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Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is....


RULES: First commenter free associates (writes the first word that comes to mind) with the above word. Second commenter free associates to the first commenter's word, and so on. Remember - the FIRST thing that comes to mind.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Art of Subtlety in Fiction

For those who don't know, I'm a supervisor. I have interns from our local university who subject willing place themselves to my tutelage as they seek to learn the art and craft of being a therapist. Every so often, I have to deliver news to these interns that they may or may not want to hear.

Usually these lessons are cut and, you can't tell anyone outside the facility about your session...yes, you made a mistake when you laughed out loud at that person in, you shouldn't give your cell phone out.

But not too long ago, I had to teach an intern about subtlety. When what you're wearing eclipses what you say, it's a problem. Clients shouldn't be focused on you, but on themselves. Subtlety has its place.

I got to thinking that writers can learn a lesson in subtlety, as well. Just like therapists, writers want to heal the world, touch hearts, reach people, make a difference. We have a message yet we're told not to be preachy, or beat a person over the head with our political, spiritual, or moral message.

So here's some advice, by way of a well-meaning intern, about subtlety.

1)  Don't Use "Crowbar Prose."

Best I can tell, Aaron Gansky penned this phrase. It's when the author thinks to himself, "In case you missed it the first time, I'll repeat it." Here's an example: "It was almost enough to make her knees go weak. Almost."

Yes, we do it for the dramatic effect, which, in and of itself, is the opposite of subtle. You're writing a novel, not poetry or angst-y songs. This approach also tends to relegate your reader to a mindless nincompoop. Trust them to have picked up the word in the first sentence!

2) Less IS More.

I know you've heard this before. Nothing new. We go overboard and get especially verbose when we're trying to describe tragedy or trauma. We'll devote a paragraph or two to the actual event and then pages to the character's response. Tears, wailing, gnashing of teeth, etc....ugh. I get more from a single tear or no tear at all than all that jazz.

Be selective. It's not high school English when flowery adverbs and adjectives showed everyone how smart you were. You're vocabulary isn't being graded. The thesaurus should be your best friend, to find stronger, more specific verbs and nouns to eradicate extra, useless, lifeless words.

3) Leave Something to Your Reader's Imagination.

There is something intoxicating about trying to construct a story. Having it spelled out for you, word for word, leaves nothing for the reader to engage with. This is definitely true for mysteries and thrillers, but also for other genres. When your heroine falls in love too fast in a romance, a little sparkle is lost from the book as a whole. When you give too much backstory up front, it's information overload and bogs the reader down.  

4) Your Message is the Spice of Your Fiction, not the Main Dish.

Let your message fuel your passion to sit down and hammer out word counts. Let visions and dreams of people reading your work of art and coming away changed give you a passion for traveling this journey to publication.

During the process of writing, the long hours and tediousness of it, I believe writers lose track of how often they mention their theme or they'll slip in another reference to it, just in case it's been "too long" since the last one. This little dash of salt over and over again can literally ruin the whole dish.

Let's Analyze:

What do you think about the art of subtlety in fiction? Are there any other suggestions you would add to my list?

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Therapist's Take on The Hunger Games

I inhaled Suzanne Collin's trilogy this past week (new Precor elliptical machine + iPad = 220+ pages/hour), and wanted to share my thoughts about this iconic cultural series.

There WILL BE SPOILERS BELOW in order to talk about this in any depth.

First, two overall general comments:

1) The districts and the Capitol make a stark commentary on society.

The discrepancy between the wealth of the Capitol and the poor people in the districts is a major part of this book that struck me. The Capitol and its inhabitants are portrayed as living in gross excess while Katniss and others try to survive every day on meager rations.

Those in the Capitol only care about what they wear or how they look. Effie Trinket and Ceasar Flickerman become the key examples in the book.

2) The Hunger Games turn reality television into a monster.

In truth, the television shows that are popular today aren't all that far off from teenagers killing each other. You might scoff, but Fear Factor and Ninja Warrior among others are prime examples of our culture being fascinated with violence and grotesqueness. That everyone in the Capitol looks forward to these Games as the epitome of entertainment (which is reminiscent of gladiator games) should be revolting to the reader, and it is. Death for entertainment...let's film every second.

More specifically, though, I want to focus on Katniss and what I believe her character conveys to readers.

She's a SURVIVOR, but to her moral detriment.

She does whatever it takes to stay alive. I get that. She becomes a mother to Prim. She disobeys district laws to hunt. She listens to Haymitch. She saws the tracker jacker nest at her own peril. She's going to push the Capitol 's buttons with those nightlock berries.

Perhaps most troubling, though, is that she lies to Peeta and the district audience by making him and everyone think she truly loves him, when at best, her feelings are confused. I realize that she does this under duress, but I'm not fond of this aspect of the story for obvious reasons. What does this teach teens? 

She's COMPASSIONATE, but kick butt.

We see her volunteering for Prim, a truly self-sacrificing act. She's trying to sell baby clothes for money to feed her family. She sings to Rue and buries her in flowers. She won't leave Peeta to die, and quite literally risks her life to get him that medicine.

And was it just me, or was Katniss like a PowerPuff girl on crack? It seemed Peeta ended up maimed physically or emotionally in each book...and somehow Katniss brings him back. Definite role reversal from the strong, white knight rescuing the damsel in distress.

She's BELLA SWAN, but stronger. 

Come on! She's got hotties Gale and Peeta who love her, and she literally strings them along (and the reader, of course) until the very end of the series. She kisses each of them almost willy-nilly. I believe Collins conveys Katniss' confusion about her feelings for both of them very well, but I thought she took a cheap shot at Gale in Book 3 and jipped us a satisfactory conclusion of their relationship. (Notice I didn't say of the love triangle. I thought that was handled quite well....real or not real? :)

Let's Analyze:

If you've seen the movie version of the book, did you like it? Lacking the internal monologue for Katniss definitely left a hole in the movie. I found myself telling my husband little details I thought were important to the overall story but were left out...ah, the limitations of film. But Stanley Tucci was the most perfect Caesar Flickerman, as was Woody Harrelson's Haymitch. Awesome casting.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Free Association Chain

The words are....


RULES: First commenter free associates (writes the first word that comes to mind) with the above word. Second commenter free associates to the first commenter's word, and so on. Remember - the FIRST thing that comes to mind.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me?"

Okay Whitney Houston fans! Alert your coworkers, family members, or whoever is sitting next to you in the coffee're about to belt out some lyrics!

 ♫  How will I know (Don't trust your feelings)
     How will I know
     How will I know (Love can be deceiving)
     How will I know
     How will I know if he really loves me   ♫

Whitney brings up a really good question, one that I was recently asked as a Marriage counselor.

How will you know? How will our character's know? How will we portray them "knowing?"

I heard it said that in you should be better off with your mate than without, which is a great rule to apply to a fledgling relationship. By that, I meant that your life is more enriched somehow. It's like Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets when he said to Helen Hunt, "You make me want to be a better man." (Which, ironically, he equates with telling her that he started taking his pills for OCD!)

This is more than just a feeling, which as Whitney said, can't be trusted. No, it's a measure of accumulated actions. And what is love, really, than an action?

I propose here on my blog that there is a poetic verse that speaks to these actions better than anything I could come up with on my own. This passage is often hailed and cited at marriages as the pinnacle example of marital love for which to strive.
This definition of love is full of actions. If you were to take any of those traits and determine the opposite of that behavior, you have all sorts of relationship problems arise, like:

abuse (is not easily angered)                         adultery (always trusts)
infidelity (is not self-seeking)                       silent treatment (is not rude)
telling lies (rejoices with the truth)               holds a grudge (keeps no records of wrongs)
pushes buttons (does not delight in evil)      walks away (always perseveres)
not standing up for you (always protects)    jealous-minded (does not envy)
they always come first (not self-seeking)     makes you feel stupid (is patient)

As you can see, not all of these are eye-opening deal-breakers. If your character gets even a hint or trace evidence in their partner of any of the above, it needs to be addressed ASAP, or they need to cut their losses and walk away. Because I promise, years of marriage will only magnify these problems.

If you have your character getting into a relationship with hopes to change someone, then hopefully you'll show their character arc as one who learns how futile an exercise this really is by the end of the book.

Let's Analyze

How did YOU know that your spouse was the one for you? If you're not married, does the above sound like good advice to give?

Monday, August 20, 2012

To Medicate or Not, That is the Question

I feel the need to call out a double-standard which many times finds its way (or doesn't, I should say) in fiction.

It's no big deal for a character to pop a pill to improve a failing kidney, pancreas, or heart or reduce headache or blood pressure or regain cartilage. Should they not take these pills, they might even be considered foolish or foolhardy with their health.

It's a bit more risque to have a character take drugs to improve fertility or decrease mental deterioration. Or what about a non-Christian person taking the morning-after pill, which so many deem a simple medical procedure these days?

But it seems that no character takes psychotropic drugs near so freely as the others. By this, I mean, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, or anti-psychotic drugs.

Why is this the case? 

If you have a chemical imbalance in the pancreas, you have diabetes. It's no different for the brain, but people don't accept this.

When I'm with a client, ethically I'm bound to explain to them that research shows that clients can achieve more lasting change with therapy and medication. I usually refer them to a psychiatrist for a med evaluation.

Many times, clients can be reluctant for a variety of reasons to seek medication for a mental condition. The roots of this vary, but below are three common reasons I've come across:

1) Stigma associated with medication - only truly ill people need meds. To take meds would be openly admitting (to at least yourself if not to family and friends) that you couldn't conquer the problem on your own.

2) Staunch Christian background - hate to say it, but many Christian people believe that if they only pray harder or gave more to charity that God will heal them of their affliction. Not to say He can't, but this shouldn't exclude medication.

3) Bad medication experience for self/other loved one - people are far less likely to want to take medications if they know of one who took psychotropic meds and had a bad experience. Many meds come with serious side effects, or the dosage isn't right at first, and their loved one was "zombie-fied."

As a counselor, I try to take the stigma away from medication as much as possible. I believe fiction should do the same!

Let's Analyze

Have do you feel about medication for mental illness? What about having a character take meds in fiction?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weekend Funnies: Psychological Olympics

Never underestimate the power of positive thinking!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is....


RULES: First commenter free associates (writes the first word that comes to mind) with the above word. Second commenter free associates to the first commenter's word, and so on. Remember - the FIRST thing that comes to mind.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top 8 Unknown Bizarre Mental Conditions

In no particular order....prepared to have your mind blown. None of these conditions are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but would fall into a "Not Otherwise Specified" category of anxiety or adjustment disorders, most likely. I've included links to Wikipedia if you want to read more. (Source: Listverse).

8. Diogenes Syndrome

Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher, who lived in a wine barrel and promoted ideas of nihilism and animalism. Famously, when he was asked by Alexander the Great what he wanted most in the world, he replied, “For you to get out of my sunlight!”

Diogenes syndrome, also called Senile Squalor Disorder, is a condition characterised by extreme self neglect, reclusive tendencies, and compulsive hoarding, sometimes of animals. It is found mainly in old people and is associated with senile breakdown.

The syndrome is actually a misnomer since Diogenes lived an ascetic and transient life, and there are no sources to indicate that he neglected is own hygiene.

7. Paris Syndrome

Paris syndrome is a condition exclusive to Japanese tourists and nationals, which causes them to have a mental breakdown while in the famous city. Of the millions of Japanese tourists that visit the city every year, around a dozen suffer this illness and have to be returned to their home country.

The condition is basically a severe form of ‘culture shock.’ Polite Japanese tourists who come to the city are unable to separate their idyllic view of the city, seen in such films as Amelie, with the reality of a modern, bustling metropolis.

Japanese tourists who come into contact with, say, a rude French waiter, will be unable to argue back and be forced to bottle up their own anger which eventually leads to a full mental breakdown.

The Japanese embassy has a 24hr hotline for tourists suffering for severe culture shock, and can provide emergency hospital treatment if necessary.

6. Stendhal Syndrome

Stendhal Syndrome, also called Florence Syndrome, is a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly ‘beautiful’ or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.

It is named after the famous 19th century French author Stendhal who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence, Italy in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.

5. Jerusalem Syndrome

The Jerusalem syndrome is the name given to a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by, or lead to, a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination, but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds.

The condition seems to emerge while in Jerusalem and causes psychotic delusions which tend to dissipate after a few weeks. Of all the people who have suffered this spontaneous psychosis, all have had a history of previous mental illness, or where deemed not to have been ‘well’ before coming to the city.

4. Capgras Delusion

The Capgras delusion is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that an acquaintance, usually a spouse or other close family member, has been replaced by an identical looking impostor.

It is most common in patients with schizophrenia, although it occur in those with dementia, or after a brain injury.

The paranoia induced by this condition has made it a common tool in science fiction books and films, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Total Recall and The Stepford Wives.

3. Fregoli Delusion

The exact opposite of the Capgras delusion - the Fregoli delusion, also called the Delusion of Doubles, is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise

The condition is named after the Italian actor Leopoldo Fregoli, who was known for his ability to make quick changes of appearance during his stage act.

It was first reported 1927 by two psychiatrists who discussed the case study of a 27 year old woman who believed that she was being persecuted by two actors whom she often went to see at the theatre. She believed that these people “pursued her closely, taking the form of people she knows or meets.”

2. Cotard Delusion

The Cotard delusion, also called the Walking Corpse Syndrome, is a rare psychiatric disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that he or she is dead, does not exist, is putrefying or has lost their blood or internal organs. Rarely, it can include delusions of immortality.

It is named after Jules Cotard, a French neurologist who first described the condition, which he called “le délire de négation” (”negation delirium”), in a lecture in Paris in 1880.

1. Reduplicative Paramnesia

Reduplicative paramnesia is the delusional belief that a place or location has been duplicated, existing in two or more places simultaneously, or that it has been ‘relocated’ to another site. For example, a person may believe that they are in fact not in the hospital to which they were admitted, but an identical-looking hospital in a different part of the country, despite this being obviously false.

The term ‘reduplicative paramnesia’ was first used in 1903 by the Czechoslovakian neurologist Arnold Pick to describe a condition in a patient with suspected Alzheimer’s disease who insisted that she had been moved from Pick’s city clinic, to one she claimed looked identical but was in a familiar suburb. To explain the discrepancy she further claimed that Pick and the medical staff worked at both locations

Let's Analyze:

Do you think any of these might end up in your manuscripts?

Monday, August 13, 2012

When a Character Lacks Social Skills

I'm a people analyzer watcher. Occupational hazard.

As a result, I'm very in tune to when someone is "off." I'm not talking about the people you might see walking down the street talking to themselves, gesticulating wildly at the heavens, and glaring at others like you might try to snatch their spare set of pants tied around their waist.

No, I'm talking about the people who masquerade as "normal." Coworkers who smile and nod as if everything is fine, but secretly harbor demented ideals of world takeover. Clerks who ring up your more intimate purchases at Target more slowly, thoughtfully. Major ick.

Or even people whose little quirks indicate they harbor an as-of-yet-unnamed mental illness. (Lack of official diagnosis doesn't mean it's not there!)

I run into these normal "off" people all the time. Of course in my work, but also at church, in the grocery store, at the mall (most definitely at the mall).

I got to can a writer convey a slight "offness" of a character without spelling it out?

Here's some suggestions:

1) Don't use their POV. 

Behaviors are the most descriptive manifestation of mental illness. Behaviors encompass both what a person says, does, does not say, and does not do. Having other characters simply noticing their oddities will clue the reader in.

For example, the POV character could be having a conversation with the "off" character and notice an uncomfortably long silence, as the "off" character has lost the social cue to follow the flow of conversation.

This goes for conveying all mental illnesses, though. If one character has major ADHD, you could have a POV character wonder what he or she keeps looking around at, or how they can't be still while watching the movie, etc.

2) Focus on social mores. 

This is probably one of the biggest clues that someone isn't quite right. Below are a list of pro-social behaviors and a few examples of how a character could exhibit "off" behavior in that arena:

Eye contact: don't make eye contact, make too much eye contact, glare/stare excessively
Personal space: invade too much, stand too far away, are too free with their touch, never touch
Greeting: greet someone too effusively, don't move to shake hands when one is extended, greeting is out of place in the context, don't smile
Compliments: never give them, never accept them, give too many
Conversation: knowing when to speak, when not to, disclosing too much about themselves, not being able to make "small talk," listening/showing interest in the other person, not "tracking" the conversation with smiles, nods, "mmm-hmms"

I think you get the idea.

Let's Analyze:

How else might you convey to a reader that one of your characters is socially "off?"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekend Funnies: A Phobia Fact

Can I get an Amen?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Free Association Chain

The words are....


(Can you tell what I've been involved in this week? SO glad it's Friday!)

RULES: First commenter free associates (writes the first word that comes to mind) with the above word. Second commenter free associates to the first commenter's word, and so on. Remember - the FIRST thing that comes to mind.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Character Clinic: Will Knight and Fantasy vs. "Going Crazy"

I've got Jim's character Will on the couch this week. Will's 35, and a former high school history teacher with a spotty memory. He's obsessed with learning his family history, especially the true story behind his parents' break-up when he was nine years old. He's currently in therapy with a psychologist who is trying to figure out why Will is having vivid hallucinations of traveling back in time and revisiting events from his past. He lies down on a rock on the outskirts of town and is "flung"through time.

Jim is concerned that Will's experiences on the rock will ultimately make him think he's going crazy.

Picture courtesy of Idea go/
Jim, you wrote that your genre was "literary fiction," but I'd suggest including "with supernatural elements." Any kind of time travel automatically bumps your book into the fantasy/supernatural genre, and as such, you have quite a bit of license.

It's a fine line in various genres (in particular with fantasy) as to what might be perceived as crazy or not. If you have Will in a relatively staid existence and then throw in some time travel hallucinations, then yes, he might think he's hanging on by a thread.

I'm not sure how far with the hallucinations you want to go, but if it's ultimately part of a fragmented memory coming back to a whole for Will, then you might want to characterize them as repressed memories rather than hallucinations. If he has the feeling that these events happened to him, then I believe reader swho react better to repressed memories than hallucinations.

Hallucinations, unfortunately, are one of the biggest indicators of a serious condition called schizophrenia (and a couple of others, though this is the biggest). When people read about voices or delusions, they think "wacko." (And they'd usually be on the right, not-so-politically-correct path.)

Repressed memories are actually rare in my world, and for sure they are very controversial. There's great debate about whether people make them up, or are goaded into remembering things that didn't happen by very suggestive questioning, etc. I'd research this avenue to see if it's something that might be of better use to you than hallucinations.

If I've gotten something off, please set me straight in the comments below. I'm open to questions!

Let's Analyze

Have you read a book where the MC had either hallucinations or repressed memories? What did you think about the depiction?

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Therapist's Take on Veronica Roth's Divergent and Dystopian Fiction

I had a friend (waves at Heather) request that I read Veronica Roth's Divergent before singularly dismissing dystopian fiction. So I did, and enjoyed it. I haven't read The Hunger Games, though I suspect that I will now. Even so, dystopian fiction doesn't have much to recommend it to me (besides gazillions of copies being sold in the current trend).

Some Dilemmas with Dystopian

1) The World is Bad Enough Already.

Why would I want to use the little free time I have during which I usually engage in escapism to a better world, to read about a world that is worse? In Divergent, Tris lives in a world I don't want to live in. So how do you get people to read your book? What's the takeaway? Why should I emotionally invest in such a book?

2) You have Lots of Explaining to do.

You have to be a good writer to write dystopian. I have to want to stick it out through the rather lengthy explanations of why the world is now as awful as it is. What catastrophic event happened after 2012? How depraved did humankind get and why? And what's the new regime look like? This takes precious pages...and Roth does a great job.

3) You have to Suspend Readers' Disbelief.

There is crazy, futuristic stuff that happens in these books. Roth's initiation of Tris into the Dauntless faction had my eyebrows raising. Jumping off buildings? Falling into holes? Climbing in and jumping out of moving trains? Beating each other up? Mind-altering drugs? Who would sign up for this? Tris would and did....with a good enough reason that I never doubted her decision.

Review of Divergent

Chicago's population is divided into 5 factions, which weren't random, but rather a steeply ingrained version of high school stereotypes (let's not forget this is a YA novel).

Candor (the honest) = socially incompetent/awkward
Erudite (the intelligent) = nerds
Amity (the peaceful) = hippies
Dauntless (the brave) = jocks
Abnegation (the selfless) = religious folk
Factionless = rejects

Now I realize the above might seem a gross generalization, but as the novel progressed, I was still struck with how Roth accurately portrayed each sect from my own high school. I could relate to the factions, though each were taken to an extreme version I didn't personally recognize.

I imagine each reader was internally selecting which faction they would have joined if they had been 16 and about to undergo initiation. This draws a reader into the story immediately, and of course we wait with bated breath to know which faction Beatrice would join.

The book focuses on Tris' initiation into one of the factions, and an incredible, dangerous secret that sets her apart from the other initiates. Truly, Divergent is a story of a girl trying to find a place where she fits in. She's awkward at first, the equivalent of a girl who would be picked last for any sports team. Eventually she changes, physically and emotionally, to one more accepted and not so easily discounted.

Yet even within in her chosen faction, she's not always likely to do as they would hope she would do, which complicates her life, yet she seems unable to stop. She's still trying to fit in, but her own personality (and secret) make it difficult to do so. She's unique, and being a clone doesn't suit her, which is a nice takeaway lesson for young adults everywhere.

Roth, a Christian, wrote a romantic element in her book that maintains Christian values of purity and chastity while still keeping things exciting. She also addresses family relations that are far from perfect, which come with lasting emotional trauma and fear, competitiveness within friendships, and sibling connections that rise above dissimilarities.

It was a good read, and I'm glad I read it. I hated the way it ended, which essentially meant I immediately logged onto Amazon and got Book Two, Insurgent. You'll do the same if you read this book...but that means Veronica Roth did her job.

Let's Analyze

Have you read Divergent? What did you think about my breakdown of the factions?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weekend Funnies: Comic Afictionados Debate

Click to enlarge....very funny if you're into DC v. Marvel comic debating....

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is....


RULES: First commenter free associates (writes the first word that comes to mind) with the above word. Second commenter free associates to the first commenter's word, and so on. Remember - the FIRST thing that comes to mind.