There’s Two Of Me

The Carapace Child

Putting on yesterday’s trousers, shirt, jumper and socks, the room smells musky and dark. It’s massive and silent. The sun casting early morning rays across the dewy reeds in our meadow. I could see the rear face of the mill fortress forbidding, unwelcoming and derelict. My house was silent except for the old kitchen boiler firing up and the pipes signalling their participation. I had my pocket knife and a small set of hand tools. Shall I take matches? No, I won’t need them today.

It was going to be another good day.

I walked out of the shaded kitchen door covering the twenty paces, to the slippery stone path, in a matter of seconds. Silently and stealthily moving before anyone else had stirred. Moss clung to the dripping rocks ranging upwards against the high bank of the river. Towering above me they climbed upwards towards the hills above. In the valley below, the stream was terraced to form naturally gliding silky weirs. Trees hovering silently over the water’s edge. Reeds standing defiant against the flow. This dark, forbidding theatre and nature’s silent players, playing their scenes to an audience of deserted farmhouse windows below.

Climbing the bank at the last river bend and sheltering in the soil cave above it, I could look back down and see the house where they all were. I hid here, I felt good here, I was in my own world. Alone but never lonely, my world came to life and the players were all in place.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t missed. It was no concern of mine what they all thought of me. I couldn’t change the way my mother looked at me. The unwanted child of a loveless fling. I didn’t miss being loved, I just didn’t know how it felt to be loved. What was I supposed to do to make her care for me? I wasn’t seen, no, I was unseeable. If she looked at me then she would surely turn to stone. She was stone. The small seven-year-old child that had nothing within him that could please the narcissist woman I called mom. And while she lays still in her grave, the child still lives within me.

The Plastron Adult

I care passionately about many things but I don’t care that much about most things. I’ve no interest in stuff other than the few bits of stuff that I like. That’s generally just my stuff. A handful of things dear to me. I have no interest in flashy cars or designer labels. I’m loyal to the very few obscure brands that blend with my blended lifestyle. I work to live. I’ve been very good at what I do. I’m a good person, kind thoughtful and loving. These are some of the positive things that people have said to me. Things only they can see.

As a young and angry adolescent, I had five fights. Five confrontations that I didn’t start but I won them all. As a sportsperson, I saw my opponent as an enemy to be beaten. When driving my cars or riding my motorbikes I was aggressive and territorial. During my time working in Camp America, the mess sergeant (ex-Marine) identified me as the ‘queen bee’ of our small group. I was always team captain and when we played, we won more than we lost.

Then I grew up. I replaced anger with determination. I replaced aggression with motivation. I fought inequality for the downtrodden and I competed against inequality so that those around me could express themselves. To be the best they can. To stand a chance.

As I aged, I became soft and gentle, loving and kind. I like this version of me. Others like this version of me. I live without stress, anxiety or insecurity. This person, this new person, was born out of great people bringing out the softer more feminine side of me. I consider myself a third stage person. I am also feminine and someone that loves a full range of emotions and feelings. I embrace all feelings and learn from each of them.

I’m still curious, optimistic and interested in what life has to offer.

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Somewhere Otherness

The process of writing is a process of leaving the place where I am looking from and occupying the space I’m looking into.

When I enter my writing zone I leave everything else behind and move to somewhere new. Somewhere that is vaguely familiar but I’m not really there. I have receded and the writer steps forward to shine a light onto a new place for me. It’s as though the writer holds my hand as I take each reverent step onto somewhere otherworldly.

Earlier today I was discussing the art of writing and it made me reflect upon what I wanted when I read a book or saw a play or film. I wanted to be taken to new places and shown new things.

I couldn’t read a book about my life because I have seen and experienced all there is to see there. I want to be led somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been before, even somewhere I couldn’t have imagined. I want to be surprised, shocked.

I want my writing to take people away to a place where they discover more about themselves as they navigate a pathway through their own thoughts when reading my pages. I want people to leave behind the all knowing self and discover a part of themselves they didn’t know existed. As if they were meeting a version 2.0 of their own self for the very first time.

So, do I take them by the hand and show them somewhere new? Do I take them to each vista and step aside? Or do I whisper gently into their souls in order that they see the void and wait for the mist to clear?

Maybe this is what I will do, create a sense of otherness as they leave themselves behind.

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Character Development

I’m ok…let’s talk about you

The best part about writing is getting to know the people I’m writing about. Each has their own specific character, personality, beliefs and moral compass. We all do. The more I learn about them, the more the resulting detail works its way into the story.

It’s really hard to avoid stereotypes and generalisations. I haven’t set out to make life difficult but I really want to avoid the obvious and I want each character trait to unveil itself through what they do. I want to show their character not tell it to the reader.

I have carefully studied psychopaths, narcissists, sociopaths, autism (and Aspergers). I thought they would present in entirely different ways. In fact, they presented in quite unexpected ways. Ways that I have woven into each personality. In my previous blog Personality Disorders – Anyone? I have explained the differences. Here I will explain how these traits have been developed into the characters.

There’s a big difference between benign and malignant narcissism. We all exhibit parts of every condition, but a benign narcissist is more likely to be the stereotypical confident, self obsessed selfish person. The malignant abusive narcissist has three traits that are observable. MANs present zero levels of compassion or empathy, they absolutely need to put people down in order to feel happy about themselves. They feed off the pain of others and they have to push it through to observing pain in others. And the biggest give away is their grandiose self-image. They have no self-awareness and no possibility that they will become aware of how grandiose they are. MANs cannot be aware of it, they simply cannot see their fantasised self-image. They will fake emotions to get what they want. They have no remorse.

One of my characters is a malignant narcissist, they are a nasty and deceptive piece of work. They are subtle and they are very dangerous. They have learned to hide it well and they do until the need to keep it hidden has dissipated. It is this driver that they use to manipulate, to grab power, to destroy other…even those closest to them.

Autism is slightly harder to apply as it’s a spectrum disorder and unfixed. Aspergers is said to be a milder and more functioning form of autism. It is also of huge debate whether it is genetic or learned. They miss most forms of metacommunication and can’t understand another person’s needs on an emotional level. They can show great acts of kindness and are very comfortable discussing their condition openly. Many have to learn how to express feelings as an action rather than an emotion. For example, if I express my own needs to a person with Aspergers/autism expecting them to do things to meet them, they are unlikely to understand how this feels for me but they can change behaviours to meet my needs. They will show remorse at not meeting emotional needs.

Psychopaths are an entirely different thing. They seem to have characteristics that look like narcissists and they show no empathy. One of the main characters is just about as stereotypical psychopathic as you can get. They have learned to disguise it so that they can draw close to their prey. They are manipulative, but the manipulated are left unaware. They are cunning and smart. Nobody knows when the psychopath is near, except when it’s too late. Their psychopathy is unveiled once they have no need to keep it hidden. Usually, this is moments before their prey falls victim to their actions.

There are varying degrees of sociopathy, some displaying psychosis, some with other traits and conditions. All of them twisting and weaving their way through the threads and tensions of my story. There couldn’t be the ending it has without the actions of dysfunctional characters…let’s hope that I can communicate them effectively.

None of this is a diagnosis or expressed as fact. The words on this blog are my thoughts on character development. My characters, my thoughts, my ideas…not facts.

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Never Judge a Book By Its Cover

Sometimes I need a break from writing just to think. Unveiling has a plot that is complex. It has threads that range from the visceral to the tenuous. It has relationships that overlay and some that jar with dysfunction. This means that my mind can quickly turn to mush and I need a break.

It feels way too premature and maybe it’s even pointless but my attention switched to the finished novel. How would I publish? Would I use an editor (yes)? How do I find an agent? Do I design the book cover or do they?

The book cover…how will it look on the shelves alongside a million other covers? How will I get it to stand out? Does it need to stand out? Unveiling starts with a U…will anybody get all the way down to U without buying an A, B or C book?

I need to get back to writing. I can’t think of book covers now.

Upwork. Why don’t I get a couple of experienced freelance artists to come up with some covers? I can write a brief. I can position the book in its genre. I can spec out a timeframe and (small) budget to guide them.

So I will. I’ll post a job on Upwork and shortlist 5 artists to pitch for the work. I have used Upwork before and the results have been spectacularly good. But I am not going to ask them to pitch for free…oh no, it’s something I just can’t do. I shall pay each of them a sum of money to pitch and the prize is…a book cover design for a dystopian, pre-apocalyptic, thriller, love/romance, hi-tech/high stakes betrayal that turns our norms on their head and gaslights us into a new reality.

Maybe I’ll write a bit more before I ask for designs so that my pitch to them has a little more clarity about it…but I do think the cover would stand out if they could actually navigate this pitch!!

Work in progress…

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Voice and Character

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How do I give voice without speaking? What words are said in images we paint rather than words on a page? How do we show and not simply tell?

This morning I ground some fresh coffee whilst running an update on my computer. The screen had a progress bar indicating 30 minutes of thinking time. I saw a pile of books on my desk and picked up a Grisham novel, a fast paced story, about the theft of some valuable F Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts.

I flicked open a few pages and saw dialogue quotation marks littering the pages. I decided to randomly select sixteen of the three hundred and eight pages and count how many sentences of dialogue were contained on each.

They ranged from none to sixteen. In fact, my sample range covered nearly all numbers from none to sixteen which indicated, in a mildly broad sense of the word, a good sample.

In total there were 132 lines of dialogue on 15.5 pages (the last page was only half a page) suggesting an average of 8.5 lines per page. There are 308 pages in the book, by no means a world record, which suggests 2,623 lines of dialogue in total. My guess is that as it’s a Grisham novel there will be quite a few less than that in reality. He uses text to drive pace and tension. Dialogue in his books is often stucatto and can slow the pace. He uses it sparingly.

As there are thirty lines of text per page, I have assumed that he uses 88 pages of dialogue which represents 28% of the book.

I shall endeavour to keep the pace of my book fast and tension filled. Unsettling and twisted to unnerve the reader. I want to create insecurity and doubt on every page. As the truth is unveiled and as the human condition is revealed to challenge our current state, I am aiming for no more than 25% of the book to be dialogue.

There will be no small talk, it will be brief and impactful. It will be more suggestive than descriptive. It is equally a tool for communicating feeling and desire as it is to expose the character and flaws of each voice.

My aim is for around 65,000 words…this will give you the best part of 17,000 words to take a deep look at your preconceptions, your motivations and your own desires. An examination of your own human condition in a world going mad.

Personality Disorders – Anyone?

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Trying to balance wonder between the truth and lies woven into a story is difficult. Characters need to be believable, plausible, recognisable and interesting. Nobody wants to read about an ordinary person.

When we place ourselves into a character we try and walk in their shoes. We want to feel what they feel, think what they think and respond in the same way they do.

What I will attempt to do in this story is to portray one or two characters as high functioning and successful dysfunctionals. They will be charming, charismatic, warm, likeable and empathetic. I shall maintain this veil of authenticity until that single moment when they incite change and cause the unimaginable to happen. They have to, it’s in their DNA and it is what they live for. To them, it’s normal.

Not all Narcissists are psychopaths or sociopaths. However, all psychopaths and sociopaths are narcissists. They lack guidance, they have no empathy and they are manipulative creatures. They are attention seekers and defensive when challenged. Narcissists are fascinating characters as you never quite know how they will respond.

Psychopaths are cunning and smart whereas sociopaths are sullen and creepy. Psychopaths make great military operatives as they act on orders and without conscience. Sociopaths are different. They have anger issues, they have been made to feel inadequate, they are socially unskilled and we see them as pathetic.

Psychopaths are normally victims of some physical trauma to the Orbital or Anterior Temporal Cortex which links them to a genetic flaw in their MAOA gene. This is (normally) passed on to men by their mothers whilst in the womb through abnormal levels of serotonin production when pregnant. Sociopaths have been subject to emotional trauma such as bullying, belittling and physical abuse or exposure to extreme events like witnessing harm inflicted on loved ones.

Which of these will be revealed in this book? How will you, the reader, respond to these characters? I am dying to read the feedback on who they are to you and how you relate to them.

I intend to finish my penultimate draft and then spend a month or so fine-tuning their dysfunction and unorthodoxy as it weaves through the plot events. I’m already looking forward to the final month of doing this. It’s still some way off.