Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

Picture courtesy of

Last week I mentioned I would talk about countertransference. To understand what countertransference is, though, you have to understand what transference is. Freud was the one to coin both these terms. Transference was thought to be the patient's emotional reaction to the therapist (a present relationship) based on unresolved, early family relationships in the past.

By default, then, countertransference is the opposite of that: emotional reaction on the part of the therapist to a patient in treatment. I like the original meaning of thes word (from Freud) than the more broader generalizations it carries now. Originally, Freud said that countertransference came about not because of the patient's personality traits (they are sulky or beligerant) or disorders (think too highly of themselves or are annoying because they worry about everything. No, he said it originated from the therapist's own unresolved conflicts.

Ah-ha!! Gold mind for digging deeper into our own psyches as writers! From Freud's perspective (and no, I'm not a Freudian therapist...but he had some interesting theories), the therapist's conflicts were unconscious, yet tapped into by something about the patient. For example, one woman might remind a male therapist of his mother or ex-wife. A young high school student about to enter college might reflect the therapist's own child at that stage in life.

What does this mean for our manuscripts? I honestly beleive that our unconcious conflicts play a much greater role in our writing than even we know. Why do we write what we do? Why do we chose this character, with red hair and brown eyes, over another? Why this quirk over that one? Why this particular backstory and not something else?

I think if you look hard enough, or maybe not even hard at all, you'll see little bits or yourself in each character. You'll see a pet peeve you have reflected on the page of a secondary character and it makes you smile as you use the medium of your writing to really jab at people who drive to slow on the left lane. You'll see anger issues about the same thing you have anger issues about. You'll see a character description that is exactly like the friend who moved away in eigth grade who you still think abotu and wonder what became of her. You'll see real-life issues like divorce, adoption, abuse, adultery and other heavy-hitters because you or someone you know went through it.

I did a whole series of posts on why we write to heal, starting here. And I think that's where our countertransference comes in. The transference isn't necessarily to the writing itself, but more o the characters. Have you ever written in a character you loved to loathe? What about one that made you cry out of compassion for the things YOU YOURSELF were putting her through? Really...what's that about? A sadistic impulse for your character? Or a masochistic one for you as a writer?

Q4U: What are your thoughts about countertransference with your characters? Do you see it happening in your books, or do you think I'm a quack (which I am, folks)?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Which Lane Do You Write In?

I stumbled across another theory as I was driving my commute back home from work yesterday. I am a left-lane driver. Yes, I probably do go too fast most of the time. I just have issues being behind someone for very long. I also don't like the view or feeling stifled or stuck.

Plus, my epiphany came in the left lane.

Photo by Ben McLeod

I think which lane you drive in has something to do with personality. Now you right-laners can get upset with me or agree with me, it won't matter. It's just a theory and thus may not hold water. Regardless, I'm going to do some personality generalizations.

I think right-lane drivers are the type to observe rules, not try their limits or test tried-and-true methods, possibly lean more toward Type A (although I'm Type A...I never said this was a perfect theory) and introversion. The right-laner looks at the left-laner and thinks, "They're so reckless."

Left-laners are more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, to heck with the rules (quite literally), extroverted, Type B, rule-snubbers, possibly even looking down on right-laners as they cruise on by them, thinking, "They're so boring."

Hopefully I won't get flogged...but these were just some thoughts I had while driving. (The old guy in the Dodge honestly didn't need to be on the road, people. Seriously.) does this relate to writing? I'm thinking it might be the same! Those in the right lane probably go at a more sedate pace, knocking out their daily word counts every day. Fairly structured writing routine. Left-laners are far more likely to have marathon typing sessions on a weekend where they go into the wee hours and knock out 5000 words like nobody's business. Right-laners probably have the outline all ready to go while left-laners make it up as they type.

Q4U: Is this remotely accurate? For the sake of research, let me know in the comment section which lane you drive in and whether it fits your writing style.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Reactive Attachment Disorder

Photo by bricolage.108

Today’s assessment comes from Jaime, focusing on her heroine Goldie.* To give a little backstory, Goldie is a 20-year-old daughter of a wealthy shipping company owner living in Michigan during 1870. She was named Goldie because her father’s dream is to be a miner. Even though she is a living “mascot” of his dream, he rarely has time for her other than to harp on her shenanigans, which she performs to get his attention. Goldie doesn’t like her name or being a symbol, but wants to be loved unconditionally for who she is as a person. Her mother only wanted to use Goldie as a “social beauty toy to gain status with.” Goldie does have an older brother, Lance,* who was the only person to spend time with her and be affectionate, but he left home at the age of 11 to join the Civil War and when he returned, he wanted no reminder of his past.

Enter Conner,* a haunted hero running from a history he greatly regrets but finding himself falling in love with the spitfire Goldie who cannot trust him or his love because she finds no value in herself.

*Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Jaime writes, “I think Goldie is primarily struggling with a deep desire to have personal value beyond her name and to have unconditional love, yet she cannot trust it when it is presented to her.” She wanted to know my thoughts on this subject.

Goldie’s emotional issues are definitely a product of her family of origin (by this I mean her immediate family). She’s in this weird triangle relationship between her father, who doesn’t spend time with her, and her mother, who only wants to use her. Her brother, the one person she had a connection with left her (read: abandoned…as this probably would be how Goldie would feel), and then added insult to injury in wanting nothing to do with her when he returned (which could seriously send the girl into a depression).

Goldie could very easily suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder of Early Childhood, mainly because both her parents have persistently disregarded her basic emotional needs for comfort and affection. There could be two ways Goldie would behave as a result of this deficit, so you have to ask yourself how you want Goldie to initially interact with everyone else in the book until her internal healing comes. She could 1) have a failure to initiate or respond appropriately to most social interactions by being overly inhibited, hypervigilant or ambivalent/contradictory responses—approach/avoidance/resistance—to others, or 2) be overly familiar with strangers or lacking selectivity in who she chooses to try to bond to. These types can be called inhibited or disinhibited, respectively.

Personally, disinhibited might have more to work with. Goldie could naturally seek love anywhere she could find it, and that might mean less-than-savory sources, which lands her in more trouble. This would set up the hero, even though haunted with his own history, to feel protective of her.

But to make your story really pop with reality, you’ve got to give Goldie some role model of what true, unconditional love really is. She doesn’t have that in her parents or even her brother, so how would she recognize it when Lance presents it to her, much less trust him? In reality, she probably wouldn’t…unless she had something to compare it to. Some other couple in the book, perhaps? Or maybe even in an old collection of love letters from her grandparents? (This way you wouldn’t have to create a new character.) Something to guide her to a Scriptural understanding of what true love really is? Her inability to trust will have to be overcome by some big event in the structure of the book that helps her see Lance isn’t going to ignore her like her father, abandon her like her brother, or use her like her mother. Do you have something up your sleeve?

Anyway, these are just my initial thoughts. As always, I welcome writers with assessments to feel free to email me with any further questions or to throw additional light on the subject.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ode to My Crit Buddy

Just a little ditty I made up tonight to honor my crit buddy. We are so like-minded, yet so different...only God could have brought us together. :) Here's to you.

“Cut this,” she writes. “Stronger without this,” she types.
My novel whittles down.
“Cliché,” she comments. “Purple prose,” she remarks.
My novel tightens up.

“I was riveted.”
I become more confident as a writer.
“Love this analogy! Great imagery!”
I work harder to think of another one.

“Consistency alert! Consistency alert!”
My novel makes more sense.
“Add a beat; lose the passive voice.”
My novel becomes more readable.

“SO much tension! SO good!”
I look for where I can add more.
“THIS IS AWESOME! More awesomeness!”
I smile and feel proud.

“Author/narrator intrusion!”
My novel becomes more about my characters than me.
“Trust the reader. They’ll remember.”
My novel becomes more respectful.

“Love their exchanges!”
I look forward to writing the next one.
“I’ll be your biggest influencer when you’re published.”
I think my dream will become reality.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Endings...Or Not

Photo by Ben Sisto

I've been thinking about endings lately. Part of this was prompted by Lady Glamis' post on the Innocent Flower. But most of it is because I'm at the end of my first draft of Blessed.

While I was writing my climax, I was given a really exciting psychological method to view the climax by (I know, vague...but I don't want to give it away to my crit partner who will surely read this post later) that I decided to go with. It is shocking (not vulgar shocking, but just surprising...especially how I did it, I think) and creates anxiety for the reader (at least I had anxiety writing it). But isn't that what "edgy" Christian fiction does? Think Ted Dekker here, people.

I'm also thinking about this new twist from my counselor viewpoint. It's very real, very true to form psychologically. But since it is less-than-100%-perfect for the readers' sensibilities, it made me wonder just what our preference about book endings say about US as readers. Do perpetually happy people shut a book that doesn't end in marriage in disgust? Do those among us who are more "dark" in our outlook shut a book in disgust if it does? Just curious.

Of course, my genre is romance. And people typically pick up a romance book for one reason: the romance. All the different takes on how boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again thrills that typical reader. Which leads to my question for you.

Q4U: How many of you romance readers have to have the superbly happy ending? The picket fence? Yappy dog? Are you okay with just a general nudge that that could happen? Or do you need it in black and white (either on paper or quite literally in a black tux and white wedding gown)? Do all the strings in the book have to be tied neatly, or can one of them be tied disastrously?

Hee hee...I'm laughing. My crit partner is going to be going insane with questions! So is Sue.

[deviant, evil laughter]

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Dept. of Health

Since we've spent some time discussing triangles last week, I wanted to talk about how these triangles form the structure of a family. We'll be borrowing some terminology from structural family therapist Salvador Minuchin, a giant in my field.

Since all our characters have family (whether they want to acknowledge them or not), this is applicable to all our work. Family structure is defined as recurrent patterns of interaction that define and stabilize the shape of relationships. Families have different subsystems (triangles definitely apply here, but also dyads between two people or even larger groups) determined by generation, gender, or even common interests. For example, teenagers in a home and their parents make two subsystems based on generation. This is called overt coalitions - unconcealed. But covert coalitions are usually more significant - those that aren't as obvious, such as a mother's tight bond with her only son that excludes everyone else.

Every family member plays many roles in these subsystems, just as our characters do. I'll use myself as an example: I'm a wife, mother, daughter, niece, sister-in-law. In each role, I'm required to act differently. if I'm mature and flexible, I'll be able to smoothly move from one subsystem to the next and vary my behavior accordingly (i.e., I can scold my daughter, but not my mother or husband). Ah...but how many of us are going to make our characters be "mature?"

Individuals, subsystems and whole families are defined by interpersonal boundaries: invisible barriers that regulate the amount of contact with others. These boundaries are to protect the autonomy of the family and/or subsystems by managing how close they allow others to get to them. Rigid boundaries that permit little contact with outside subsystems result in disengagement: independent but isolated individuals/subsystems. This type boundary is so stiff and hard that practically nothing can get through. Disengagement promotes automony, growth and mastery, but also limits warmth, affection and nurture. For example, parents who don't hover/fight battles for their kids force their children to develop their own resources. However, if the children are kept at such a distance, the affection is minimal and the parents will be slow to notice when children need support and guidance.

Diffuse boundaries result in the opposite: enmeshment. (We already had a Treatment Tuesday devoted to this.) The boundary is permeable...almost nonexistent. Support and affection are heightened, but at the expense of independence and autonomy. Children tend to become dependent on their parents and are less comfortable on their own or relating to people outside their family.

In between these two extremes is what Minuchin considered normal, or balanced. Normal boundaries are clear. They are neither rigid or diffuse. The subsystem can decide for itself what to "let in or out" in relation with other systems.

Application: When I'm writing a novel, I try to think about how I want my hero/heroine to react to others. Typically, their actions result from boundaries developed through their family structure. It's not imperative to define this for your reader, but it IS imperative that you be consistent with how your character reacts. To do that, you need to have defined for yourself how your character fits into the structure of their family, and whether that family has diffuse, rigid or clear boundaries.

Hopefully I haven't bored you with talk about family structure. Family therapy is a gold mine for character development, but I don't want to camp out here too long. Next week, we'll take a look at countertransference with your characters, so stop back by!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Passing Time in a WIP

Photo by ToniVC

I have a question to ask some of you. How do you pass time in your books? (I'm not talking about when you sit down with a good book and look up hours later to discover it's dark and you're starving.) I'm talking about in your WIPs...when you need time to pass. There are several reasons for this, like giving the hero/heroin feasible time to fall in love or to get to a certain month in the calendar where a national or local event is usually held.

This was the dilemma I was faced with in Blessed Beyond the Curse. National Foster Care Appreciation Month is in May (this isn't really something I wanted to take artistic license with). My book starts out in September. And the climactic scene of the second act (if you don't know what I'm talking about...I suggest Jeff Gerke's How to Find Your Story) ends right before Halloween! Argh!

My crit buddy and I both were impressed with how Stephenie Meyer passed time in the Twilight series when Edward leaves Bella by just typing the names of the month on each page to show all the time they spent apart. That was a really creative idea.

But I ended up jumping to about seven different scenes over the course of the 6 months, and I took the opportunity to give my heroine her spiritual turning point as well as show some internal and external healing elements. And of course, the hero realizes he's in love. So that was kinda fun. But it was HARD!!

Q4U: How do you pass time in your novels? Do you have some sort of tried and true method you might want to share with the rest of us?

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Wearing Masks

I really appreciate all the emails I've gotten of late for character therapy! I'll be answering them in the order in which they came. Today’s assessment comes from Susanne, and focuses on the hero from her WIP, Luke,* a 26-year-old living in 1818 in Britain. (Finally got a man to work with!)

So I’ll jump right to it with Luke’s backstory. This is a time of rigid class structures as well as the “golden age” of smuggling. Luke’s father is Scottish and his mother the daughter of a English duke. At 11, he goes to a British boarding school where he is made fun of for his Scottish brogue. Luke buries the accent, but also learns how to be a good fighter defending himself (i.e., quite the chip on his shoulder). This chip gets even bigger when, at 20, he learns his childhood sweetheart married his brother.

Six years later, Luke has found God and is working for the Revenue Service as a secret agent (read: a spy). In order to do this, he’s had to bury all his aristocratic upbringing and hang out with lowlifes, trying to bring down the brains behind the smuggling operations. He wants to escape his “double life,” but he has to bring down one really bad guy first. But the heroine gets in the way of this final case inadvertently, forcing Luke to accompany her back to London for the Season, essentially as a bodyguard. This means he has to reacquaint himself with a society, manners, and eventually a love he has been without for years.

*Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Extensive history, I know…but imperative to understanding Luke’s psyche. Here are Susanne’s questions: How would compartmentalizing parts of a self damage a person? How would the buried parts of one manifest themselves? How easy would it be to slip up? He's pretended to be someone else for so long...what if he's that new person now, and can't find himself anymore?

Susanne and I emailed a bit about Luke, and my first impressions were this: Luke’s probably a very angry guy. All that childhood trauma and heartache would be hard to get over. And then he wears a mask as a spy for six long years. I reworded Susanne’s question this way: What damage occurs inwardly when you wear a mask for so long you lose sight of what you look like underneath?

Ah, now that’s something every reader should be able to identify with…wearing masks. I gave Susanne permission to steal that metaphor, because it does speak to us today. Pretending to be something or someone we’re not is hard work, both physically (for Luke, since he’s like a 19th century version of a Navy SEAL), emotionally and mentally. I’d probably diagnose Luke with Dysthymia Disorder, which is like a low-grade depression present for over two years.

Luke is the opposite of integrated; he’s disintegrated. He’s not in touch with all the parts of himself. This happens in real life frequently, but oftentimes goes unnoticed. Luke, however, notices and doesn’t like it. The old adage of “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” could ring true for him. After six years, it’s likely that he doesn’t remember some social graces when he tries to reenter society. He’ll have a few gauche moments. He’ll have to retrain himself, which will be frustrating and angering. The buried parts of himself will reawaken, but this will be painful. To reintegrate—take off the mask—is uncomfortable. He might abhor his mask as a spy, but in truth, it’s like a comfy old shoe. (Think Man in the Iron Mask when Leonardo is freed of the mask, but still puts it on when he doesn’t think anyone would see him.) Luke might even resent the heroine for being so at ease in an environment he’s not. He’ll probably treat her gruffly, especially since she got in the way of his freedom from being a spy and sent him headfirst into a society he had forgotten. Standoffish would be realistic, angry even more so.

Dysthymic Disorder has some other symptoms that go hand-in-hand with it. Luke might also suffer from insomnia (too little sleep) or hypersomnia (too much). Some other symptoms and how they could play out in Luke’s life would be a poor appetite – he could only eat to stay strong, low self esteem – maybe he thinks he’s not cut out for polite society anymore, poor concentration – his thoughts could be jumbled…when working he wants to be free and when in society he just wants to be working, and feelings of hopelessness – he’ll never be free.

So hopefully you learned a little about Dysthymic Disorder as well as how wearing a mask could lead to a depressive disorder like I’ve diagnosed Luke with.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Less is More {or Less}

Had a great response for the Platform Group Therapy! (And it's not really therapy, ya'll, so much as just getting us thinking and writing about how we can connect with people who might be interested in our subject matter!) I'll be sending out an email latter on today, probably.

I'm curious what my writing buddies think about less is more. In today's society, this hardly seems accurate. The more you have of something, the better. (Ah...otherwise I wouldn't have 15 women interested in having MORE of a platform.) But when it comes to writing, haven't we all heard less is more?

Some possible meanings: 1) less prose to convey more; 2) less pages to cover more action; 3) less telling, more showing (doesn't quite fit the analogy...but we've all heard this). Sure, readers son't want to sit around reading a 987-page novel (although I'm sure there are a few historians out there who don't think this is enough to quote get the time period across). So many of us are working withint page-limit boundaries for category-type books, and those who are working on single titles don't want to go much more over 100,000-120,000 words or editors will gawk at your word count.

Q4U: How do we manage this? Are there some tried and tested rules you use to make sure you keep within a certain limit? Do you rely on a crit partner (like I do) to tell you when you should leave some little additional detail off? How do you decide what to cut and what NOT to leave to the reader's imagination?

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Friday, April 17, 2009


Many of you are members of ACFW. I have been taking agent Terry Burns' online course about pitching/promoting/marketing/etc. And one aspiring author wrote (Not sure who, so don't ask! If you do follow the course, then you know just how many emails we get every day!) in about just wanting to concentrate on her book instead of building a platform and publishing credentials. Terry responded (essentially) that since they get so many queries a day - if he had two aspiring authors side-by-side on his desk, both of whom had excellent writing skills, he'd choose the one with the better platform over the one with none. It's a no-brainer for an agent.

So, with that in mind, I'm now of the mind that building our platform - even for fiction - is really important. It sounds like agents aren't comparing apples to apples when it comes to those of us who aren't published. It's apples and oranges...and I'm beginning to think the orange is much heavier due to platform. *sigh*

Since we're all part of this great online writing community of encouragers and accountability, I think those of us actively seeking to build platform should stick together! If you comment in this post, then I'll assume you're of the same mindset I am and think this is important. I'll do my best to compile email addresses from your profiles and we can start a more in-depth discussion about the particulars of your platform (or lack thereof) and brainstorm about how to make it bigger!

It'll be like platform group therapy. :)

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

After Tuesday's assessment, I thought I'd share about the smallest stable unit of relationships, according to Murray Bowen, and that's the TRIANGLE. Virtually all significant relationships are shadowed by a third person. Mom/Dad/Child. Husband/Wife/Mother-in-Law. Hero/Heroine/Heroine's Other Potential Boyfriend. When this happens, the third person is said to be "triangulated" into the relationship. This happens all the time to therapists as couples in a dysfunctional relationship come in for counseling. Each one has their own agenda for winning over the therapist to his or her way of thinking. This is because when two people are unable to resolve their problems, humans have an inherent bent to draw in another person. (In the chick lit novels, it's usually the heroine's best friend or pack of friends - who still serve as a single unit for the purpose of the triangle.)

How true is this for almost all relationships we have? If we took a second to consider our favorite books/movies, I would bet they all center around some triangle. Gone with the Wind: Scarlett/Rhett/Ashley. Take the Twilight series: Bella/Edward/Jacob. Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth/Darcy/Mr. Wickham. I tried to think of a movie that featured a solitary person, and the only one I came up with in time for this post was Tom Hanks playing in Cast Away. But there was STILL a triangle between Tom Hanks/Helen Hunt/Helen Hunt's new husband!!

So our novels should have some element of triangles in them. I'm sure if you think about yours, it probably already does. Something to remember, however, is that triangles might stabilize a relationship, but they also freeze conflict in place (Nichols & Schwartz, p. 141-42). So usually, a person has to work through the triangulation (their mother's well-meaning-but-awful advice, a friend's jealousy, etc) in order to come out on the other end in a mentally healthy place.

Q4U: How will thinking about the relationships in your novels - whether familial or romantic - in the context of triangles help your writing to reach a new level of authenticity?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Author Voice

Author voice is somewhat of a buzz word in the writing/publishing world, wouldn't you agree? I think (read: hope) I have it, but I have a beef with it. It's this amorphous and perplexing idea that authors are told we need to have but aren't told any path to getting it. (And even worse, some are told it's an ON or OFF switch, not a DIMMER, so if you're OFF, give up writing, 'cause it ain't gonna happen.)

I feel that my voice shows up the most in my dialogue. I'm quippy and fairly quick-witted (I like to think) in person. So I like my dialogue exchanges to be the same. I can reproduce this "voice" while my characters are thinking, as well. Of course, I can't be funny all the time, but those are the scenes I just L O V E to write.

So I'm developing a theory to try to put some structure and form to author "voice." Could it be that YOUR voice shows through the scenes you love to write, too? What's so enjoyable about them? Could it be that, on some level, the scene reflects YOU as a person, YOUR quirks, YOUR temperament, something YOU would respond with?

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Family Dynamics

Quick thank you to my O-town friends who did a shoutout for me on their blog Plot This. You're awesome!

Today’s assessment focuses on family dynamics. This happens to be one of my favorite topics, seeing as how I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist. We’ll be looking into what is called an enmeshed family system, courtesy of Jean, who wrote in this week.

Jean has a love triangle in her historical novel (don’t we love those!) and didn’t want the reader to feel any conflict at the end of the book with who the heroine ultimately chooses. So her portrayal of the scorned man is key to helping the reader feel satisfaction with the chosen man. Here’s a brief character sketch of Larry, the scorned man.

*Larry* comes from a wealthy background with an overbearing mother and henpecked father. He is adopted, but only finds out at the end of the book that he has a sister. For all intents and purposes, he was raised as an only child. He has witnessed his mother lashing out at his father and vowed never to make her that upset with him. He develops feelings for *Betty* who is not of his class set.

Jean’s ultimate question was this: I have Larry so tied to his mother that he can't break away from her. Do I need a good reason behind this? I want the reader to agree that Betty should tell him to go back to his mother and choose *Ted* to marry.

*Names have been changed to protect the fictional.*

Ah! [rubs hands together] This is a great question, Jean! Thanks for submitting. What we’ve got here in classic enmeshment. This is when individuals/families are too closely intertwined – so much so you can’t see where one ends and the other begins (kind of like the wires in the picture). The therapeutic term for this is “undifferentiated,” coined by Family Systems guru Murray Bowen. “Differentiation” is how capable a person is of being autonomous and individualistic. Where we fall on this continuum is based almost solely on how we were raised.

Larry unfortunately witnessed his parents in arguments that were unhealthy, causing him to form a rigid rule internally that he wasn’t going to do anything to make his mother treat him that way. That rule followed him to adulthood, but in essence, he never grew into a more adult way of interacting with his mother. He’s “fused” with his mother, accepting her word as gospel, never going against her, etc.

Enter Betty. She disrupts the family system by expecting (or hoping, I should say) that Larry will stand up to his mother on her behalf. Larry never does. At this point, I don’t think the reader will think Larry worthy of Betty. It would anger them that he would choose his mother over her. When you introduce Ted – especially if it happens after Larry does the unforgivable deed – the reader will already be smelling romance in the air.

So now the question is how you portray his enmeshment. Enmeshment/fusion can be colorful and humorous or dark and sad. When Larry is asked what he thinks about something, he would likely start his answer with, “My mother always says…blah,blah,blah.” He would always have to consult his mother about any course of action (yes, even romantic ones). He might put up a paltry fight if his mother disagrees with him, but Larry will ultimately cower to her because her approval and blessing mean more to him than they should. This is the crux of the issue which will hinder his forming any strong connection with Betty. I mean, what girl likes to play second fiddle to her mother-in-law? (or anyone else, for that matter?)

So hopefully this helps you with your dilemma, Jean. We want our readers to be satisfied, and a little character therapy can help us give them what they want. You know, I enjoyed this assessment so much I think I’ll continue on the same vein for Thursday’s Therapeutic Thought. Thanks for reading!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Help Me Out!

Thanks to all the well-wishes I got from my announcement about being asked to blog over on Seekerville! I'm hoping to get some help from my fellow writer friends (since you are the population I'm hoping to help with my character therapy) about some questions you might like to see answered about what it is I do. I'm going to explain what a character therapist can do, of course, but surely there must be some other particulars you might want to know? Something that has prevented you from maybe emailing in a question? These are the type of things I want to address in my Seekerville post.

So please help me out and post some questions in the comment section! It would be greatly appreciated!

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Announcement at Seekerville

Check out this post here to see the announcement made at Seekerville! Scroll down to the "Save the Date" portion! It goes without saying that someone's excited!!!

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Writing/Reading Tension

How many of you writers out there find it hard to balance your love for reading with your love for writing? (Inherently assumed in this question is that you DO love to read.) Most of you probably have day jobs that aren't writing, which leaves exactly a few hours in the evening (likely when you're trying to cook dinner, spend time with family, etc) for you to wield your craft. So do you alternate nights reading and typing?

When I'm in those precious few hours in the evening, I find myself loath to pick up a book when I have the laptop sitting right there and know I could work on tweaking a chapter or starting a new scene. But here of late, my to-be-read pile has been stacking up higher and higher. So, on the trip to the doctor's, I brought one with me (Linore Rose Burkard's Before the Season Ends - see my Shelfari for more info) to read while waiting to be called.

I was thrilled yesterday to open it and get engrossed in the time period and language or the regency. Regency romances make you wait a bit for the first introduction of the heroine and hero, and I was jonesing for it! When it finally happened, I was so satisfied. It was great to get involved in a book's been a long time since I've had the motivation to do so.

But perhaps one good book was all that was needed to open the floodgates once again. Of course, on the flip side, if a book doesn't grab my attention, I'm not going to read it. I use to be pretty masochistic about this and would read a book regardless because I had paid money for it. But no more. Free time is such a commodity I'm not willing to waste my time!

Q4U: Is this a problem for anyone else? Are you able to read and write as much as you want? If you are reading other books, are you able to turn off your internal editor?

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

This week's Thought will piggyback off last week's when I discussed grief. Hopefully you've started thinking more about secondary losses and how these play into your character's reactions as they grieve on the page.

Today, we'll look at the traditional "stages" of grief. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was the one to coin these, so I can't take credit. :)

The first traditional stage is Denial. Once the initial shock wears off, the character (or real life person) would pretend they hadn't just been given horrible news. A lot of times, they will just go back to work like nothing happened. This is really just avoidance behavior, trying to put off the inevitable.

The second stage is Anger. Whoever gets in the way here will likely be to blame. This can be explosive like a active volcano or simmering like lava. People will often question, "Why me?" and what they aren't saying is "Why not you?" They will be angry at anyone not affected by their tragedy, angry at God for allowing it to happen, angry at the deceased loved one for dying. Sky's the limit on how this might be manifested.

Third stage is Bargaining. This is when the character might seek ways out of their predicament, often in vain. They might bargain with God, hoping that if they agree to some action, God will reverse what happened. It's important not to write in someone in your manuscript offering the grieving person something they can't fulfill when the character is in this stage. Offering a person false hope during this time would be terrible.

Fourth is the Depression stage, perhaps the stage we most often associate with grief. This is when the character realizes what has happened is irreversible and they turn in to themselves. Anger and Bargaining are fairly animated phases, but depression is despair and hopelessness, an inactive phase of grief. Everything will be globally looked at from this lens.

The fifth stage is Acceptance. This is when the character comes to a place of being able to move forward with their lives despite the loss. This is when terminally ill patients begin making plans for their estate and doing things they have always wanted to do (think about the movie Bucket List).


I like to think about these phases as on a continuum. People don't always move through them one to the next (as the hurdles in the picture might suggest). Many cross between them or skip one or take two steps forward and one step back ("We go together because opposites attract..." Oh, wait. Got off track here!). Grief is so individualized, making it hard to pinpoint an exact process, so remember that while you're writing.

Good luck to you as you make your character's emotions as real as possible by incorporating some of these grief phases into your manuscript!

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Romance Christian-Style

For those romance lovers out've GOT to check out this post ("Quick, Dial 911...We're Setting a Fire with Romantic Tension") on The Seekers today! Hot and steamy, but all within the framework of Christian passion! You gotta love that, especially with all the smut out there.

Go check it out...several of us authors "in progress" left little blurbs of romantic scenes that author Julie Lessman commented on, including yours truly.

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Plateau: [figurative noun use] a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.

This is what I faced coming into this week. I'd given my heroine this dark moment (although not THE black moment) and all this bad stuff had happened, and then b l a h. It was like somewhat cut the power cord to my book. I knew where I needed her to go, and even had some of the scenes written from that section. But how on EARTH to get her there? I aldo needed some time to pass (few months) and I toyed with how to do that and not lose pace.

Thankfully, with help from my crit partner and lots of prayer, I stepped off my plateau late last night. I only got 3 pages written...but I have my direction again. So I guess you know what I'll be doing tonight when I get home. :)

Q4U: How many of you have struggled with a plateau? What did you do to get off it?

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Amnesia

Today's assessment is for Ralene: "My character suffered from a head injury and has amnesia (not sure if they have names for the different types, but this one she's lost her memories, but retains knowledge of to eat, how to walk, etc). Her memory will return by the end of the novel, but from my understanding, it typically returns a little bit at a time. What would that be like? How would the character feel/react? Is it like a bunch of memories at once or one over and over for awhile until things just start clicking?"

First off, amnesia is actually diagnosed by a trained medical professional (unless it falls under dissociative amnesia, which your heroine's does not). I'm not a medical professional, but I do know a little bit about amnesia. There are various types, and the one you are describing is called post-traumatic (or just traumatic) amnesia, following a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Sounds like your character will suffer retrograde amnesia (inability to recall information prior to the injury - you will want to establish some sort of cut off here...typically traumatic retrograde amnesia is such that the person doesn't remember what happened shortly before the injury (hours or days).

As for the return of the memory, the sky is the limit, Ralene. Just about any scenario you cook up could be feasible. It could be a series of the same recurring memory, it could be little flashes of an event in the past that resembles something currently being experienced (deja vu), it could be dream sequences, it could be all at once, it could be chunks. So just let it rip.

What I wanted to talk the most about is the psychological impact of amnesia. It will be important for you to include in your manuscript the character's embarrassment or stress over not being able to remember her past. She could get angry at her predicament, overwhelmed by people trying to "reintroduce" themselves to her, put off/freaked out at how overly familiar some people are with her who she doesn't "know," or in effect meets for the "first time." She should grieve the loss of these memories her past is full of, yet she doesn't remember.

Thanks for emailing, Ralene. Hope this helps out some.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to
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I'm curious how many of you have trouble with titles? Do they allude you? Do you have a hard time summing up your book with one phrase, or do you not bother with trying to make the two line up that way?

I've found my problem with novel titles is coming up with too many. James Scott Bell wrote in his book Plot & Structure about different ways to come up with new, fresh plot material. One of the ways, interestingly enough, was to come up with the title first. I was surprised, as I have about two pages in my "idea notebook" fully dedicated to titles. My personal preference is play on words.

Bell says you can think of a title that will set your mind "zooming, looking for a story." He suggests looking at poetry, the Bible and quotation books (like Bartlett's) for ideas of titles. For my current WIP, I went with a line from Darrell Evans' song "Trading My Sorrows," although I struggled between Blessed Beyond the Curse and Ward of the Heart (which was a play on the phrase "ward of the court," but I didn't think anyone would get that who wasn't in social service circles).

Q4U: How do you approach titles? Do they come first? Last? Or do they come at all?

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

New Blog Signature

Okay...this whole signature thing had to be the absolute hardest thing I've had to do to give my blog some personality. I got the idea off a fellow writer's blog, but couldn't get her link to work, so I Googled "blog signatures" and that sent me to, which was fascinating and took entirely too much of my time.

But for those of you who might want to do something similar, here are the instructions: After creating your Wordle image (or if you can get to work, then more power to you), copy the code at the bottom of your image and then go to your dashboard/settings/formatting and paste it into the post template box. Then you have to play around with it to get the image centered and be able to type above it...but I really like the end result. What do ya'll think?

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Delete It

DELETE [verb]: to remove or obliterate (written or printer matter), especially by drawing a line through it or marking it with a delete sign.

I've posted about this before, but once again I'm struck by how difficult this can be. Oftentimes I write like I talk, which includes a lot of additional words like "just" or "that." These words aren't needed on the page. DELETE. I use lots of -ly adverbs, or I used I'm limiting myself to only truly amazing ones that add to the prose. DELETE. Then I wrote just two days ago about respecting readers and not giving them too much information that they either already would know or to leave some things to their imagination. DELETE. Again.

I guess it's a good thing I'm learning this now, as I'm sure if I ever am lucky enough to attract an agent's or editor's attention, I'll have to DELETE big time. I recently held an email conversation of sorts with a pubbed author who was going to have to DELETE major portions of a book that was bought out in advance because the publisher didn't like the finished product. Either DELETE or buy back the book or write two more books to make up for it. Whoa.

I'm glad I'm honing this skill. You should be, too. Question: have you had to DELETE anything recently that was hard to do?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday Therapeutic Thought

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Jesus (John 16:33b)

Grief is something everyone experiences, so therefore is a topic for writers to fully understand if we hope to convey our characters' grief in a realistic way readers can relate to. I'll be starting a two-part series on grief today, focusing on the multi-dimensional aspects of grief today and the stages of grief next Thursday.

I'd like to start with two main classifications of grief a person can experience. The first is physical. This means tangible loss, like losing a loved one, getting a car stolen or your house burning down. The second classification is symbolic. These are abstract losses like getting a divorce or being demoted at work.

To quote Therese Rando, "No matter what, loss always results in a deprivation of some kind." (p. 13, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies).

Unpleasant losses are usually recognized as such, and therefore seem to be deserving of grief. These are the losses that are easy to write about. We've all been there, losing someone or something important to us. So we can pen these experiences into a novel without batting an eye. But what about losses resulting from what others would consider a positive event? Oftentimes these go either unrecognized or ungrieved or both. So lets camp out here for a bit.

When a couple has a child, they experience a relative loss of independence, increased responsibility, and decreased spontaneity. (Ask any couple with an infant if you don't believe me.) But having a child is positive, right? Still, these are symbolic losses the couple faces which might bring them to my office.

A child leaving home for college is positive, meaning the child has acheived a level of competency on his own. But this creates "empty nest" for the parent, a loss that needs to be grieved (in real life AND in our books!). When a person terminates therapy, this is considered positive because they have achieved their goals. But it's often sad, a loss of an hour a week with someone you've grown accustomed to, who knows you better than many others in your life. This is a loss...a deprivation.

Also important to keep in mind as we write about our characters' losses are "secondary losses." These are sneaky, often creeping up on us before we can identify them or be aware of their impact. Secondary losses can sometimes cause more impact in the long run than the initial loss. Consider a change in geography or alteration in family in-law relationships after a spouse's death. What about a loss of status in the community after a child's criminal conviction? Rando mentions a woman losing a breast to breast cancer and includes the following list of secondary losses, all of which need to be mourned on some level: loss of independence and control being in a patient role, loss of automony, loss of predictability, loss of boldily functions, body parts, productivity, pleasure, identify, intimacy, social contacts, self-esteem, mobility...the list could go on and on.

Question for You: Are there parts to your current manuscript you might should rework in light of secondary losses and losses that occur as a result of something most everyone would perceive as "positive"? How can considering grief as multi-dimensional improve the portrayal of your characters' grief?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Respecting Readers

I'm coming to the conclusion that I must think readers are stupid. This is not intentional, but as I'm writing, I often find myself wanting to clarify something, just for good measure, to make sure that the reader is on the same page as I am. As a reader, when I'm reading a book, I've sometimes felt indignant at an author explaining something that of course I already knew. Yes, I do this all the time!

Thankfully, my crit partner is so great on helping me find the portions of my WIP where I do this so I can take them out. I'll clarify a smug look or smirk that the reader already would understand from the strength of the dialogue or prose. She always writes, "Stronger without" in the track change comment section. And I reread it and totally agree. Sometimes, a little needs to be left to the imagination, as well. It's no fun if the author reveals every nuance the character is thinking.

I guess the old adage of less is more applies here. Every time I write just that tad bit more, it weakens the overall product. I can't tell how many 100s of words here and there I've eliminated because they were unnecessary! Too telling, too redundant...whatever.

Question for you: Have any of you writers experienced this revelation? Not that we think readers are really stupid, but we just want to give them a little nudge in the direction we want them to go rather than the direction the book can take them on their own?