I'm very excited to welcome Paula Graves to the Playground today! She's been an honorary Playfriend for a very long time and it's always a pleasure when she visits. Please give her a warm Playground welcome.
Ever heard of Medical Student Syndrome? It's another name for the hypochondriasis common among medical students studying diseases: they become convinced they're experiencing symptoms of the diseases. I have a similar experience, in a way, when I'm researching books. I usually end up identifying with the psychological or emotional experiences my characters have, to varying degrees, even if I haven't experienced those actual feelings in my own life.
I think it boils down to the fact that some emotions are universal, even if we haven't experienced them in the exact same way as our characters have.
For instance, when I was writing CHICKASAW COUNTY CAPTIVE (Harlequin Intrigue Feb. 2010), even though my mother is the best woman in the world and our relationship is rock solid, I was still able to experience my heroine's horror during flashbacks of her mother's mental breakdown that led to the murder of her children. I think it's probably the intensity of my love and respect for my mother that allowed me to delve deep into the emotions such a betrayal of nature might evoke. Imagining my own mother turning on me that way was intensely horrific and helped me understand, to some small extent, what a shattering and life-changing experience my heroine had faced as a child.
I don't have children of my own, but I do have nieces who live with me, and in writing ONE TOUGH MARINE (Harlequin Intrigue, August 2010), in which the heroine's son is threatened with kidnapping if she doesn't find the secret files her late husband was hiding, I drew on my feelings of love and protectiveness toward my girls to understand and convey the desperate lengths to which my heroine would go to keep her child safe. There are few things I would die for, but I'd die to protect those kids. I used that emotion in writing the book.
My latest book, MAJOR NANNY (Harlequin Intrigue, October 2011) features a heroine whose young son has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. I don't know anyone with Asperger's, but as I was researching the disease, I realized that both my brother and I showed strong symptoms of the syndrome, especially when we were children. I don't think we actually have it—we're able to read other people's social cues much better than an Aspie would, but we did share enough of the socialization problems as children that I was able to draw on my own experiences to write the character of Zachary.
I think research can take a writer only so far. At some point, she has to immerse herself in the characters and situations and find the truth through her own experiences. If you're a writer, how do you plumb those depths of emotions and experiences within yourself to bleed onto the page? And if you're a reader, do you find yourself identifying with characters more if their experiences resonate with your own experiences in some way? Or can it become too painful if you identify with them too much?
One commenter today will win either a signed copy of one of Paula's backlist or a $10 Amazon gift card, winner's choice! And don't miss Major Nanny, Paula's latest release, available now.
P.S. Vicki Batman is PM's winner from yesterday. Email her with your snail mail info to claim your prize.