On Writing: Motivating Characters (and their Author)

What is it that will drive a character to take an action?

By this, I mean to ask “What, in the character’s mind/worldview is the rationale that will cause them to do one thing instead of another? For the Author, this includes considering the underlying goal of driving the story in a believable way, consistent with the character’s behaviour as the reader understands it at that point in the story. An Author pulls a lot of strings and balances a lot of balls in order to get these goals to mesh.

For me, this requires either research into the elements that form a character: lifestyle, health issues, career or technical skills, values and religion, speech/vernacular and attitudes.

It sounds like a lot when I lay it all down at once here, but realistically, I only have to focus on one of those categories/areas at a time. In many cases, I can use my own experience to answer questions and narrow down the scope of research. Subjective elements (a character’s personal opinion, for example) is much easier to write – it requires little qualification via research.

Basically, whether I can immerse the reader in my character’s world by virtue of objective-seeming realism, or by using compelling and rich subjective “opinion” based on my own experience, it all boils down to creating an experience that the reader accepts and in which they want to immerse themself.

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Mourning Coughey (A story sketch)

The bagel gave its secrets to me limply and without a fight. I was hungry and it got what was coming to it. They always do, stupid bagels.

The sky was grey and overcast, threatening to rain. Large trucks blasted their horns irritably at little cars that were too slow to get out of their way. I knew I was going to end up trudging home in the rain again.

I blinked hard, trying to clear away the mental fog from a sleepless, sweaty night. I’d spent most of it fretting uselessly over problems belonging to other people – chasing stranger’s ghosts down unfamiliar alleys. How can you find something when you can’t even remember what you were looking for?

I went over the situation again, step-by-step: I hadn’t touched that golden writing project in around a year. It was the next big thing for me. Maybe it would buy me a seat at the published writers table. Back then, I knew it was going to be amazing – better than my last (first) book anyway. Way better.

But the momentum I’d held in my brain and hands when I’d last worked on it had long since seeped off, bled out, dried up and been swept away by the first-person drama that took hold of me in the real world. Trivial things like keeping a job, questioning my life, pitching a job into the dustbin, and then eventually finding a new one. It’s amazing how quickly the prospect of facing your own personal economic downturn can turn an impassioned dreamer into a practical, brim-wearing bean counter. That zero-line in the bank balance was getting a little closer each day. Brother, can you spare a thousand bucks?

This is your waking life, buddy. You can’t dream it away, but you’ll keep swimming upstream against its relentless oncoming pressure like the gallant little goldfish that you are, dragging your baggage behind you, hoping to turn old ballast into new fuel.

I took a deep drink from my mug and thanked the Benevolent Hand That Had Created It. Thank god the coffee was good, and still hot. And the sun was peeking out now. That was something. Okay, smart guy – it’s time to try and scribble down that next big idea.

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On Writing: Having Uncommon Thoughts in Common

To observe and comment on your life and world, you need to have a certain amount of objectivity – detachment – from it. If you’re too-comfortably living inside your world, you really can’t see the outside shape of it.

To observe and comment on your life and world, you need to have a certain amount of objectivity – detachment – from it. If you’re too-comfortably living inside your world, I don’t think that you really can see the outside shape of it. You’re too close to it.

On Having an Outsiders View of Things

By outsider, I’m thinking of someone who goes against societal norms, conventions or values, especially in cases where they wish to help someone else who is less fortunate.

Dickens and David Copperfield

I tried to read Copperfield back when I was about twelve. We had inherited a few classics in old hardcover editions, which I’m guessing could have been from the early teens of the century. Being something of a fetishist for old things, I took David Copperfield and Huckleberry Finn to my bookshelf, like a thief in the night. I wish I still had those old books. I got through Huck Finn without any trouble, but Dickens’ complex, florid style stopped me cold after a few pages, and I never went back, until recently. Thirty years later.

Anyway, Dickens had really gotten to me when I finished reading Copperfield last month. It struck me just how much I felt in agreement with the social values that he communicated through his characters. He boldly ran counter to the class-snobbery of his day, imbuing the poorest folk with the purest ethics and strongest character. David felt compassion for others, and tried to help them even when he himself would suffer because of it. Especially, Dickens seemed to care for the suffering of children living in poverty.

I recall one character (maybe Wilkins Macawber?) stating that you cannot judge a book by its cover. As a young lad, David was not well-off at all, and went out of his way to demonstrate character traits that one wouldn’t expect from such a young person. I heard David’s voice in my head, throughout the course of his “life” in the novel, and identified with his ethics, humanity, strengths and weaknesses.

Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep, and More…

The two Raymond characters who stand out in my mind the most are probably his most famous: Phillip Marlowe, and The Continental Op. Marlowe’s clear-minded, almost weary cynicism, and keen observations of the weaknesses in the ethics of others fascinates me. At first, I found some of Chandler’s use of period vernacular to be too frequent (almost to the point of obscuring meaning, rather than accentuating the colour of it), although I’ve come to appreciate how skilled he was at it, and how difficult it is to create punchy, compelling and rich dialogue that portrays the personalities, motivations and world of each character. Chandler wrote as if he was having fun with his colourful, smirking, almost expressionistic similes. You were allowed to accept his artistic license with tongue in cheek. Marlowe seemed a bit too flipant or devil-may-care, but he was no chump, and neither were you, thanks to Chandler. (I think the makers of the James Bond movies used this same kind of flippant tone. Ian Fleming did not, in his original novels, although he admitted to being a big fan of Raymond Chandler.)

Jeff Lindsay’s “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”

Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan (you know – from that TV series?) is a unique mix of cold-blooded serial killer and objective observer of the human condition. He’s bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the emotions of his friends (and his victims), and searching to validate  his own existence. He kind of sees himself as the trash collector of the universe, killing those most despicable monsters – child killers, rapists, pedophile priests – whom he decides deserve it, according to The Code of Harry.

Dexter is highly intelligent, wryly funny, and in many ways, truly superior, and yet, he is bereft of real emotional reactions (i.e. sociopathic), so plays an elaborate game of pretend in order to pass as normal to his coworkers and the rest of the waking world.

Something in Common with Uncommon Voices?

What is it that makes me feel kinship to someone who died well before I was born? I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed David Copperfield, and hearing Dickens’ voice. Chandler’s voice acts on me similarly: I feel a familiar personality at work in my head, some recognizable territory that I’ve visited in the past, but remains a little fresh each time I see it again.

I think that the intimate, personal sense of recognition that I have with these two authors has a lot to do with their characters’ first-person perspective: David Copperfield, The Big Sleep (and all the other Phillip Marlowe stories I’ve read by Chandler), and Darkly Dreaming Dexter are all written in the first person. It’s incredibly personal, intimate and effective – putting the reader right into the protagonist’s point of view.

Perhaps because I live in my head so much of the time, I enjoy living in someone else’s head in the same way.

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On Reviews: How NOT to Respond (or “Do this, and sink your writing career”)

When I read this exchange between an author and a reviewer on a public community blog, I was stunned, and a little fascinated:

http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html

The author refuses to acknowledge the points the reviewer (a volunteer) made, and soon became combative and even verbally abusive! It was a fascinating example of an emotional meltdown by a (fragile) author, and the resulting wave of community support for the attacked reviewer. Some commentators also worried that the tenor of the exchanges would reflect poorly on the perception of self-published authors in general, and reinforce a stigma against “indies” by the publishing industry.

I do not revel in the pain of others, but this author’s reaction to what seems to be fair criticism fascinated me in the same way that I’m fascinated by videos of fools injuring themselves undertaking ridiculously dangerous stunts, crashing their ATVs, or taking golf balls to the crotch. All these self-inflicted injuries to the ego and the flesh fall under the category of “EPIC FAIL”.

Now, it’s gone viral on Twitter…

So here are a couple of lessons that you can take away from the above example:

  1. If you can’t say something professional, say nothing at all: If you voluntarily submit your work to any kind of critique, always take reviews calmly and professionally! Learn from them. If you can’t do this, it’s better not to respond at all.
  2. Take responsibility for your words: Information and commentary published online may remain there indefinitely, or may be republished or syndicated continually. You words (or words that are electronically associated with your content or online identity) will be indexed by Google or any number of other search engines and propagation methods.

Bottom line: act like a pro, and you’ll be treated like one.

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On Writing: Visualization and Collage in Storytelling…

For me, writing is a lot like an act of integration. Taking disparate chunks of experience and combining them into an assemblage or collage gives them added meaning. I think that this is what is intended by the word “juxtaposition” in art/design terminology. It boils down the creating a new whole out of a bunch of summed-up parts.

For me, writing is a lot like an act of integration. Taking disparate chunks of experience and combining them into an assemblage or collage gives them added meaning.

I think that this is what is intended by the word “juxtaposition” in art/design terminology. It boils down the creating a new whole out of a bunch of summed-up parts. The relationships that are created by placing elements next to each other create new contexts and meanings that each element did not originally possess individually.

As I write, I’m transcribing visual scenes in my head into words. Sometimes, I’m acting like a court reporter sitting in a movie theatre, watching my characters speak, smelling what they smell, listening to the sounds of their surroundings, and feeling their emotions. In my head, I’ve already shot the scene as a movie, and now the challenge is to get that scene down on paper in a way that will be powerful and will resonate in my reader’s mind.

Many scenes can be drawn out of snippets of personal experience, opinions, current events, and one’s own worldview or inner monologue. Each of these elements is a small scrap of paper with an image on it, waiting to be pasted down on a board along with other scraps, to contribute a piece to an overall theme.

I often think up the elements or “little scraps” first: an intriguing personality, a moment of tension, despair, or heroism, or a mysterious moment or place. A story is made up of many such individual scenes, each of which must have its own internal logic, beginning, middle and end, and each of which must work within the context of the greater story or plot.

If I can’t see how to use them, a lot of these elements get filed away somewhere for later use. It’s tough to know which elements to bring out of the drawer and place on the table, and which ones need to be kept in the file. Every little scrap is a piece of life experience.

We all have experiences, and some of us have had similar experiences. The challenge for me as a storyteller is to find and create the scraps that will seem familiar to someone else (because I want to know that I can reach my audience emotionally and culturally), and to combine the scraps into a collage of pieces that says these things to my reader: you may know this story, my friend. You’ve read it many times before in different guises. Some things are universal to human experience. You may have heard the story before, but you haven’t heard it from this storyteller in this way before.

Universal things happen to all of us, but come to each of us in a different way. That’s why the story is interesting, and why the collection of parts makes a unique picture on the page.

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On Writing: Emily Carr’s life stories are an inspiration…

I just finished reading “The Emily Carr Collection”, which includes four of her books: Klee Wyck, The Book of Small, The House of All Sorts, and Growing Pains. Emily Carr’s voice has become familiar and sympathetic to me. Reading her is like listening to an old friend. In my mind, she is not Emily Carr, internationally reknowned Canadian painter. She’s just Emily.

I just finished reading “The Emily Carr Collection”, which includes four of her books: “Klee Wyck”, “The Book of Small”, “The House of All Sorts”, and “Growing Pains”.

Emily Carr’s voice has become familiar and sympathetic to me. Reading her is like listening to an old friend. In my mind, she is not Emily Carr, internationally renowned Canadian painter.

She’s just Emily.

I find it ironic that I never read her writing before. Here on the west coast of Canada, she’s an icon. I’ve heard about her since high school. The art college I studied at for four years was named after her. I’ve seen her paintings a number of times in the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown. But I never heard her voice.

Emily’s passion for her natural surroundings and her love of Western Canada is evident ion the way she describes every person, plant and animal. In particular, her description of forests, trees, and totems are vivid, portraying the life growing around her, and the symbolic life that the natives imbued in their totems and houses. Emily felt this quite deeply.

Her friendships with the natives in her time (poor, sweet Sophie!), her sensitivity to unfairness and hypocrisy as a young child raised in the English tradition, and her continuous pursuit of her artistic truths – all these themes resonated with me so strongly. The impression I have of Emily is that she was not a religious person at all, except insofar as it was required by her family and culture. Spiritually, I think Emily identified most with the nature and native art of her beloved west coast of British Columbia.

Almost 100 years separates us (Victoria would be absolutely unrecognizable to Emily if she were to see it today), but still, the connection and recognition I feel is very strong indeed.

When Emily describes Victoria places such as Cook Street, Fort Street, Fairfield Road, and Rockland Avenue – these are streets that I romped along as a little kid in Victoria in the 1970s. When she describes a little old lady strolling by outside her parent’s fence while she was playing in the yard with her sisters – I can picture the same thing happening to me and my sister Kim, as we played in the front yard of Poppy’s house at the corner of Cook and Rockland. Christ Church Cathedral, Beacon Hill Park and its Peacocks, the look and smell of Arbutus and Cedar trees – all of it touches me in a personal way. We lived in different worlds, but something seems to have persisted through her words…

She’s also just an inspiring, amazingly strong woman. Her determination to follow her own path, and her unwavering love of living things – these were personality traits that I thought my sister Kim could appreciate, so for Christmas this year, I sent Kim a copy of “The House of All Sorts”, which focuses especially on Emily’s success as a dog breeder, and her struggles as a landlady. On the one hand is the unwavering devotion and love of her dogs for her, and on the other hand, the cruelty, idiocy, and deceit of many of her human tenants in the House of All Sorts. These were themes that I think my sister Kim could probably appreciate.

True Life – My Own Memoir

Reading Emily’s biography also inspires me to continue developing me own. Since about 1998, I’ve been slowly cobbling together an illustrated life story on my website, at http://truelife.ejohnlove.com

I think that I must one day work harder to complete True Life, or perhaps bring it to life in a book. I love fiction – reading and writing – but there is something very powerful about reading someone’s autobiography. Literally, the realness of the thing makes it so much more powerful.

Of all I read from Emily, the biggest theme I took away was to maintain one’s integrity, and one’s personal vision – to remain true to oneself.

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On Writing: John Steinbeck, the Grapes of Wrath, and my Dad’s Stories.

My Dad was born in 1921, and as a young kid, knowing that he grew up during the Great Depression had always fascinated me. During the Great Depression, times were tough for Dad’s family, I’m sure, but I would learn in Social Studies class that other families had it much worse during that time, particularly farmers, and especially in the United States. That is the setting of Steinbeck’s major novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”.

Of Mice and Men, Grapes, and my Dad…

Back in high school English class, we read “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. At the time, I remember thinking how old the book seemed, in terms of the language the characters used, and also how much the character Lenny’s mental slowness frustrated me.

I think that in my young mind, I was invested enough in the story to feel empathy and frustration at the behaviour of the characters, but back then, I couldn’t really evaluate the story or the writing – I just reacted to what I experienced in the book.

I’ve read “Of Mice and Men” again a couple of times over the past three decades, most recently a year or two ago. As I did, I began to enjoy Steinbeck’s voice, style and depictions very much indeed. So I decided to finally crack open “The Grapes of Wrath”.

My Dad and the Great Depression

My Dad was born in 1921, and as a young kid, knowing that he grew up during the Great Depression had always fascinated me. I used to ask my Dad what it was like for him, growing up in Prince Rupert back in those days. He’d tell me stories, like the times when he and his brothers would go down to the docks and ask the fishermen to give them their leftover fish heads. Dad said that his Mum would cut the cheeks out of the fish heads and make the family a nice fish soup.

I’d ask him if his family were poor, and he’d say no, but they weren’t rich either. His Dad worked for the Prince Rupert Telephone Company, most often splicing cable, up on a telephone pole, soldering cable with a little blow torch. Times being what they were, he shared his job with another man, working different shifts. In a house with five kids (Dad, his three bothers, and one sister), and with their Father working only part-time, I’m sure the Love family of Prince Rupert had to tighten their belts a bit. Still, there were still lots of trees for the local Mills, and still lots of fish in the sea, even if the economy had gone to crap. Everyone in the Love family worked, kids and all. Dad always impressed upon me the importance of working for a living, and the value of a dollar.

The Grapes of Wrath

During the Great Depression, times were tough for Dad’s family, I’m sure, but I would learn in Social Studies class that other families had it much worse during that time, particularly farmers, and especially in the United States.

That is the setting of Steinbeck’s major novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”. The Joad family, Oklahoma sharecroppers for generations, are wiped out when the “dustbowl” (drought) wipes out their crops, and they become too far in debt to the bank. Their little farm, along with many others in their area, are taken over by the bank, and turned into industrial farmland. So, the whole clan (Grandparents, Parents, and brothers and sisters ranging from preteen to adult) head West with all their possessions strapped onto the back of a jury-rigged truck.

Along the many thousands of miles journey west to California, they enounter cold, heat, starvation, death, violence, kindness, cooperation, prejudice and eventually, some forms of redemption.

If you’ve seen the movie by John Ford, you’ve got a little taste of the story, but only a little. The novel is so much more than the movie. Steinbeck takes you into the hearts and minds of each of the family members in turn, over the course of a journey that must have only been a few months chronologically, but experientially was much more difficult than the miles traveled and the days spent.

Here are a few of the significant themes from this incredible novel:

  • The Mother is the provider of life, the supporter, nourisher and guide; the centre of everything. The sheer amount of work and responsibility that Ma takes on daily impressed me throughout the story. To a lesser but still significant  degree, Rose of Sharon represents the mother, being pregnant and on the edge of bringing new life into the clan.
  • Rose of Sharon and her Grandparents also represent the frailty – and sometimes the futility – of survival.
  • Tom Joad is the angry young man, fighting against injustice, and suffering because of how his fighting spirit and moral outrage places him potentially at odds with the capitalist farm owners.
  • Pa Joad and his brother represent the impotence and powerlessness of the old male generation – still able-bodied, but wracked with guilt or turoil from many challenges, and with their family authority essentially tossed aside and taken over by others. This represents how the former sharecroppers had their authority or rights taken over by larger interests.
  • Communism (or Socialism) vs. Capitalism.

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On Narrative: A Story runs through it…

It’s amazing how pervasive the concept of “narrative” actually is. Now, wherever I look, I see a story being told, or something in front of my eyes that is trying to communicate with me. But Non-fiction has an inherent narrative of its own too… What About text in Interactive Environments? Does it contribute a narrative as well? Perhaps we’re back to Marshall McLuhan again…

It’s amazing how pervasive the concept of “narrative” actually is. Now, wherever I look, I see a story being told, or something in front of my eyes that is trying to communicate with me.

Obviously, a story, a narrative, is the basis of written fiction, and creating an effective and engaging narrative is more difficult than I had originally imagined when I set out to write “Owe Nothing” back in 2002.

Works of Fiction, obviously…

Works of fiction (and I’m thinking primarily of the “paperback novel” genre) have a common narrative structure which introduces characters and a situation, presents the characters with a problem to solve or a challenge to overcome, and after trials, successes and failures, brings their story to a close with some sort of resolution and reflection. All of this (if popularity to an outside audience is the author’s goal) should be emotionally or intellectually gratifying to the reader in some way, or provide some sort of entertaining escape.

“Voice” in fiction can be first-person (like any hard-boiled detective caper by Raymond Chandler), where the reader is effectively transplanted into the skull of the main character, seeing things (usually) exclusively through his/her eyes. Or itr may be third-person, where the narration of the story seems to come from a camera or invisible observer which is observing the thoughts and activities of all characters, everywhere.

But Non-fiction has an inherent narrative of its own too…

Non-fiction works also have their own kind of voices that “tells a story” of sorts as well. In instruction or technical manuals, both the first-person and the third-person voice shows up quite commonly.

First-person is used when your Instructor is talking to you, the Reader directly, or when the author is citing some personal experience that is relevant to a lesson or point of procedure.

Third-person, in my experience, is used when the manual (or in my most common experience, a user guide) has no one particular person named as the “author” per se, but is ostensibly written by a corporation for their customers. In that case, the voice that is narrating could be composed by multiple unknown, uncredited authors, blended together (“fingerprints removed”, if you will) by a technical writer.

What About text in Interactive Environments? Does it contribute a narrative as well?

In a word, yes. In my opinion, every word on a web page, including the text in links, navigation buttons, mottos and tag lines, all provide context that reinforces the narrative at hand, so almost in effect becoming part of the narrative itself. (This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

The major difference with a visual medium (in this case, the user interface of a web site) is the use of graphic visual language that adds the extra dimension of inferred meaning or context to the wordy narrative.

Parsing photographs, words, icons, and interpreting (feeling) colours in a design is all part of “reading the page”. The designer of it has infused their own cultural symbols, values or expectations to some degree, so that the audience can relate to it more effectively.

Perhaps we’re back to Marshall McLuhan again…

If the cover of your favourite book, or the navigation controls on your favourite eBook Reader, have become strongly associated with the words in the text, then I’d say that the medium will have indeed become entwined in the message.

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On Research and Digging Deep: Setting the Tone for Believability

The raw material of a story or any creative work probably comes from at least two kinds of sources: the Subjective, and the Objective. Somewhere between these two seemingly opposite categories sits the Artist, who must decide how and when to engage either approach, and whether to use an unbalanced or balanced approach.

(This is a brief followup on the theme of researching for my next novel, “The Two Sisters”.)

I’ve probably stated this before in previous posts, but factual research is a big deal to me. I don’t claim to be the most tenacious digger of facts, but if, as a Reader, I can’t relate to some level of realism in a story or its characters, the author will easily lose me.

The raw material of a story or any creative work comes from two categories of sources: the Subjective and the Objective. Subjective material includes events, memories and things of with which you have a direct personal involvement and/or memory. They can also be fuzzy, under-defined, elusive or prone to contradiction – after all, they are your memories – and from my experience, human memory is fragile and subject to change without notice. But, still, it’s yours and you own it, and it’s there to be utilized.

Objective material means, to me, information that has been documented, and hopefully verified, by third parties, associations, papers or contains some testament as to its proof, like scientific research.

Somewhere between these two opposite categories sits the Artist, who must decide how and when to engage either side, and whether to use an unbalanced or balanced approach.

For example, I remember an article by James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, who advised writers that when creating a thriller novel the author must include enough realism to provide a solid base upon which the more fantastic elements of the story can stand. In other words, Fleming said that if you can initially establish believability and credibility in the known and possible elements of your story (the recognizable places, personalities and objects), the reader would be more likely to accept and engage in any unknown or seemingly impossible elements.

This kind of social realism is a core approach that I took in my first novel, Owe Nothing, where I tried to create a detailed, recognizable, and somewhat gritty  portrait of my home town of Vancouver, BC. I tried to kind of iconify settings such as rusted, rotting motels, junk-strewn alleys and fast food drive-thrus. I’ve read some novels which, in my opinion, have almost no scenic descriptions at all; everything is described in between a character’s ears, but almost nowhere else (“The Boys From Brazil”, I’m looking at you).

By contrast, thriller/detective authors like Ian Fleming, Dashiell Hammett and especially Raymond Chandler, have a way of bringing places to life and almost transforming them into characters in their own right. In “The Lady in the Lake”, Chandler makes you taste the dust inside the deserted lakeside cabins in a little town. In “Live and Let Die”, Fleming evokes the neon sights, blues and jazz music, speech patterns and emotions of Harlem in the mid-50s (at least from the perspective of a middle-aged Englishman). Rich settings like this help to involve the reader in the world to a greater degree, and to legitimize and contextualize the characters.

Subjective work can be more elusive and difficult to feel confident about. I have a major character in “The Two Sisters”, Rose, who in her teen years suffered a horrific personal assault – the kind that I’ve never experienced personally. To create this event for Rose, I had to dig down into a few scared, sad moments from my own youth (as well as read testimonies from other sources) and synthesize the character’s physical and emotional responses, layering them with the in-the-moment sights and sounds that add a level of irony, symbolism and drama, all while relating to larger plot line and themes of the story.

Often, the subjective and objective aspects are intermingled. In her later years, Rose becomes a long-term resident of a psychiatric hospital. I began to describe her appearance and behaviour quite easily, since I based her on my late mother, who was a 14 year resident of BC’s provincial mental health facility, Riverview Hospital.

However, describing the specific medication or intimate details of the day-to-day life of a Riverview resident are much more difficult, and require research to be accurate. Few people will ever try to refute your subjective personal experiences or opinions, but things that are objective, verifiable matters of record are certainly more vulnerable to scrutiny.

It’s the Author’s job to set the terms for believability and plausibility inside the worlds and the characters they create. I haven’t become skilled enough to let my characters push the bounds of believability within their own worlds (i.e. to bust through that invisible wall to the audience, as it were), and use the voice of an incredulous reader (“that doesn’t seem real to me”, etc.) but perhaps one day…

At the end of the day, no work can be perfect. I think that most readers are willing to forgive minor inconsistencies or errors, so long as they believe that the author has made their best effort to get the facts straight and to present an entertaining and believable story.

Related: http://ejohnlovebooks.com/2010/08/research-photos-from-riverview/

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Research: Photos and Feelings of Riverview Hospital

My second novel, tentatively named “The Two Sisters”, deals with some aspects of mental illness and alcoholism, through the lives of two sisters, Connie and Rose.

Rose has a history of mental illness, as well as substance abuse issues, and when my main character, Jack (her nephew) encounters her for the first time, Rose is fairly heavily medicated and tied into a wheelchair so she doesn’t fall out. Rose is a long-term resident at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, a slightly fictionalized version of the real hospital, which is located in Coquitlam, BC.

My second novel, tentatively named “The Two Sisters”, deals with some aspects of mental illness and alcoholism, through the lives of two sisters, Connie and Rose.

Rose has a history of mental illness, as well as substance abuse issues, and when my main character, Jack (her nephew) encounters her for the first time, Rose is fairly heavily medicated and tied into a wheelchair so she doesn’t fall out. Rose is a long-term resident at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, a slightly fictionalized version of the real hospital, which is located in Coquitlam, BC.

Writing Convincingly About Mental Illness

I won’t write about something unless I have at least a little experience with it, and I try to do enough research to fill in any remaining credibility gaps. That’s my explanation for studying and sharing the photographs at the links below. But that’s just the external research part: my claim to street cred regarding Rose’s mental illness and being at Riverview Hospital comes through my mother, Angela Huntley Love (nee Clarke), who was a long-term resident at Riverview for 14 years. A good deal of my portrayal of Rose’s initial appearance and behaviour was based on my poor Mum. My wish is to use the events and emotions from my many visits at Riverview with Mum to evoke some of the sadness, joy and confused feelings that I experienced.

Riverview Hospital seems to be often in a state of transformation. This is probably a reflection of our gradually changing approach towards mental health care and the mentally ill in general. I hope it will continue to change for the better, in order to better serve those people who need it. In my only moderately informed opinion, there are still too many folks on the street who need mental health care.

Photos of Riverview

Here are a number of photo galleries I’ve found of Riverview Hospital complex. Some of them are quite beautiful, displaying the trees, flowers, lawns and sunny days that you’ll find on the grounds during the spring or summer months.  There are also quite a few photos that show the disturbing amount of degradation that old age and lack of maintenance have wrought on the closed buildings. West Lawn in particular, is the most haunting. It was already closed in the 1980s when I started visiting my Mother at Riverview.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobkh/sets/72157594534559416/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ephotography29/3258999854/

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/the-bh/1067953811/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shoes_on_wires/4448755346/

The darker photos in these collections reflect, to me, the downsizing, decentralization and relocation of hundreds of patients during the 80s and 90s.

Showing these darker images is not intended to stigmatize mental illness in any way, but instead to show how our major institution has changed over time. The images also helped me to connect with feelings of despair, sadness or loss that I once felt for my Mother. That is real too.

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