Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

It’s Sunday, time to have some creative fun. For this week’s creative prompt I’ve chosen this photo of a path leading into the woods.

Writers, artists, doodlers and storytellers, have some fun with this image. Post your ideas in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

More thoughts on writing characters with mental health challenges: my approach so far

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the challenges involved in writing characters facing mental health challenges. I have been thinking about this quite a lot because one of the protagonists in my novel (working title Feeding Jasmine Valentine) has challenges with her mental health. It’s a fantasy novel and it’s perhaps a little bit unusual for one of the hero’s of the story to be struggling with their mental health, but that’s why it’s important to me that to do a decent job. While I can’t claim to have an encyclopaedic understanding of the genre, I’ve not seen many fantasy books in which the person with mental health challenges gets to be the hero (although that being said there are quite a lot of characters out there who are clearly struggling with trauma), while I have seen plenty of poor or stereotyped bit characters, and I wanted to do something different.

From a personal perspective I’ve had my own challenges and have many friends who have had mental health experiences. Poor representation does none of us any favours.

I’d like to think that I have an advantage here, in that in my day job as a mental health researcher should give me a bit of additional insight, and that have been working alongside people with their own mental health experience for a number of years. 

I thought it may be helpful to try to describe the approach I have been taking here, which really boils down to a very simple set of things:

1. Characters with mental health challenges are not just walking chapters from a psychiatry textbook, and can’t be reduced down to a list of symptoms to tick off through a creative project. I’ve seen this done before, and it’s just really offensive.

2. I started with the character first. What kind of person was she (and it is a she in this case)? What did she like, or not like? What did she do?

3. I identified the significant symptoms that were causing her problems (I didn’t start with a diagnosis, and actually am still a bit unsure what that would be), and then tried to understand how those symptoms my interfere with her wanting to do the things she wants to do. 

So the approach I’ve taken, which I think is OK, is to start with the character, and then think about how her mental health influences her experiences and what she does. It was not to start with a set of symptoms and then build a character around those, as my hunch was that this would result in a really reductive simplistic character who was defined by her mental health, rather than it being part of a much bigger picture.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to anyone who is trying to write about mental health, let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here. 

Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

It’s been a bit grim here in London over the last few words and I’ve been thinking about how much the weather influences my own writing and other creative work.

Here’s a video of some moody weather to inspire. Writers, artists, doodlers and storytellers, what does this film suggest to you?

Post your ideas in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Sunday Funday: Creative Prompt

Here is another creative prompt for this week.

This is my cat, who likes to look down on us and in a ideal world would have us deliver his dinner to him at the top of the stairs.

Writers, artists, doodlers and storytellers, have some fun with this image. Post your ideas in the comments below, or turn it into a post on your own blog and let me know.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Is it possible to write fiction about mental health well?

Over the last few years I have been writing the first book in a fantasy novel series (current title Feeding Jasmine Valentine). It has two main protagonists, and one of those protagonists has severe anxiety and other mental health issues. The more I write her the more I think about if I am doing justice to her.

One of the really problematic things about writing a character who struggles with their mental health is that there is a really troubling legacy of how mental illness has been portrayed fictionally in the past. For example people with mental illness are often portrayed as dangerous, uncontrollably violent, as an ‘evil genius’, or as incoherent and unpredictable (in what are often quite predictable ways).

There are a number of harmful stereotypes that were easy enough for me to avoid. I have not written my character, Julianne, as a dangerous uncontrollable psychopath or as someone who is inherently prone to doing unpredictable and damaging things to other people. She is not someone who does ‘mad’ eccentric things just for the sake of making a point about her mental health. I’ve tried very hard to give her experiences that are authentic, and have drawn from aspects of my own mental health at times to do so.

The main stereotype I am worried about falling foul of is that of ‘the unreliable narrator.’ Characters that have a mental health problem are often portrayed as inherently unreliable, and thus their version of events is not to be trusted. Over the last few years I have worked closed with many people who have struggles with their mental health and have found this not to be the case at all. The majority of the people I know give very clear accounts of their own experiences. However some of those experiences can be difficult to hear, and it may feel easier to the listener to doubt what is being said.

My concern with my writing is that it will automatically be assumed that she is unreliable, when this is not my intention at all. Any ideas about how to tackle this would be welcome.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.