Writing psychologically

Mind – svgsilh.com

 How popular the psychological thriller is currently! Writing psychologically involves one character messing with another’s mind, or suggesting the mind of another is seriously in question. The pull for the reader is trying to work out the real from the imagined or the subtly misrepresented. Three high-selling books became prominent and myriads of attempted read-alikes followed. The three were Gone Girl, then more psychologically successful, The Girl on a Train;  and best of all, Before I Go to Sleep.  All three had tremendous success and films were soon made of them. Many authors have attempted to emulate this kind of novel, choosing  titles very near to these three biggies.

The ‘psychological’ comes in because mind furnishes the plot. In some novels this use is more convincing than in others. Why? Simply that the actions of the characters stay true to their nature to the end. S.J. Watson fully understood the task of making his characters remain coherently believable. The first two books drop off in credibility around three-quarters of the way through.

 If the action does not stay possible within the character arc, the novel is unsatisfying. Too many twists of intent and the reader’s credulity is stretched to breaking point. A heartless murderer is not likely to sit down and freely give his whole history to other characters, explaining how he came to kill. All this does is provide an explanation to the reader so that the plot can be said to end.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you have no knowledge of guns, don’t embarrass yourself by describing one.

If your knowledge of serial killers is restricted to reading novels about serial killers, your character is unlikely to be convincing.

Novels that try to follow the pattern of unreliable narrator often fail because the voice does not convince. If you can’t hear your character’s voice in your head, don’t write his dialogue. Solution? There’s direct contact and there’s serious research. If neither are available to you, best to write about a character who is more accessible to you. You can always stretch his or her natural behaviour a step or two further to make it sinister.

Four years before this genre blossomed, Sebastian Faulks in Engleby took a character whose experiences Faulks himself shared or witnessed at close quarters. He used a setting he knew well: Eton, for describing gross bullying, just touching upon the earlier adversity enough to spark the reader’s imagination. By the time Engleby reaches Cambridge, the reader fears the damage the lack of love and relentless bullying has caused.  When awful things are gradually revealed, then, they are wholly convincing within the arc of what the reader has taken in, bit by bit, as the plot progresses. Further, the character does not stay in one murderous state of mind, but develops over time. Events, situations, do have an effect, as does age. Perhaps predictably, Faulks being one of their own, journalist mainstream reviewers were caustic about this thought-provoking, well-written book but wrote glowingly of newcomers with more sensational but less psychologically accurate novels.

As a psychologist, I sometimes interviewed/assessed youngsters who had been referred for school avoidance. I can’t write about them, of course, but the experiences helped me imagine a new character in another geographical and social setting. That led to my story A Boy with Potential.  In my next post, I’ll write more about this and offer a sample.

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Civil war 1644 – recreating history

 

Great Chalfield Manor

Near Melksham there is a lovely manor house

built in the 1460s by Thomas Tropnell. The Arts and Crafts gardens are worth visiting in their own right, as is the manor itself but on Saturday 5th & Sunday 6thAUGUST 2017 from 10am there is an

ENGLISH CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTMENT EVENT

   Admission £5 for Adults, 16 years and under go free.

Writers re-imagine historic events but here – where the garrison was billeted for the two years of the Civil War – the events will be re-created.

Re-enactment  The Marquess of Winchester’s Regiment of the English Civil War Society will re-enact the two-day Royalist occupation of the manor house in 1644.  The Regiment and accompanying civilians will march in at the start of each day and guards will be posted to keep watch.  The regiment will drill and fire muskets and cannon during the day.

In tents in the garden civilians will show and tell you how people lived in the seventeenth century (Living History).

A clerk will be set up in the Great Hall to replicate the writing of the accounts of September 1644.  The Chaplain and officers will also recreate various activities in the adjoining parish church and around the manor.

During the afternoon a small Parliamentarian patrol will be driven off in a sharp skirmish in the Orchard to the rear of the manor.  Any prisoners taken will be tried and then marched off under escort.

“It’s actually bringing history to life; you can really smell gun powder, hear the noise, and for children it gives them a sense of actually being there and makes history more interesting” (visitor comment 2016)

Admission charges for adults including National Trust members at this event contribute to maintenance and development of the Arts & Crafts gardens at Great Chalfield.     Evensong will be in All Saints’ Parish Church at 6:00 pm on 6 August.

   GREAT CHALFIELD MANOR SN12 8NH

For further details see:  www.marquisofwinchesters.co.uk and www.greatchalfield.co.uk

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Fiction: EVERY character counts.

An exhibition of Breugel is showing at the Holburne, Bath, the first UK exhibition devoted to the dynasty. Not huge or cheap, but well displayed. The family tree shows the connections between the different artists. Breugel the elder, his two sons, one of Jan’s sons, two of his grandsons.

According to Johnson’s recent article in the Guardian, only Pieter, the elder is worthy of acclaim. The younger, he finds derivative, although his copies of Pieter snr’s work have served us well for centuries.

Things might have been different if the sons had received tuition from their father but sadly he died when they were infants. They were apparently taught by their grandmother. That’s a tale in itself.

Johnson doesn’t rate this, that the Holburne displays proudly:  

For the writer, however, the fascination lies in the characterisation shown in every tiny face appearing in the lively paintings. The Breugels studied and reproduced their local people and events rather than imagined religious ones. Avarice, shame, embarrassment, lust, enjoyment are only some of the emotions portrayed in the works. The faces, movement and expressions take us to a time we couldn’t have summoned up with that accuracy.

Writing a novel, have you made every character notable, memorable, as those in a Breugel painting? Even a walk-on part can illuminate the scene, his character impinging on the plot even if minimally.  It’s a wonderful recommendation if readers comment on the particular characters you have created, superb if they’re recalled some months later.

Breugel characters  are alive in the moment of seeing the paintings. This gives the writer a goal to strive for.

 

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Icy Short Story – performance art

‘Icy short story’ could feature a crime, an arctic setting, or a scientific experiment – even cryogenics.

These skilled stories heard by the packed audience at Story Fridays in Bath, UK.   My own icy story explored the ultimate chill in a relationship. 

There’s a growing popularity for short stories as performance art. Story Fridays, A Word in your Ear, in conjunction with Kilter Theatre, is the creation of the talented playwright and short story writer, Clare Reddaway. The event occurs every second month inspired by a theme. The most recent is theme was ICE.

I was very happy that one of my short stories was chosen: A Fragment Retained, and thrilled that it was read by talented actor, Kirsty Cox

Sometimes it’s better not to read your own story when it’s written in the first person: the association with the writer/reader can distract the audience from the writing itself. More importantly, my story was delivered far more effectively by Kirsty. Why read a mini drama yourself when you can have a professional?  You can judge here how brilliantly Kirsty performed the story of a woman trapped into an unplanned conclusion.

This icy story is a mid-point gasp in my (mostly humorous) collection of satirical short stories, Me-Time Tales: tea breaks for mature women and curious men.   (The companion volume, Curious Men, follows later this year). The story has another name in the book. I tweaked it for performance. It’s often a good idea to make adaptations for stories heard, rather than stories read silently.

Last time I had a story in Story Friday I also enjoyed the advantage of a very skilled actor  performing, (Olly Langdon). He memorably brought my character, a WWI POW to life, which would have been difficult for a woman to achieve.

It is nice to connect with an audience through something you’ve written, reading it as if written especially for them. I enjoy doing this when the story is a narrative, but these two stories had a single distressed character and they benefited enormously from the actors’ magic touch.

Stories for performance need such decisions – personal connection with the audience, or making a character more credible?

 

 

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Writers, do you beautify your main character?


Prince Albert – Winterhalter

The recent TV production, VICTORIA, enchanted viewers in the first three episodes thanks to the girlish, if skittish character of Jenna Coleman’s princess. The appearance of the awkward and distant Albert added drama, if not as much attraction, as riveting Rufus Sewell, Lord Melbourne.

I discovered that the ridiculous hair style of Albert was no TV concoction when I visited the Chateau de Compiégne, Picardy.  There the wonderful portraits of Franz Xavier Winterhalter (known for his true-to-life painting) formed a special exhibition.

Winterhalter became one of the royal pair’s  favourite painters. It seems that Victoria praised his truthful representations, so we must accept that her own portrait is as she was, with bulging pale blue eyes, plump arms and stocky little body even in her youth. Whereas Tom Hughes is near to a spitting image of Albert, Jenna Coleman’s Victoria is very much beautified.

It may be that the scriptwriters came closer to the couples’ personalities. After all, clashes between two strong spirits is the stuff of drama. If one were portrayed as wholly sweet and cooperative, the series would fall a long way short. In my own case, I preferred the image I had concocted from history books to Tom Hughes, but sadly his lisping portrayal of the penniless prince was probably near the truth.

Have you written a character close to truth of someone you’ve actually known, while another you’ve deliberately beautified? Readers are left unsatisfied when excuses are made for the protagonist with unblemished features and unstained character, whereas the antagonist’s redeeming elements are ignored. Such black/white characters are termed ‘cardboard’. It’s surely the shades of grey that grip a reader, so don’t beautify your characters.

History is far more interested in what Victoria really looked like, not how beautiful a painter could make her. The same is true of writing.

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Genre? Striking a new note.

 

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What genre?

Writers are always advised to be clear about their book’s genre and to concentrate upon a target group for it. Fantasy stories, for readers of fantasies, sci fi for sci fi readers, and so on. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to please an audience of one genre with your book in a totally different one? That would be a real achievement. I suspect that multiply-awarded Wolf Hall has not managed this. However, it can happen.

Let’s take music as an example. I’ve never liked jazz, despite the fact that my eldest is a musician playing both classical and jazz. It irritates me, the extemporisation on a theme. Simple soul, I want the theme, please. But then one day the Hot Sardines came on the radio and converted me. For those non-jazz lovers, this is a band that has put on wild live shows all around New York City – and now much further in the world.

I was chatting to a young teenager who had only ever read Harry Potter for his leisure reading and was forced to read ’The Scarlet Pimpernel ‘ as curriculum work. Reluctantly, and after much grumbling, he ‘worked through’ the book and came out a convert to historical fiction. ‘I really reckoned the French Revolution and the scheming. Cool. I’m into it now.’ Mightn’t he have been easier to motivate if the cover hadn’t been the one shown below right?

The fact that this series had a very wide appeal is demonstrated by the very different covers, presumably targeting contrasting reader groups. Here are just a few. On a bookshop table, each would likely attract very different shoppers. Scarlpimp Scarlpimp2 Scarlpimp3 136116

It makes you think, if you’re a writer yourself, doesn’t it? It is pretty easy to change a cover and re-upload your title, or to have several covers showing for sale. A number of long-standing successful novels have two or more different covers.

Here’s one of John Wyndham’s, again likely to appeal to different audiences:

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Of course you need a title that doesn’t confine you; ‘Lolita’ or ‘War and Peace’, for instance.

Otherwise, one advantage of being an Indie author is that you have control over your own covers. Almost worth avoiding mainstream publishing for that fact alone?

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Writer blogs and their lifetime

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Some few years ago I began my first writer blog:

http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com. But I didn’t want to show myself– I let my characters do the talking. Sadly, the characters didn’t live up to the image of Moliére’s group above.  It was more like this on the left. womensclub

I had just published my collection of satirical short stories and I wanted a writer blog that would speak about them, but one that would stop short of marketing. In that respect I fully succeeded; I talked about all the characters, it was humorous, and it didn’t market. I doubt if I sold one copy of the book as result of that site.

But I did have fun and, it seems, this writer blog appealed to the Ukrainians who followed every post(!) The characters became real, including one with a fish phobia, another who could only operate from a chaise longue, and one who was worried about her husband lurking near, ready to snatch her back from her recent liaison. The characters took over the blog completely, writing the dialogue including blistering criticism of me, their author. They started a literary criticism group, discussing each others’ tales. That was extremely unedifying and more than a tad bitchy. Altogether, this wasn’t an author blog, it was a characters’ blog. There was even an intruder, Russell, a character from one of my as-yet incomplete novels.  It’s always good to have an outside perspective on things, isn’t it?

I have just written the final post on this blog. It’s had nearly 23,000 visitors but it’s run its course. The book, Me-Time Tales,  is in its second and expanded edition with new stories, additional characters. Kindle_Cover_opt I need to spend time writing on this blog, and on the author website (http://RosalindMinett.com) that, very belatedly, I am preparing.

I have said Goodbye today to my quirky blog giving this representation of one of mymattress characters. She was moaning that I hadn’t included the new characters from the 2nd edition so, as a swan song, I mentioned her and two others (rather miserable characters).

Now to the serious business of writing. The site you are on is straightforward if far less creative than fictionalcharacterswriting. I learned a lot while blogging on there. But I am not recommending such a time-consuming exercise to new writers or any writers, unless as an alternative to doing Codewords or Adult Colouring.

How far should we write for our own pleasure? One successful marketer, MaAnna Stephenson, has recently stated that before even writing a book she would carry out her marketing exercise: appetite for such a book, pitch, response, audience and so on.

Oh dear. We writers know what we should do but we just carry on writing the stuff in our heads. Our silly heads?

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Writing a suitable home

Settling in at home – again?

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Who is to decide what ‘home’ is ‘suitable’? How does it feel to the one ‘homed’? In HOMED, the second in my Crime Shorts series, a boy is being ‘helped’ to settle to a conventional home life. Something is wrong, but it isn’t easy to work out. Is a crime imminent, or has one already happened?

One of the issues I had in mind when I wrote this was the Australian disgust in the 50s and 60s when they built standard homes for aborigines and then found that understanding and use of sanitation and housekeeping did not come automatically with the facilities provided. The sentiment was ‘it’s not worth giving them anything civilized.’ The realization that those homes were impossibly wrong for the Aborigine essential life-style and culture.

HANDWBIRD

Similarly, what may seem to be a ‘nice’ solution for an individual in need may ignore aspects that are essential to him/her. As a psychologist, I often saw people before and after being homed, often for reasons thought entirely separate from the homing experience.

We have to be inside the head of our characters when writing fiction. It’s an exercise to see a situation from inside, or from a point of view not too visible.

There are crimes motivated by negative emotions: jealousy, anger, need to control/overpower. There are also crimes perpetrated by ignorance. The crimes we may feel most are those that penetrate our individuality. Blind kindness, adherence to established process, bureaucracy – these can lead to damage also.

Read this story and decide where the crime lies.

Homed_book_cover

Homed. (Crime Shorts Book 2)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00VAVQ1DS

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Readers’ Christmas Sav(i)ours

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Yes it’s that time again. Christmas Dinner. Marie couldn’t get a cloth to match the curtains and now Cyril’s coming (groan), the rattan chair will need to be squeezed  between whoever looks thinnest on arrival. It will ruin the symmetry of the display.
PRESENTS!!! Is there one for everyone? No? Off to the bookshop. Okay, Amazon, if you’re static. Ignore highly reviewed and popularised paperbacks. Others will have had that thought. Be original.  You can’t? You have gone blank with Christmasitis?

Here are my solutions:

I IMAGINE YOUR CHRISTMAS GUESTS INCLUDE:

Lorraine: She has frequent periods of depression following failed relationships. In her downs she retires to bed and reads avidly. Take those romances away, they only make her cry. She needs a new way of thinking. She needs a new way of thinking. 
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ANSWER: How to be a Good Wife,  Bodleian Library. Lorraine might as well consider what worked in 1936 even if she is never to be a wife herself.

Cyril:   Once he represented HM as consul in a distant island. Life was slow, uncultured and extremely comfortable. Now returned, he swings between part-time futile consultancies and no longer feels sufficiently important. He needs a book that will give him instant gravitas.51cyouGon5L._SY410_BO1204203200_-150x150

ANSWER: Dull men of Great Britain. Leland Carlson.  Now Cyril will feel he is actually an interesting person himself.

 Avril:     Sharper than all of us, she appears to have read EVERYTHING,518WtTH3gkL._SX391_BO1204203200_-150x150 mostly with a cynical eye. She needs to be softened up, to learn that leisure books exist. And she should try being the hostess for once. Let her cook.
ANSWER: FIFTY SHADES OF CHICKEN F.L.Fowler (of course)
 Dominic:   He is a dandy, valuing appearance far too much. Apart from a mirror, he needs to think big, and particularly to think. Go carefully, too taxing a b61hKIizWwlL._SX369_BO1204203200_-150x150ook will prevent him from opening the cover.  This should suit.
ANSWER: Shepherd Spy  Simon Drew.
Tom:     He gains enormous pleasure from reading books that have faults. It will fill the room with his tenor bleats if you can find a badly edited book with an erudite author. Unfortunately, I dare not nominate one, or every word I write in the future will be spat upon. The other alternative is a book that invites extension of vocabulary.
ANSWER:  The Horologican: A Day’s Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language. The impeccable Mark Forsyth. Hardback.That’ll shut Tom up.
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Siobhan:   She’s a secondary school teacher (History, and can sub for English). She would like to gain insight into the privations of 1940s Britain while munching gluttonous Xmas snacks, so give her Book 1 and 2 of this trilogy. Evacuation is on the curriculum (yr 9) so she can pass it off as homework next term.
ANSWER:  Historical fiction. A Relative Invasion, Rosalind Minett. Book 1, Intrusion. Book 2, Infiltration. No swearing, sex or violence (unless you count psychological violence). A tale of resilience from pov of young boy.
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Marie:    Always the hostess, never the guest. Give her something so gripping she won’t bother ever to make a hot toddy for anyone, let alone a cooked meal.
ANSWER:  Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.  Harari.  Come on, Marie, let zip those neurons. A bit of physical anthropology will do you the world of good.
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 LASTLY, Dear child, male or female. May you always be eclectic in your reading. May you have adults around who choose your books well.

416iYcFxnXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ANSWER: THE RUNAWAY SMILE  Nicholas Rossis. Beautifully illustrated. An engaging read with an embedded message to steer your darlings throughout childhood.

 

Have fun with the party games, everyone. I’ve just provided the Fit the book to the beast game.  OR just give the kids 1000 brain teasers and let them tell you the answers during your post-prandial.

                       HAPPY CHRISTMAS

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ARABIA – Walter de la Mare

ARABIA.

What is left to say?

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This was the first poem I loved, and it’s still my favourite. Here the country is the character, and like all well-drawn characters it is complex and has its dark side.

 

Far are the shades of Arabia,
Where the Princes ride at noon,
‘Mid the verdurous vales and thickets,
Under the ghost of the moon;
And so dark is that vaulted purple
Flowers in the forest rise
And toss into blossom ‘gainst the phantom stars
Pale in the noonday skies.

Sweet is the music of Arabia
In my heart, when out of dreams
I still in the thin clear mirk of dawn
Descry her gliding streams;
Hear her strange lutes on the green banks
Ring loud with the grief and delight
Of the dim-silked, dark-haired Musicians
In the brooding silence of night.

They haunt me — her lutes and her forests;
No beauty on earth I see
But shadowed with that dream recalls
Her loveliness to me:
Still eyes look coldly upon me,
Cold voices whisper and say —
‘He is crazed with the spell of far Arabia,
They have stolen his wits away.’

ARABIA – Walter de la Mare

 

 

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