Sunday, 23 September 2012

The charming kook has left the building

16224 / 50000 words. 32% done!

In fairness, this is not the thousand words a day I promised when I first started working on this project. But I have been busy! Oh, how busy I have been. Running to classes, running from classes, running to meetings, running home to cook dinner, catching up on my readings from the class I just swapped into (protip: if ever you should switch classes after a semester starts, don't switch into an English class), visiting home, getting my computer fixed- well, you get the idea. And the upcoming week does not look any calmer- tomorrow I have two regular classes, one dance class, and one audition ending at eleven at night, and then I'm up again at nine the next morning for class. I feel a bit like that episode of Nostalgia Critic where he's screaming "I'M THE ADULT! I DO THE ADULT THINGS!"

I've arrived at a point in my novel now that I didn't expect to reach for at least several thousand more words- the main character's breakdown/panic attack. See, as I've mentioned, the narrator of the novel has OCD and takes medication to control it. It goes missing halfway through her roap trip, and what happens? Boom. Panic. I originally planned for this to be more around the middle of the book, but I've been restructuring the plot lately, and realized that my idea of the trip taking up two-thirds of the plot makes no sense. No one wants to read 30 000 words of getting on and off buses. So the panic attack comes just before the halfway point, and as such, I've been revisiting my own illness, reading over descriptions of what panic attacks feel like, and generally trying to get a sense of what's going on in my main character's head. Ironically enough, part of my inspiration came from the TV I've been watching lately.
I'm sorry, were you looking for the sweet, pliant
abuse victim/PTSD sufferer? WRONG NUMBER.

When I get back to my room at night, I'm generally too tired to read or write, so instead I flop on the couch and catch an hour of TV before I go to bed. My latest hour's worth of entertainment has been BBC America's Copper, a show which seems almost uniquely designed to appeal to me: it's a period drama, it's a diaspora story, it's about the underprivileged class that history generally ignores. Also it's kind of like Gangs of New York, but if the screenwriter had had a firmer grasp on the idea of "characterization."

At first glance, the show has exactly zip to do with my book, and honestly, it doesn't- different types of characters, different plots, a sad lack of telepaths. (I feel like every form of media could be improved with telepaths.) What impresses me so much about the show is the way it deals with mental illness, and specifically PTSD. It has two characters with obvious, overt symptoms, and several others who display more subdued reactions. It does well by them, I think- making sure they're sympathetic without turning them into victimized caricatures. And most importantly of all (to me) it says something that a lot of media surrounding mentally ill people never address: being mentally ill does not automatically make you a nice person.

We have a tendency, I think, to valorize those with mental illnesses- we have our Rain Mans and our I Am Sams and our Beautiful Minds where the lead might be crazy, but it's okay! They're a genius so that makes up for it. Or you'll get the Inspirationally Mentally Ill/Disabled character, who is so gosh-darn sweet and kind and self-sacrificing that you'd swear they escaped from a Candyland board. I understand why this happens- to most, disability and illness seem like terrible things, so they try to find some way of "fixing the afflicted," so to speak. They may hear voices, but they're so good at math! They may have flashbacks, but they're so stoic and hot! They may never be able to live independently, but they're so sweet and cuddly!

If the words "just get over it" leave your mouth,
I will shoot you in the EYE.
Except . . . no. No, that's not how it works, and I wouldn't want it to anyway. Making disabled or sick characters one-dimensional angels fails on a writing level- no one is a one-dimensional angel unless they're on an episode of Supernatural- and on a basic human level, because reducing us to that stereotype robs us of our basic humanity. The disabled are still human. We have bad days. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we snap and yell at people. Sometimes we react to our problems badly and take it out on others. Sometimes we don't have good coping mechanisms. That's what makes us people. And disability does not rob us of our basic personhood. If you think that, you're a crappy writer, and also a pretty crappy person. And that- among other things- is part of what I'm trying to do with this book. People with disabilities and mental illnesses exist. Some of us are teenagers. Some of us are even on your YA bookshelves.

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