Well, what a time for us all, hey? Usually I never quite know what my readers are up to. You’re all so different and spread all over the world, it's hard to predict. But for the first time, I know with certainty we've all faced the same thing: a global pandemic. And while I have been blessed in many ways (I have not caught Covid-19 nor lost anyone as a result of it) I have had my own personal battles, and have come out feeling battered and bruised. Thank God for my friends and family, especially these three above.
As for the writing side of my life, many people have asked what it's been like to write during a pandemic. Other than the obvious, what I struggled with most was what I call ‘spinning head syndrome’. This pandemic really does put your mind in a spin. Even those who haven't been impacted in ways others have, it messes with your mind, right?
This spinning mind syndrome is particularly hard for creatives. We need focused time to dream up our ideas. We need to be able to push away outside distractions to sink into the writing process. Let me tell you, that's been near on impossible the past few months.
And yet at the same time, I have learnt SO many lessons from observing people's reactions throughout the pandemic, especially when it comes to people's opinions and how they express them.
And wow, the pandemic has invoked a lot of opinions, hasn't it?! When I say ‘opinions’ I mean the ones we see play out on social media feeds (and maybe ones we post ourselves too during moments of frustration!). On one end of the spectrum are those who think the pandemic is one big conspiracy. Then there are those who think anyone who dares even step outside their house without a mask on is a criminal. Mixed in with this are a whole bunch of opinions in between. Either way, you'll recognise the more impassioned posts by the use of words such as ‘sheeple!’ and ‘plandemic’; ‘covidiots’ and ‘moronavirus!'
It all reminds me of how het up people get when it comes to parenting, like in my latest novel Circle of Doubt. At the core of the novel is a Facebook group for mothers where the eternal debate bubbles beneath the surface: what makes a 'good parent?' During the pandemic, this debate seems to focus on 'who knows the real truth?' Both are pretty unanswerable to be honest!
I've watched these debates play out with interest, and also thrown myself into them too. Throughout, I've made three valuable observations about character to help me with future novels.
Duality of Character
What makes a fictional character interesting is the battle between what someone presents to the world and what's deep inside them. The main character in Circle of Doubt, Emma, wants people to see her as an assured working mum who doesn't need anyone else but the family she loves. But the truth is, she is deeply insecure and is desperate for a friend she can confide in.
One of the mothers who looks down on Emma gives the impression of being an upstanding compassionate member of the community when the truth is, she hates the place. This so fascinates me as an author, that conflict between the outer mask which we see play out a lot lately.
During the past few months, something else I've noticed is the difference that comes depending on whether you 'lead with anger' or 'lead with love'. Those who 'lead with anger' allow that negative energy to cloud their ability to notice when compassion is needed.
In Circle of Doubt, as Emma navigates the demands of a holding down a full-time job and being a mother, she finds herself contending with the blinkers of those who lead with anger and it has horrible consequences. This is played out on social media in a Facebook mum's group where anger is usually the main emotion.
During this pandemic, it's very much the same.
It makes me think of a recent story about a manatee which was found with 'Trump' etched onto its back (bear with me!). It's like how some people are so desperate to etch their opinions online, they don't realise how much it might be hurting people.
Though Emma in Circle of Doubt feels lots of anger and frustration, there is a pause for thought before expressing a view or making a choice that could risk wider repercussions. She tries very hard to make compassion the guiding emotion, not anger. This doesn't mean censoring views. It means thinking carefully about how they will be received, in particular by those she cares about, and ensuring she is at peace with that.
The Hidden Motivations
When observing all this play out in Circle of Doubt and in reality, I often ask myself: why is this person reacting like this? What motivates people to react the way they do? It's a question all authors must ask of their characters: why?
Sheer showing off?
This is just a small list of potential motivations for those negative actions we take. For Emma in Circle of Doubt, her main motivation is love for her adopted daughter but also insecurity. She wants to prove she is worthy of that love due to an awful episode from her past. Funnily enough, for the mothers that turn against her, they're usually motivated by insecurity in their own parenting too. The insecurity that binds us all as parents, hey?
At the end of the day, there are always reasons for people reacting the way they do that go deeper than the obvious surface motivations. Even if they insist 'no, I'm just bloody angry', or 'I'm just saying what I believe' nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems. People around them will know that and in moments of contemplation, the ones who lead with anger will see it too.
Trying to bring to the surface that which is so fiercely hidden is what drives us as authors in creating our characters too. It's the 'scratching beneath the surface' which makes us write. And the pandemic has highlighted the emotions that bubble beneath the surface more than ever.
To read my latest novel, Circle of Doubt, click the button below.
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