FREE! Are you a fiction writer? Would you like psychological feedback on one of your characters? See below.
I am delighted to welcome Chris Rose, writer and psychotherapist, to my blog today. Chris is a highly respected therapist, author of two non-fiction books on psychotherapy, for counsellors and therapists, and is also writing an on-line fictional therapy group, thewednesdaygroup.com, which is a gripping and highly entertaining series about, well, a fictional therapy group!
Chris and I have known each other for years. She was very involved in my early romance writing for Harlequin Mills & Boon, as my Chief Character Expert! I could always ring Chris and say ‘Help, I need a deep psychological motive for why my heroes/heroines are behaving like such complete tossers…’
So I invited Chris to explain why psychotherapy is so useful to fiction writers:
CR: There is definitely a useful link between psychotherapy and writing stories. Psychotherapy is a way of making sense of your life. It invites you to tell your own story, and helps you create a coherent narrative from your own life experiences. That is like writing your own life story – a complex but understandable story. Some theories say that the ability to understand your life in this way is fundamental to emotional health, and that talking with the therapist is one very good way to get this understanding.
RA: So to be the creator of believable fictional people, you need the same set of skills, you need to be able to sit your characters in a virtual counselling room and begin to see past their one-dimensional facade, into what makes them tick.
CR: Most if not all people’s lives are complicated, pulling in different directions at once, contradictory and messy. Believable fictional characters are very similar. The writer may tidy things up, but if their characters are too ‘tidy’ they become wooden or one dimensional, and we don’t believe in them. Just as in real life, the characters in a story can never be completely ‘explained’. There always has to be some unpredictability, some hidden strengths or difficulties, inner resources or demons that may take the story off in directions we would never have imagined.
RA: I’m bearing in mind here that the single most important factor in a novel is the characters, and whether or not readers relate to them. Plot, dialogue, narrative, location, theme etc are all important too, but if the plot isn’t ‘character-driven’, if the readers can’t relate in some way to your characters, you might as well hang up your writer’s hat and go out and get a ‘proper job’…
CR: Isn’t writing is a proper job, Rosie?
RA: Oh yes, sorry. I think I must have had a difficult early experience that shaped the way I see myself!
CR: Quite possibly. But seriously, as writers we all bring our own unique and different perspectives to our fictional characters, influenced by our own experiences of people. Perhaps romance writers are sometimes tempted to take people at face value and be optimistic and trusting, whilst psychotherapists are usually trying to look beneath the façade and see the murkier aspects… an entirely appropriate difference between a romantic novelist and a psychotherapist, you might say.
I have spent a lot of time with distressed people in difficult circumstances and emotional knots. Through time I have come to understand how early relationships shape our adult lives, and how interactions can be understood as products of a complex interweaving of past and present. All this gives me the ability to look at your characters and suggest ways of responding and behaving that perhaps you would not have thought of…. And when you’re sure that one of your characters just has to do something fairly outrageous, I can help work out why that might be.
RA: Which is why you are my Chief Character Expert. Would you say that the act of writing is a form of therapy in itself? And what about the act of reading?
CR: Without a doubt. Yes to both. Reading novels is another way that we use to try to make sense of our own experiences, dreams and longings. At the moment the NHS is actually recommending reading as helpful in treating depression. I’m slightly cynical – closing libraries whilst recommending reading? Plus an inadequate provision for talking therapies… But I do believe that a good story can have a real impact upon us.
RA: I agree. I need to add here that for me, to really enjoy reading a book, I need to believe in the characters but also to believe in the way those characters relate to and interact with each other. That’s what life is all about! From a writing perspective, that is what I aim to achieve each time I start to create a set of characters who are going to keep the reader turning the pages until 2:00 am, because they can’t wait to see who is going to do what, with whom, next…
CR: Whereas in therapy you have to wait until the next week’s session! And in the intervening week, as you think about the ‘story’, new themes play around in your mind. This brings me neatly to the idea of ‘playing’ and how important that is both in writing and in therapy. Play is bound together with creativity: it teaches, entertains, enriches, makes us feel alive. And that’s what you and I do together – we ‘play’. We also drink a lot of milky coffee (is that regressing?) and laugh a lot.
RA: Thanks Chris.
The Wednesday Group is an on-going story about a long term therapy group, as seen through the eyes of a new member, Stevie. Week by week, she writes her own version of what happens in the group, whilst the reader also discovers glimpses of events that effect other members. The facilitator, Kate, has her own struggles too that can be discovered in her supervision group.
This is a fictional group, but written by a group psychotherapist who knows through experience how long term groups can behave. If you are interested in people and their relationships, then episode by episode you come to understand more about the characters and how being in a group can change lives.
*FREE ! If you go to www.thewednesdaygroup.com , read and subscribe, and leave a comment, adding ‘feedback please’, Chris will send details. First six subscribers only, maximum 500 word descriptions.
Psychotherapy – www.chrisrose.info
The Personal Development Group: The Student’s Guide Karnac 2008
Self-Awareness and Personal Development: Resources for Psychotherapists and Counsellors Palgrave Macmillan 2012
Blog: sketching, psychotherapy and beyond
Rosalie Ash – Melting Ice on Kindle – http://tinyurl.com/bhtgo8a