.
I'm here with you, beside you,
to guard you and to guide you...

Let me be your shelter
let me be your light
You're safe, No one will find you
your fears are far behind you...

So Christine's got the most basic choice of all mankind before her: good or evil. That's what it boils down to. Bad guy Phantom loves her, all right, but his love is warped, as he doesn't understand love and never had any kind of example. Raoul, though, growing up with a family in tact (he says his parents have always been great supporters of the arts, so he is the patron of the opera house now...and I draw from that the conclusion that Raoul likely emulated his parents in more ways that just that) understands what love and true sacrifice is. He makes a counteroffer Christine just can't refuse.

I really like to think about the Phantom and Raoul as human representations of much larger scale. The devil is out there, wooing people with his night music, while Jesus sings a song of light and love. It's truly beautiful.

[You can stop reading here...otherwise, you're going to get a therapist run-down of her favorite scene and how it relates to the goals of writing.]

The scene of Raoul singing to Christine "All I Ask of You" is my most favorite in the Hollywood movie made in 2004. The reason for this isn't just the love song and great singing. It's because its the first time the viewer actually feels pity for the Phantom's plight. Now, up until then, he wasn't really this awful villain just yet, but seeing Raoul and Christine together gives him the push over the edge of insanity a bit. But it's played so well that the viewer actually still feels sorry for him, understanding how his broken heart could lead him to such terrible actions. We've all been there. We can pity him because we have empathy with him.

And this is exactly what we need to do as writers with our villains, as well! Make the reader really feel for them by giving them an incredibly horrible backstory or some other weak point that made them like who they are today.

At the climax of the film, when the Phantom descends into his cave with Christine and Raoul comes after her, the Phantom makes Christine make a choice, once he has Raoul trapped:

Start a new life with me
Buy his freedom with your love!

Refuse me, and you send your lover to his death!

This is the choice,

This is the point of no return!

He uses the very choice she had made earlier (to love Raoul) to bring her to this huge decision. This is MAJOR!! Our heroines (and heros) have to face this black moment, as well. It's made more psychologically powerful when it plays on the emotions of the one making the life-altering decision. She's seriously in a no-win situation, but when she thinks of the type of life the Phantom has had:

Pitiful creature of darkness,
What kind of life have you known?

God give me courage to show you,

You are not alone...

She is playing on the emotions of the villain! Ah-ha! This is brilliant. Striking him at his Achilles' heel. It's like she creates her own Option C, blindsiding the Phantom (with two major knee-buckling kisses) and getting what she wants in the process (Raoul). Although the kisses horrify Raoul as he stands there and watches, Christine actually does it all for him (and the romantic in me likes to think she did it to show the Phantom compassion despite all the things he had done).

This is just poetic and beautiful and perfect to me. of my favorite movies ever. And hopefully we can all learn a bit from it when we're creating our characters.

Q4U: What other movie characters would you want assessed if I continue doing this?

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

New T3 Series for Writers!

This week, I'm kicking off a new series for writers using the transtheoretical model (TTM). [Hang in there. That's the only big word.]

This is also called the Stages of Change. Any time a person tries to change a behavior or life situation, often around New Year's, this theory gets a little face time on self-help sites. The theory first came about from the world of addiction, specifically as applied to smokers trying to quit. It has since crossed over to many other mental health arenas and even to business models.

But I had an epiphany! This theory is really helpful for writers in conceptualizing the stages of a character's arc through a novel.

The first stage is what we'll cover this week, with each additional stage to follow every Thursday.

The Precontemplation stage is where our characters are at when the novel starts. This is when they aren't even thinking about changing their life. Things are status quo and that's the way they like it. This is when the hero or heroine are completely ignorant of the issue they need to face, or they are in complete and utter denial about it.

The character may feel like they have no control over their life situation, or that they are forced to continue on as they have been. For example, a son who doesn't want to take over this father's business feels that he has to because it's expected of him and he's been groomed for it his entire life. He's in the precontemplation stage because he hasn't even considered that there might be another option.

A character in this stage won't move toward the Contemplation stage until after the inciting incident. Many books start with the inciting incident and leave much of the actual precontemplation stage to the reader's imagination, flashbacks, or internal monologue cues, so keep this in mind.

When your character is in this stage, it's helpful if things happening to them elicit some of the following questions:

What would have to occur for me to consider making a change?
What would have to happen for me to consider that I have a problem?
How have I tried to change this behavior in the past? Why didn't it work?

Next week we'll consider the Contemplation stage as your character moves through their internal and external arcs.

Q4U: Do you start your books with the inciting incident, or do you leave the reader a scene or two to establish your story world and the status quo of your character?

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - The Queue is Empty!

Now's the time to get your character sketches in for some couch time! 

For information on what character therapy is, click here. For examples of some of the topics I've already covered, see the Therapist Casenotes sidebar.

Hope to get some sketches in soon. Treatment Tuesday will continue as soon as I do!

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Guest Blogger Shannon O'Farrell: Obsessive Love

I'm pleased to welcome guest blogger Shannon O'Farrell for a great post on bad love. Read on to learn how to portray obsessive love realistically in your fiction.

Obsessive love is certainly one of the more disturbing directions that love can take. It involves a degree of emotional intensity that can be anxiety-arousing for both the sufferer and those around them. Those who suffer from it will become quite jealous and controlling, often stalking the object of their affections so that they can watch what they do. Threatening letters to the love interest or their friends, reading their emails, opening the love interest’s mail or even forbidding the love interest to leave the house are all possible manifestations of obsessive love.

John D. Moore talks about obsessive love (or relational dependency) in his book, Confusing Love with Obsession, and has devised a wheel that illustrates the four stages of Obsessive Relational Progression which the relationally dependent person constantly cycles through.

It begins in the Attraction Phase with an instant, romantic attraction to a person and a powerful urge to form a relationship that ignores any personality differences, compatibility issues, or even marital status. The individual starts creating an array of unrealistic fantasies about the wonders of that love interest and the amazing qualities of their ‘beloved’. It is at this stage that the obsessive, controlling behaviors first start to manifest though they are far more subtle than at later stages.

This is followed by the Anxious Phase which is normally triggered by a commitment between both parties (though sometimes it occurs regardless of any commitment). An illusory intimacy is formed regardless of any presence of trust between the two individuals. The relationally dependent (RD) individual grows increasingly fearful of both abandonment and infidelity which develops into a need for reassurance through constant contact and demands for the love interest to explain their movements each day in detail. The original obsessive, controlling behaviors escalate – sometimes into stalking, harassment of the love interest’s friends and family and an attempt to cloister away the love interest from interacting with other people. After all, the RD person doesn’t see the need for the ‘love interest’ to deal with other people – isn’t the RD person enough for them? Any rejections of these demands by the love interest are likely to be seen as rejections of the RD individual as a person and this can lead to verbally and/or physically violent reactions.

The Obsessive Phase is the time when the rapid escalation of the unhealthy attachment leads to the love interest withdrawing from the relationship and ultimately attempting to sever it. The RD person suffers extreme anxiety as a result and makes increasingly desperate attempts to take control of the victim. The RD person attempts to gain reassurance through demands for constant attention and neurotic, compulsive behaviors of checking up on the love interest whenever they’re away by telephone calls or dropping by become more frequent and sometimes supplemented by staking out the location to make sure they are where they say they are.

The Destructive Phase represents the relationship’s destruction once the prior behaviors cause the love interest to flee, causing the RD person to plummet into a deep depression. They lose self-esteem, blame themselves, feel anger and a desire for revenge against the love interest, and perhaps self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. They might even deny that the relationship is over and put increased efforts into trying to save the relationship by promising to change. They may also become suicidal due to the intensity of their emotional pain and if left untreated may actually make an attempt.

This is obviously a very intense and painful experience for all parties involved and can make for some very interesting situations in novels. The hard part is remembering that relationally dependent individuals act from a position of extreme anxiety and while their behaviors can sometimes be quite terrible and scarring for the victim, that is not generally their intention. Thus, the relationally dependent can make for quite sympathetic antagonists.

Shannon O’Farrell is a psychology honors student with a keen interest in existing psychological research. She is an unpublished author in the Fantasy genre who updates regularly in her blog: On Writing.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

T3 - Write What You Know?

I don't necessarily agree with the old adage, "You can't write what you don't know." Now, you might write what you know better than how you write what you don't, but you can still accurately portray aspects of life without having lived them. I might have book knowledge of schizophrenia, but I don't have schizophrenia. I can still write about it.

Where I'm going with this is that we often have criminal behavior in our books, yet I would wager that most of you have have not been down that road yourself. So what do you then base your knowledge of criminal behavior on? Some action perpetrated against you or someone you know? Something you saw on TV and hoped would translate well into your work in progress?

I can't say I haven't done that, but I always fall back on psychology to help me out. (DISCLOSURE: I'm not a lawyer!!!)

From what I can understand, sane people commit crimes for two main reasons: they are selfish or selfless. Even though the criminal system doesn't put much stock in a person's motives unless most of the evidence is circumstantial, once a writer gets the motive down pat, writing just about any criminal behavior believable.

Motives are the causes/reasons that induce a person to form the intent to commit a crime. It's not the same thing as intent, which is the purpose of the crime. For example, my husband's truck was broken into yesterday morning while he was fishing the mouth of the Eel River (thus, the impetus for this post). Since we assume the criminal was a homeless man, the motive was to stay warm because he took a very nice and expensive Gore Tex wading jacket on the back seat. The intent was to vandalize the truck by breaking out the back window.

The way we figured the event out in our heads, this was a selfish criminal act, because we assumed the homeless person took everything for himself. But it could have been selfless if he was stealing that jacket for his little son living in one of the broken down vans in a makeshift village in that area. This is the same reason why a person would steal to feed or clothe their families.

I've really tried hard to think of some crime Even criminals who just kill to kill or steal for the "good times" are working from a selfish motive. The revelry serves a purpose in their life even if the actual criminal act didn't have much of a function. White collar crimes of embezzlement and fraud come from a selfish arena mostly, but a write could easily throw in a different, altruistic motive and have the reader actually hoping the criminal doesn't get caught!

(Just as aside, earlier I made a point to italicize that this applies to sane people only. Those with mental instabilities or retardation might commit a crime and not even realize they are doing it. The Latin phrase that translates "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind be also guilty" is where the idea of mens rea, or "guilty mind," comes from. A mentally disturbed individual might have an actus reus, or the act of the crime itself, but not a mens rea.)

But I'm curious. Can you think of any crime that doesn't fit one of these two motives? Fair warning...I'll do my best to refute you in the comment section! :)

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Steven James' The Bishop

I received Steven James' book from the publisher to do a review on July 9. I finished it July 11, and that's only because it's over 500 pages long.

This book was a heart-pounding page-turner, and it had a really deep philosophical element I wasn't expecting in a thriller. Here's a synopsis from the author's website:

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers's cutting-edge skills are about to be pushed to the limit when a young woman is found brutally murdered in Washington, D.C. Her killers continue a spree of perfect crimes in the Northeast, but with nothing to link them to each other, Agent Bowers faces his most difficult case yet-- even as his personal life begins to crumble around him.

Patrick Bowers is a different kind of detective, one who's not hung up on determining motives (and who has his own website, complete with case files). He's into his gadgetry, like his phone which produces 3D holographs for his geospatial investigations. He's also got three women in his life vying for his attention, serial killers on the loose leaving clues via license plates, and a whopper of a promise he made to a dying man that plays over and over in his head like a broken record.

What I liked best about the book wasn't the twists and turns, although they were spectacular. I liked that this book really made me think. About what it means to be human, have free will, follow our instincts. The philosophical nature of this book was so deep that it almost lost me a few times, so I suppose there are those who might read it that it will for sure go over their heads. But by the end, I closed the last page and just sat there, dumb struck...

...before I immediately set about Googling some of the terms from his book, which I won't repeat now since I don't want to give away too much. And the big kicker is that James is writing about cutting edge research and giving the readers up-to-date information on legal findings that will really shock you. Utterly fascinating, as it opened up a new world to me!

As a therapist, I've wondered what makes people do bad things. Christians teach that humans are inherently evil from birth, but side-by-side that instruction is that we have the free will to choose our actions. Reading this book will throw this truth in the light in a big way.

What ultimately made me cry "pick me" for this blog tour was the warning that accompanied the email request for reviewers:

WARNING: This book contains violence and graphic descriptions of disturbing crime scenes. It takes the reader inside the minds of psychopathic killers.

Absolutely heavenly.

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