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Monday, January 31, 2011

Janice Thompson's Stars Collide Review and Giveaway

I had the pleasure of reading my first book by Janice Thompson this past week. It won't be my last, and for those of you unfamiliar with this seasoned author's stuff, let me introduce you to her via a review and hopefully entice you to enter the giveaway!

From the author's website:

Kat Jennings and Scott Murphy don’t just play two people who are secretly in love on a television sitcom–they are also head over heels for each other in real life.

When the lines between reality and TV land blur, they hope they can keep their relationship under wraps. But when Kat’s grandmother, an aging Hollywood starlet with a penchant for wearing elaborate evening gowns from Golden Age movies, mistakes their on-screen wedding proposal for the real deal, things begin to spiral out of their control. Will their secret be front-page news in the tabloids tomorrow? And can their budding romance survive the onslaught of paparazzi, wedding preparations, and misinformed in-laws?

From the sound stage to a Beverly Hills mansion to the gleaming Pacific Ocean, Stars Collide takes readers on a roller-coaster tour of Tinseltown, packing both comedic punch and tender emotion.

The premise of this book was really unique. I mean, stars in love on a sitcom actually being in love with one another. Throw in a grandmother with dementia and things rapidly get out of hand. I loved how Janice had the characters quoting films from long-ago eras, making it a quirky game they all played. It was also neat to get a "backstage pass" to behind-the-scene drama from a sitcom.

Donning my therapist hat, there were two aspects of Stars Collide that intrigued me, not only by the very subject matter, but how it was conveyed over the pages. The first is the heroine's backstory of being abandoned by her father when she was seven years old. Janice couples Kat's emotional trauma with that of a young, spoiled child's on the sitcom set, and a powerful scene emerges in the ladies' restroom as Kat realizes that she and the little girl are very much the same, wondering what each had done to not inspire love from their fathers. I really like how Janice brings to Kat's mind various scripture of her heavenly father to help her cope with the disinterest of her earthly one.

The second aspect of this story that readers with aging parents or grandparents will identify with is that of Kat's grandmother, Lenora. Lenora shows all the beginning signs of dementia, forgetting small details or recent conversations, but being able to vividly remember minutia from fifty years ago. Kat struggles with the idea that Lenora is losing her mind, as would any caregiver. However, the whole book is basically built on the assumption that one shouldn't try to upset people with dementia, and things get really out of control.

There are various schools of thought on how to treat dementia. Some say you leave the person to their memories and don't intrude on their reverie with the harsh reality of today. Others say you do the person a disservice to essentially lie to them about life. Kat and Scott and everyone around Lenora actually go to grave lengths to keep her from realizing the mistake she has made in assuming the on-set engagement was real. It actually gets a bit ludicrous in how far they all go to keep Lenora from getting upset, but I can also see the very human motivation behind their actions to not tell her she's wrong.

Overall, this was a very entertaining book, set in a great location, with a good premise to keep you turning the pages. If you like women's fiction books formerly known as chick-lit, you'll like this first-person story a lot. It was a thoroughly delightful read that I hope you'll want to read as well!

The giveaway is open to anyone in the US. Leave your email address in the comment section below for one entry. Retweets about the giveaway will get you an extra entry! Winner will be announced Saturday! Good luck!

Available January 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

T3 - How to Determine Your Character's Motivating Need

This week concludes my month-long series on character motivations. I touched on David McClelland's Learned Needs Theory where he proposes that all people have a motivation driven by one of three main needs: Need for Power, Need for Affiliation, and Need for Achievement. (Click on the Needs to access previous posts in the series.)

Now that we've covered the needs, how can you be sure which motivation your character has? Easy! Take a part of the actual test McClelland used to solidify his theory and determine a person's need hierarchy.

It's called the Thematic Apperception Test. It's a set of 31 black-and-white picture cards that show emotionally powerful situations. You can see some of the examples I've provided. If I were to have your character in my office, I'd present these pictures one card at a time and ask him or her to make up a story about each situation. The spontaneous stories created by a person will give an indication which Need is greatest in their lives because the character would project that need into the story.

Sit yourself down, and, under the guise of being your character, think up stories for the following cards:

Card 1:

Card 2:

Card 3:

Card 4:

Card 5:

Card 6:

Card 7:

Card 8:

Card 9:

For an example, let's take the last card shown, a picture of a man and woman, the man with his face turned away. Let's say Character A looks at the card and says, "This is a married couple who just had a fight." Character B looks at it and says, "The man is mad because the woman got a promotion he thought he deserved."

The stories don't have to be long and convoluted. The above examples are one sentence long, but they clearly reveal a need tendency. Character A is high Need for Affiliation. How do I know this? The character mentioned the association between the two people as intimate--"a married couple." The character further mentioned that they had a fight, and what's a fight, but a barrier to affiliation and connection?

Character B is high on Need for Achievement. Very likely, were I to pry, this character probably got overlooked for a promotion himself, and was quick to project that experience into the picture. Achievement, measured by advancement up the corporate ladder, was something Character B highly desired, so therefore would be more prominent in his stories.

Honestly, you'll see a trend start to emerge and once you do, the really fun part happens: you take their motivational need and develop barriers (plot points) to thwart them from fulfilling that need. Needs affect a person's behaviors because they act in such a way as to meet those needs--it is their prime motivator. In order to ratchet up the tension, you'll know exactly what to throw their way once you determine how important Power, Achievement, or Affiliation are to them.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movies & Madness: Iron Man

I had to put Iron Man's Tony Stark on the couch this week, just because his character is a good example of childhood issues laying the groundwork for adult personality problems. 

Let's look at Tony's childhood. He had a smart, in-demand dad who gave him lots of money, but not lots of time. Tony never felt any real attachment to his dad, as far as being validated. As a result, he internalized the idea that he's not lovable, and therefore worthless. He became pessimistic, self-denigrating, and had a mistrust of just about everyone (made worse by the fact that his mentor, Stane from the first movie, betrayed him).

In light of these awful feelings about self and others, Tony's defense mechanism is narcissism. The line might blur between film and reality for Tony Stark and Robert Downey, Jr. here, but traits of narcissism are clearly evident in both films for the character:

1) He's all about himself. He says, "I am Iron Man" not because it was going to change the world, but because it inflated his sense of self. Now, he does make significant achievement in his own right, but he expects recognition of his importance, and that recognition has to be on national TV. Pyrotechnics, Stark Expos...the grander the better.

2) Requires excessive admiration. No explanation needed. When he doesn't get this, i.e., the media gives him a negative reaction, he retreats to his workshop all moody and sullen.

3) Takes advantage of others. Poor Pepper. Forcing her to be the CEO of his company really overwhelms her and makes her bitter at his treatment of her. And all those women he just slept with (used). He also treats his friend Rhodey pretty badly (i.e., like dirt).

4) Believes he is "special" and "unique." He doesn't want the government to get their hands on his "high-tech prosthesis" - because he has "successfully privatized world peace." TONY has done this. No one else. He sees the government as encroaching upon his fame, his niche.

5) Shows arrogance and haughtiness. He has several witty remarks aimed at authority figures while he's under the spotlight of the camera. He throws lavish parties and drinks too much, causing danger to the guests.

6) Is preoccupied with fantasies of ideals, like world peace. A noble cause, for sure, but in Tony's world, this looks a certain way, and when reality intrudes, he doesn't take kindly.

7) Lacks empathy. While Tony eventually does develop empathy, especially toward Pepper, he had a long way to go to get there. When he shows up with strawberries, and realizes she's allergic to them, he says, “I am getting better at this — I knew there was a correlation between you and strawberries!” He is trying to think outside himself.

In the second film, his partying gets out of hand. He's trying to drink away his worries about the palladium poisoning, but he presents this unstable image to the world, which is a maladaptive coping strategy if ever there was one (trying to cope with one thing in a way that makes things worse).

But lucky for Tony, he receives a message from his dad in the form of an old archived video. This message essentially lets Tony know that his dad really did love him, and this helps heal his mild reactive attachment disorder. (Would that there was a cure for people like this in real life.)

Essentially, this is a watershed moment for Tony, and he sort of breaks free from his maladaptive narcissism and inner demons to go save the world and save the girl, yada yada.

Hope you've enjoyed this Movies & Madness review. Any and all suggestions for future assessments are welcome!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Sympathetic Antagonists

This week's character on my couch comes from Raquel, a returning customer! :) She's writing a 1840s historical romance and wants some insight into her antagonist. She wants him to formidable, yet sympathetic, the best kind! Jeannie = excited.

Her antagonist is Kent*, a man who grew up with the hero Mike* and thought of him like family. They were outlaws together, but Mike has a change of heart when he is shot and nearly dies. He disappears from Kent's life, but Kent finds him a small town, living a quiet life. But an associate of theirs goes to Mike for help, and Kent realizes Mike's loyalties have drastically changed. Mike even stops Kent from trying to shooting the associate by shooting Kent's gun out of his hand, resulting in a painful injury. Angry and betrayed, Kent wants to "rescue" Mike from his "delusion of tranquility" and small-town monotony. He wants Mike to taste freedom and adventure again--with him, of course--so he comes up with a plan to force Mike into pulling off a dangerous heist.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Raquel wants to know: How far would Kent go to do this? Would he be driven enough to have Mike return to him to go so far as to destroy the life Micah has built? At what point does anger replace the feeling of loss enabling Kent to go so far as to physically harm Mike or those Mike loves? Would a man who basically raised himself have the emotional understanding of brotherhood or would Mike be more of an extension of himself? Would he give up?

Readers out there....these are the type questions I like getting. SO specific. I can't wait to dig in.

My first question for you to consider would be: how far do you want to take Kent? Basically, the answer to any of your questions could be yes, but you'd have to add some additional facets to Kent's portrayal to make him realistic enough to carry this off.

For example, my best friend from high school and I rarely talk. As a normal thinking individual, I can rationalize that this is because we went to different colleges. She's in Kentucky, I'm in California. She got married and started a family before I did. As an individual with a psychological disturbance, I absolutely could believe that she did this in purpose, that she abandoned me, that she didn't love me as much as I loved her.

The above describes a fairly borderline individual. But I could also take it up a notch to a more antisocial personality, which would be in fitting with an outlaw-type, but maybe a bit overboard for the purposes of your story.

A borderline individual who perceives a cut or emotional distance from someone they love would react with intense anger and instability. I could see Kent going to this small town and seeing Mike for the first time and absolutely being in denial about it even being him. I mean, how could Mike have left him? He wouldn't comprehend it. But once he saw that it was Mike, via some quirk or defining physical characteristic, he'd literally go postal. (Think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.)

Borderlines don't have to be in a romantic relationship to undergo this perceived feeling of abandonment. It can be bro-mantic. They wold go to great lengths to avoid that abandonment (and in Kent's case, Mike's abandonment was real, not imagined). He'd be frantic to bring Mike back, in essence, to make sure Mike still cared about him the way Kent does Mike.

But if Mike made a solid choice of his quiet life and the heroine over Kent, Kent would definitely fall in and out of devaluing his relationship with Mike and Mike himself. Of course, he'd be feeling empty and alone, which would affect how he views himself. He might have a very low self-image (i.e., I'm nothing, which Mike saw, and he left me) or unstable identity, (i.e., If only I could have amounted to something successful, Mike wouldn't have left, therefore I need to conjure up this huge, amazing jewel heist to prove my self-worth). See where I'm going?

So if you're reading this and Borderline Kent fits, here's a few suggestions to add to his character to be more in keeping with this kind of diagnosis.

1) He'd need a vice - preferably something that is self-damaging and brought about by impulsivity, such as binge drinking, reckless dueling, etc.

2) He'd need to have difficulty controlling his anger - like once set off, it's fireworks or fight to the death. Likely he'd be a big fighter, and his anger would be very inappropriate and intense, probably rarely befitting the situation.

3) He might benefit (read: come off more real to the reader) from a self-mutilating behavior, like picking at his skin or possibly burning himself with cigars (I'm trying to think 1840 period here). I don't think I'd go with suicidal behavior, but this third is just an option if you want to make Kent a bit darker.

I want to touch on a quick version of Antisocial Kent so you can see which might better suit your needs. Antisocial Kent obviously doesn't conform to social norms. He's an outlaw. He's deceitful, cons people out of money/uses aliases/lies, has lots of impulsivity and doesn't really plan ahead. He has a reckless disregard for safety of himself or others, thus shooting people is not a problem. He doesn't have remorse about it, either. He probably doesn't honor financial obligations and can be irresponsible. He's aggressive and irritable, constantly getting in physical fights.

I know what you're thinking: those aren't all that dissimilar. You'd be right, too, because Borderline and Antisocial are in the same Cluster of personality disorders. But an Antisocial Kent would be harder for readers to have sympathy for than a Borderline Kent. However, the root of the sympathy for your antagonist will be found in Mike's perceived abandonment, given that Mike was Kent's only "family."

I found some informative articles on the childhood symptomology of both antisocials and borderlines. There are similarities, again, but maybe something will strike out at you as more feasible for your poor Kent. See, I'm already feeling sorry for him!

I LOVE this idea for your antagonist. Awesome. Good luck!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Nugget of Wisdom: Characterization

I found an article on craft by Vicki Hinze weeks ago on Fiction Finder. I want to share it with you because there was this one nugget amongst many in that article that stuck out to me.

I hope you'll appreciate it's simplicity the way I do. Here it is:

Here's a simple formula for creating an unforgettable character:

Find the character's Achilles' heel--their greatest fear or weakness or vulnerability. That's the character's internal conflict. Then stomp it. That's external conflict in the book. The stomping is your plot.

Have you ever read such genius summed up so succinctly? This was actually pretty revelatory to me. I guess in an innate, writer's way, I knew that this is what I wanted to do in my stories, but I really like having a rhyme to any reason, and this provided that.

It's almost like having a life verse that you memorize from the Bible to guide you in your day-to-day living. This is like a writing verse to guide you in keeping your head straight when you sit down in front of your computer to write.

By the way, you can tell that Hinze and Debra Dixon are friends just in how Vicki phrased this nugget. Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict book is all about the internal and external merging, and she lays this out plainly in her quite infamous GMC chart. (Click here for a downloadable .pdf copy.)

Hope this little nugget made you go, "Wow. Never thought of it quite that way." Happy writing!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

T3 - Character Motivations, Part 3

This week we're covering the Need for Achievement (N-Ach), the third motivating need as identified by psychologist David McClelland. If you missed the Need for Power or the Need for Affiliation, click on the names to read the previous posts.

People with High N-Ach want to excel at what they do and succeed at what they plan. They will go-go-go until they reach the top. They are driven by the challenge of success and the fear of failure. They want to win, master skill sets, be in control, and set new records. They want to "boldly go where no one had gone before."

They don't need praise or recognition of a job well done. Most likely they prefer to work alone or with other high N-Ach people, with a high degree of independence. (They absolutely do not like micromanagers!)

They need constant, specific feedback for them to judge where they are in their progress of meeting their own goals. This feedback ultimately should include advancing up the corporate ladder, with appropriate raises and bonuses. But let me be clear: it's not about the money. It's the achievement of making more money, where the money becomes a symbol of their progress.

They usually set realistic goals that are challenging and always--always--taking them in a forward direction. They are a big believer in calculated risks, preferring neither low-risk situations or high-risk situations. Here's why: a low-risk situation where success is easily achieved is not genuine achievement. If anyone could do it, that would nullify their sense of gain. A high-risk situation could mean success is more a game of chance (low internal locus of control) than the result of the N-Ach's own effort (high internal locus of control). It also carries a chance of failure, which N-Ach's avoid at all costs.

They might have too high of expectations of others, expecting them to be high N-Ach, as well, which could be problematic for them. They might think of people with low N-Ach as being slackers, content to get by with the bare minimum, or reckless cavaliers, choosing high-risk situations where failure would be not only unembarrassing, but also expected.

People with high N-Ach might have parents who encouraged independence in childhood and gave out praise and rewards for success. Positive feelings were associated with achievement (as well as the reverse), so that might help you with backstories.

Next week I'll wrap up this series with some suggestions of how you might best be able to determine what your character's deepest motivating factor is, and how to slam them up against their unstoppable force to create great tension in your novels!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movies & Madness: The King's Speech

I got to watch this movie this past weekend on a date night (yes!) and was unbelievably moved. Colin Firth deserved the Golden Globe award he got Sunday for his portray of King George XI of England.

Here's a short blurb from the International Movie Database:

The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.

While I would love to rant about the psychological undertones and awful backstory (read: childhood, because he was a real person) King George had, I don't want to give anything away. But, from the blurb and movie trailers, you can determine that the king suffered from a condition they called stammering back then.

If Bertie, the Duke of York, had lived in today's time, he would have been diagnosed with Stuttering.
This is a disorder usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. There are two main criteria: 1) disturbance in the normal fluency and time patterning of speech and 2) the disturbance interferes with academic or occupational achievement or with social communication.

What is fluency? According to Stephen B. Hood, editor of Stuttering Words (1997), fluency encompasses several things: the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate, rhythm, and effort. It involves the smoothness with which units of speech (sounds, syllables, words, phrases) flow together. 

So the best way to recognize non-fluent speech is listening for abnormally broken or slow speech, or speech that takes entirely too much effort on behalf of the speaker (and the listener). 

The DSM-IV lists 8 different occurrences that can disturb fluency. A person only has to have one to meet the criteria of stuttering:

(1) sound and syllable repetitions, such as "buh-buh-buh-banana"
(2) sound prolongations, such as "aaaaaaaple"
(3) interjections, such as "um," "uh," "ah," "well, you know"
(4) broken words, such as "pic--[pause]--ture"
(5) audible or silent blocking, which is when the person is speaking but nothing is coming out because there is a stoppage of air, either at the larynx, lips, or tongue
(6) circumlocutions, which is substituting easier-to-say words for problem ones (think of this as the game of Taboo where you would say any word but the word at the top of the card to avoid getting buzzed)
(7) words produced with an excess of physical tension
(8) monosyllabic whole-word repetitions, such as "I-I-I-I see him" (what we stereotypically think of as stuttering)

Quite astounding, really, that any one of the above would mean you could be a stutterer. Don't tell me that you didn't learn something just then!

But what makes The King's Speech even better was that his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, takes Bertie deep into his inner demons, to face them head on. He presupposes that no infant is born as a stammerer. It's something that comes on around age 4 or 5, and he believed trauma/anxiety have a lot to do with it. Not to ruin anything, but this is where the heartbreak came for me. Truly amazing what this man overcame and endured, to end up thriving and prospering as the King of England.

This is still a major research topic today, and many researchers believe a criteria about anxiety should be added to the next issue of the DSM, which would be the DSM-V. You can download a scholarly article about chronic anxiety and stammering here if you're interested.

Hope you enjoyed some yummy pictures of Colin Firth. He deserves to be celebrating this week. He was amazing in this film. I highly recommend it.

Q4U: Have any of you watched this? What did you think? More importantly, did you cry like a baby as I did?

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

15 Famous People with Mental Disorders

Since my COUCH QUEUE IS EMPTY, I thought many of you would find some real-life celebrity diagnoses interesting: 

I didn't know that some of these people suffered from mental disorders, so I was glad for the additional links (click on the names) and videos included in the post.

Mental illness is surely no respecter of persons.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy MLK Jr Day!

Will be back tomorrow with another character assessment. Until then, enjoy the holiday!

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

T3 - Character Motivations, Part 2

This week we're looking at the second motivation as identified by psychologist David McClelland, the Need for Affiliation (N-Affil)

If you missed the first part of this new series for writers, click here for the Need for Power (N-Pow).

This second category deals with the people who are social by nature. Affiliation can be defined as a positive, sometimes intimate, personal relationship. These are the people love being a part of a group and are friendly to others. They crave human interaction and want to be liked by everyone they meet. It drives them crazy when someone dislikes them and they don't know why.

They always want to be in harmony with others, so as a result, can often be conformist and reluctant to stand out. These are not competitive people. Most likely, they stick with whatever norms have been established by whatever group of which they are a part. They want approval, rather than recognition, and it's that approval which motivates them the most.

High N-Affil individuals prefer work that provides significant personal interaction. They perform well in customer service and client interaction situations and do best in a cooperative, cohesive environment where they can be a supportive team player. They often make poor managers or leaders because their ability to be objective is impaired by their high need to be popular and liked. A person with High N-Affil placed in a leadership role might avoid making unpopular decisions, permit exceptions to rules, and show favoritism to friends.

Some situations bring out the N-Affil greater than others. For example, take the weeks and months following the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center. Americans put their differences aside and came together in a time of great distress. In general, situations that lead to fear cause people to want to be together, as well as events of high stress.

It should be noted that people who are high N-Affil don't necessarily have to be with other people all the time. Ideally, they strive for just the right balance between time to their self and time spent with others. If that balance isn't being met satisfactorily, then the person will be more motivated to adjust it one way or the other.

If you know someone who would blow off studying for an exam because they value a relationship more than the grade, they are likely High N-Affil. If you know someone who is uncomfortable socializing with others--minus close friends and family, perhaps--then they are low N-Affil.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Technique Toolbox - Putting an Affair on Ice

Credited toEvan Imber-Black, one of the authors of Rituals in Families and Family Therapy

For use with
: Adults
What you will need
A willing couple
Symbolic items representing the affair
Bowl of water (at couple's home)
Freezer (at couple's home)

What you do:

Have the couple identify separately an item or object that reminds them "of the unhappy time that has arisen between them." When they decide on their objects, have them meet together, discuss their symbols, but the objects in a large enough bowl to accommodate them, fill it up with water, and put it in the freezer.

The therapist then asks the couple to conduct an experiment (assuming they were willing to do the above). They are asked that the next time they begin a fight on any topic, they will stop the fight and take out the frozen bowl. The items have to thaw enough to be retrievable before they can fight about the affair. 

During the thawing out period, the couple is to talk about positive qualities of their relationship, both past and present. The discussion can be enhanced by the couple soliciting the opinions of their support network (people who have good things to say about them being together).

This ritual calls upon the couples' creativity, sense of humor, and playfulness--all of which are usually missing in a couple struggling in the aftermath of an affair.

Imber-Black discusses that by having each partner put a symbolic element into the water bowl to freeze, it introduces a symmetry into a system where one partner was viewed at the victim and the other the villain. By both "victim" and "villain" identifying an item that captures their feelings about the affair, they enter the game on a more level playing field. This process also confirms separate viewpoints regarding a joint problem and gives them both ownership.

Selecting an appropriate symbol helps the couple see the affair through the eyes of empathy for the other, rather than anger, blame, or defensiveness. In essence, the affair is re-contextualized collaboratively, and the couple uses their problem-solving abilities to conquer it. The ludicrousness of the frozen water bowl helps remind them that they can have fun even with a major rift between them.

Doing the above in the couples' home shifts the home from a place of catastrophe to a place of humor and problem-solving.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Treatment Tuesday - Suppressed Grief

This week's assessment is from Elizabeth, who is writing a futuristic sci-fi novel about Brandon* and Anna*. Brandon is perpetually cheerful and almost never serious. Anna is quiet, reserved, and hard to tell what she's thinking. One might think Anna doesn't like you because she's blunt and sarcastic, but has a good heart deep down. The two have a rocky relationship together after Branden gets Anna out of a bad home life when they are teens. They have a relationship all through high school, and Brandon learns to read her very clearly.

When he goes to college, she joins the military. Brandon tries to stay in contact with her, but Anna couldn't handle the long distance aspect, especially when she thought she feel in love with someone else. Brandon drops out of college and joins the military, and just as he hoped, they get stationed on the same ship together. He tries to re-establish their relationship, but Anna was gun-shy after all the time that had passed and the fact that the last man she loved had betrayed her, causing her to shun romance.

Elizabeth wants to know: Anna eventually dies, and it's clear she dies for Brandon. However, Brandon doesn't seem to show any of the traditional signs of grief. He acts like his normal, happy-go-lucky self. Does this indicate a lack of depth in his emotion, or does he just fail at processing and showing emotions?

Good grief questions, Elizabeth. Grief is so personal and complex. Earlier on this blog, I did a series on the types of grief as well as a later series on the different facets of grief. I'd encourage you to check those out, because they definitely touch on the type of grief Brandon is displaying.

I'm going to do this assessment under the assumption that Brandon loved Anna, and that his feelings for her were far from shallow. In fact, his feelings were so great that at Anna's death, his brain can not process the loss. He is probably in the Denial phase of grief, refusing to accept the possibility that someone who meant so much to him is no longer living.

If Brandon knows she's dead--maybe he saw it with his own eyes or held her in his arms as she slipped away--then the knowledge is buried in his mind even as he goes about living as if it never happened. If something like the above happens in your manuscript, then there could be a case for a severe traumatic reaction to what happened, such as not believing it did.

You'd have to answer that question: Does Brandon know in his knower that Anna is, in fact, dead? If he doesn't, then this assessment would look quite different, but again, operating on the assumption of more common reactions, I'm going to assume he knows that she's dead, but just isn't grieving the way everyone thinks he should.

Suppressed grief usually erupts in some form or fashion over time. A person's body just can't handle it. Brandon might start experiencing psychoemotional and physical disturbances, such as blurred vision, gastrointestinal disturbances, and heart palpitations. (Notice I didn't say psychosomatic--which is in the person's mind.) These are real problems that seem to have no biological basis.

I'd consider giving Brandon one or two of those physical symptoms, at least, to make his level of grief more realistic. A perfectly healthy man having heart palpitations of chest pains would baffle doctors until it slipped out that he had recently experienced the death of a loved one. (Hopefully the doctors would refer him on to a therapist at that point.) 

It is said that the two main healing variables for grief are talk and tears. Now not everyone is going to cry and not everyone is going to talk...but most everyone does one or the other as their primary way to cope. Brandon's happy-go-lucky self will eventually need to peter out into one of these modes, and it would need to be a dramatic, climactic release for him (and for the expectant reader) or readers could have a couple of reactions:

1) Brandon didn't care about Anna as much as he said he did. For some reason, people believe the the amount of tears is somehow a testimony to how much the person was loved. We expect to see people grieving at funerals, and those who aren't are looked at circumspectly.

2) Brandon is going to explode. Depending on if there is tension in your story surrounding his lack of grief, and his acquaintances being worried about him, etc., the reader might begin to think Brandon's just going to go postal, and this would not be a good release, obviously.

3) Brandon is crazy and thinks Anna didn't die. Readers might think he is in need of professional help to get him through the grief.

The reality is that Brandon's world has changed. A reader will probably go along with a portion of the book where Brandon isn't grieving "appropriately," but after a while, they are going to come to expect him to have that catharsis...that acknowledgment that his world has changed and that he's going to try to adapt and reconstruct his world to a new reality without Anna.

The key for you as the storyteller is to make Brandon's reaction of suppressed or absent grief realistic, but gauge how long you want to leave him in that limbo state before you ease the minds of your readers. The easiest way would be to include the physical grief symptoms, as any reader would accept the reasoning that he's having those problems because he's not accepting the loss or beginning to grieve.

Good luck to you! Additional comments or questions are always welcome.

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