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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Dealing with disability in fiction

Got this image from 'silver collection'

Got this image from ‘silver collection

One of my main characters (Justin) is disabled and I’m finding that this provides an interesting challenge for an able-bodied writer like myself. To write about a disabled person’s life, even in the third person can be tricky but one of the key issues I try to keep in mind is the difference in the capacity for movement that any individual might display from one day to the next.

Though the nature of my character’s disability is quite complex (and it would reveal a lot of the plot of my book if I discussed it here), I can at least touch on the basics. His movement is limited by degrees. I’ve purposely decided not to give him a fixed and unchanging degree of movement, this is for a number of reasons but primary among them is realism. From my experience, when I think of people with disabilities and incapacities that I’ve known, or that I currently know, I’ve seen a surprising fluctuation in both in their capacity for movement and level of discomfort from one day to the next. For example, someone with enduring back problems may have fairly fluid movement one day, only to stiffen up in pain the next.

I want my characters to feel real, I want Justin to be able to surprise himself in the heroics he can achieve, just as much as any hero I write. For this I need adrenaline to be able to help him when he needs it but I also want to point out the increased pain and discomfort which may plague him in the aftermath. If I just decided that he can only move so quickly, or that he can only endure so much then I’m putting limits on his character that I wouldn’t put on an able-bodied character. In fiction your heroes need to be able to surprise the reader in the deeds they can perform. If I were to limit any character in a fixed way it would detract from that, and worse still, it would exclude the character from the standard behaviours expected of a hero/ine.

All of my character’s difficulties are physical (in a general sense), in terms of his mental capacities they’re around average, though Justin is very wise. I imagine the formulation of their character would take a very different form for a character with a mental disability or one who suffers from mental illness. I’d be very interested to hear any other writers’ takes on this. Have you written a disabled character before? How did you deal with their limits? What form did their character development take? Are you disabled yourself, if so are there any aspects of your life/experience that you feel should be present in the characterisation of a fictional character with a disability? As always thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you either here or over on twitter, All the best, John

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Birds do it, bees do it, but should fictional teens do it?

aguttes-chastity-beltWhen writing a book for young adults, as I am, there comes a point where you have to deal with the inevitable: the truth of the matter is that teenagers have relationships, and a difficult issue when it comes to depicting modern teen relationships is sex.

So what do you do if you want to write a book for young adults, that appeals to the realities of their lives, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of making more chaste teens feel alienated? Basically, an issue I ran into a few months back, like a solid brick wall, was; should teen characters have sex?

My two characters are hardly even teens (they’re both almost twenty) but in the end I decided to take a route for them that walks a subtle line between an actual real-world physical relationship and something less overtly sexual. I definitely don’t want the two of them to be ‘just friends’ but I also have to be careful not to make things too intense for younger readers. I only recently realised that my books might appeal to a younger demographic and keeping them in mind has forced me to make some pretty hefty changes.

One of the key issues I’m having to deal with are the difficulties in plot points that are dependent on their sleeping together. When I say ‘sleeping together’ I don’t mean anything sexual, I simply mean that on a number of occasions a key plot point is dependent on them staying over at each other’s houses.

I pondered this problem for a long time. Originally my main characters had a physical relationship and back then I planned out chapters and chapters of plot based around the two of them being present at the same houses at various times of the day and, importantly, I just assumed that they would be sleeping at each-others’ homes.

However, through the course of time (and after having my wife proof-read my first few chapters) it became clear that if my characters’ sexual relationship remained as overt as it was in earlier drafts the book(s) would be unlikely to be appropriate for/appeal to the teen/pre-teen demographic I’m now hoping to reach.

This is a difficult decision and it’s meant that so many different things have had to change. Though the plot of my book is still very similar to what it was when I started, I’m still having to traipse back through old material to make sure that it doesn’t refer to what was previously a much more overtly physical relationship.

I definitely need them to be boyfriend and girlfriend, however the nature of this relationship has changed significantly. This can sometimes weigh a little heavy on me as I’m not sure if this makes me a dishonest author, pandering to preferred reader, rather than writing what I originally set out to do. That said, I have to be realistic about this. I want people to read my books and it’s no use writing a book that will only appeal to me. If my primary aim is to provide an entertaining reading experience for a wide range of readers, I have to at least avoid writing about things that are either inappropriate or unappealing for those readers.

To be honest I’m actually pretty comfortable with my characters the way they are now. This change in how I define their relationship means I can concentrate more on the day-to-day aspects, rather than trying to pay too much attention to the nature and language of their physical encounters (I have to confess, I’m not the best at writing sex scenes, I’m just going to have to leave that to Anne Rice). Changing their physical encounters, from being overtly described to simply existing as subtle hints, actually seems to have allowed me to explore a more realistic and believable relationship for my two main characters.

Despite this, I’m still concerned that there may be something less ‘literarily honest’ about the way I’ve written my redraft. Of those of you who do write I’m very interested to see what you have done (if anything) to alter your characters, and/or plot, to make it more readable for your target demographic. Am I alone in doing this or do other authors think (even occasionally) about their target readers when sitting down to write? As always thanks for reading and I welcome any comments you have in the comments section below, Cheers, John

 
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Posted by on 6 October, 2014 in writing hints and tips

 

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The realities of slow authorship

melting_clock_lifestyle_1000Everyone has a book in them and anyone can churn that book out, what differs from individual to individual are the limits that stand between them and that finished manuscript. For me that limiting factor is time, I work near-on full-time and, because my wife and I work opposing shifts, I also spend a considerable portion of my week as a SAHD (stay at home dad). Time is my nemesis.

My writing gets jammed in wherever I can fit it and I feel the constant awareness that I should be writing more. I rush to get the kids to bed, clean away supper dishes, and generally get the house in order with enough time spare before my wife gets home from work. During my days off there are things in the house that need fixed, groceries to buy, meals to cook and things to take the kids to and pick them up from. I am on a constant quest for some alone time in front of my computer.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Though the individual details may differ I imagine that the demands of normal, every-day life will be one of the most tenacious challenges for most authors and would-be authors. However I’ve spoken to many other writers who suffer from a very different problem; the dreaded writer’s-block. This is a problem that I haven’t had in literally years, and I wonder if time and inspiration are linked.

Perhaps there’s something akin to the expression ‘absence makes the heart grow stronger’ that goes on with writing. I simply don’t have time to fall out with my muse: when I find the opportunity to write I grab her with both hands and the rest takes care of itself. Maybe it’s got more to do with the old adage that if you want something done ask someone who’s busy.

The sad fact might simply be that the blocked among us have too much time to avoid the pitfalls of procrastination and getting stuck in their own heads. Whilst those of us with too little time end up with so much creativity bottled up that when the time comes to write they never feel they’ve done enough, or that it’s been drafted enough to be any good.

Somewhere out there there must be authors who have by some means found themselves in the perfect middle, with just enough time to write but not so much that they get distracted. In the mean time the rest of us just have to envy one another’s glut of either time or inspiration.

My own approach seems to be working fairly well (if unnervingly slowly), I’ve already got a completed book under my belt (you can check it out here), my next book is almost past it’s first third in completed form, and I have two others with a few completed chapters and full book plans. These facts fill me with hope but I can’t help but be a realist about time constraints: this next book is taking a while (a long while). I promised myself back when I turned thirty that by forty I’ll have written ten books and have recorded an album, but with each twenty-minute writing session that counts as my entire authorship of the day, I feel that goal slip ever further. My only choice is to keep pushing and keep my fingers crossed, on top of that maybe I have to learn to make writing more of a priority in my day.

What’s been your experience of trying to write? Do you lack time or inspiration? What tricks have you picked up to get over these obstacles? Let me know in the comments below and as always thanks for reading. By the way, you can also follow me on twitter by following this link, all the best, John

 
 

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Small town philosophy

1236837_914517181911287_1936006581401853506_nWe might expect perspectives to be very different relative to where people live, but the truth can be much more subtle. I’ll admit that living in the countryside can mean that things like solitude can be taken for granted but, as a fellow member of Crieff Philosophy Society pointed out, someone in a bustling city could feel more alone than a country bumpkin out on an empty hillside. It’s all relative.

So what is different about small-town philosophy? To be honest I think the lack of higher learning institutions and the more sparse population can add more potential diversity. In a city it’s (relatively) easy to find like-minded individuals, whereas in an area with a smaller population you often have to be happy with similar-minded individuals. Though this might sound like a negative thing it can actually be a more rewarding experience than just meeting with people who agree with everything you have to say (more or less).

In a city I would probably be socialising with a very similar demographic to myself. That’s not to say a wider, more diverse, circle of friends couldn’t be had in a city, I’m just noting that it would be easier to find like-minded people in a city given the population density. In the countryside you’re kind of forced into a broader circle and it can be extremely rewarding.

The philosophy society has been meeting for around two years and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the conversations, the differences of opinions, and the alternative attitudes I’ve encountered in our wee group.

Our numbers look set to swell a little in the next few weeks/months, at least if social media is anything to go by. I recently set up a Twitter page for the group to run alongside our newly arranged monthly get-togethers which will be informal nights out, focussed around a chosen topic, on the first Thursday of each month. All these initiatives seem to be exposing the society to a larger portion of the local community and I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback.

Our next get-together is on 6th November and the chosen topic is identity. So expect more posts on gender, nationality, nature vs nurture etc. through the course of October.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of a philosophy group, either in a town or city, what have your experiences been like? Is it equally as easy to find diversity in the city? What kind of events work best for your group? I welcome any comments or suggestions you have in the comments section below and, as always, thanks for reading, Cheers, John

 
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Posted by on 5 October, 2014 in Philosophy

 

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