Using Psychology to Deepen Character Development

I presented Using Psychology to Deepen Character Development for the first time at Flights of Foundry last month and received some lovely feedback.

I reflected on the role of the unconscious, internal/external conflict, and self-narrative in shaping complex characters, did a deep dive into defence mechanisms (with a lighthearted spec-fic twist!), and explored attachment theory in relating to others.

I also touched on embodied emotion, psychology interfacing with magic/tech/worldbuilding/horror, and other sorts of minds–although those themes would deserve a talk of their own!

I thought I’d share a couple of key slides/points.

The mind is a speculative place

◦ Psychological theories are frameworks for seeing the mind from different angles

◦ No single theory or framework can explain the human mind

◦ Applying a psychological understanding allows you to show rather than tell the reader what your characters are like

◦ Moreover, you can pare back the showing so it can be implicit, subtle, metaphorical and open, allowing the reader to imbue the story with their individual interpretations and personal meaning

The mind is not a single, unified entity

◦ Inner disharmonies are unavoidable

◦ We can consider the different stories within our characters–different origins, aims, and defences mechanisms of various agencies within the mind.

A conceptual diagram of Freud’s Topographical and Structural Models. Taken from
Kenny, D.T. (2016). A brief history of psychoanalysis: From Freud to fantasy to folly. Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia.

Exercise: Think about a character from your work. Visualise them clearly in your mind’s eye. Then, consider the following questions…

Id

What are your character’s hidden desires? What do they yearn for? What would give them a sense of wholeness and vitality? What sparks their lust, aggression, or anger? What wishes or fears are they unable to admit to themselves? Can other characters glimpse these drives? Will events force them to confront buried aspects of themselves?

Superego

What sort of early upbringing did your character have? Who were their role models, and what values and morals would they have internalised? What standards does your character strive towards? What is forbidden territory for your character, associated with guilt or shame?

Ego

How does your character resolve these conflicting aspects of themselves? What is the story that your character tells themselves? Which coping mechanisms do they tend to turn towards in times of stress? What happens when these mechanisms are overwhelmed? How will their unconscious desires and value systems shape their actions and manifest in the story?


I really enjoyed adapting psychological concepts for writing, especially for speculative writing. I’m hoping to further refine and develop it for the future.

I hope this is the beginning of a helpful resource.

Happy reading and writing, friends!


PS. Thank you, so much, to the Dream Foundry for having me. The talk will be available on the Dream Foundry YouTube channel later this year.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8jDna_LNiWUbJ254-dymVg

2020 Round-Up and Awards Eligibility

For me, 2020 felt slow, and at times painful, frustrating, and confusing. It was easy to compare myself with others who seemed to be having lots of short fiction publishing success, and feel demoralised. However, when I cast my mind back to where I was a mere one year ago, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come in a short space of time. I am immensely grateful: not only for my writing journey, but for the security of my day work and living situation, and for the support systems around me.

Here are the things I’ve published in 2020. My novelette, Jigsaw Children, is eligible for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and grants me eligibility for the Astounding Award.

Jigsaw Children
Clarkesworld (Issue 161, Feb 2020)
Audio Version available on Clarkesworld Website / Podcast

13,000 words. A science fiction novelette set in twenty-second century Hong Kong, about gene splicing, mothers, attachment, and identity.

I think I’m reasonably lucky, only having five parents. I guess my donors didn’t have too many risk mutations. Some of my classmates have been spliced together from eight, nine, even twelve donors. I don’t envy them the task of juggling their Chinese New Year dinners.

Father’s House
Aurealis (Issue 29, Apr 2020)

2500 words. A short story touching on themes of brain connectome mapping, illness, immigration, and the things that parents pass on to their children.

He removes his shoes and places them neatly next to his father’s black sneakers.
His father’s voice floats from the kitchen. ‘Henry. How’s work?’
‘Fine, Ba. I’ve taken a few days off.’
‘Just to help me clean? Are you sure that’s a good idea?’

The Ethnographer
Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (Issue #79, Jun 2020)

5000 words. A far future science fiction story about inequality and powerlessness. A solitary, empathetic ethnographer travels to a far-flung planet and gradually discovers hidden ruptures in the alien society.

I step down from the Linnaeus into a crimson haze creased with shadows. The wind howls like a banshee symphony. At once, I understand why the Vullon have no hearing organs: the noise of this alien planet inspires madness.

Of Hunger and Fury
Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Omnium Gatherum (Sep 2020)

3600 words. A Malaysian Chinese gothic horror story. When Fen Fang returns to her family home in Malaysia, long-forgotten ghosts begin to creep into her skin.

When I see my mother standing in the front yard, two decades disappear in a blink. I can hardly bear to look at the faded white walls, the creeping lattice of vines like bloated veins. She pulls the metal gate open. Her bare wrists look strangely vulnerable. My husband bounds over to her, grasps her hand in both of his, leans in to peck her cheek.

Mother of the Trenches
Unnatural Order, CSFG Publishing (Dec 2020, available to pre-order)

2700 words. A quirky, tentacled, symbiotic, fantasy tale about power, knowing yourself, ocean pollution, and deep, dark places.

You turn your little eyes to me, taking in my massive shapelessness, the dark patterns shifting over my skin, and my many arms, coiled around us like a nest—protecting, tasting, thinking. Your gaze flicks upwards and crosses paths with mine.
Your fear turns into disgust.

If you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d have short fiction in two dream Aussie SFF venues, I wouldn’t have dared to believe it! The Ethnographer and Father’s House are very different stories, but both were a challenge and a joy to write. I feel very lucky to have had them edited and published by Andromeda Spaceways and Aurealis, respectively. And, of course, I’m perpetually over the moon that Clarkesworld accepted Jigsaw Children–which, now that I reflect on it, has many thematic overlaps with Every Version of You.

As I spent a large portion of the year studying for a specialty exam, I didn’t get to write and submit as much as I’d hoped. But with the exam well and truly behind me now, I’m set to dive into structural edits for EVOY and more short fiction projects!

As always, thanks for reading and lingering for a little while. May the end of your 2020 be reflective, restorative, and as peaceful as can be in these times.

Novel Announcement: Every Version of You

In a perfect, deathless world, what does it mean to love and let go?

OK so I kind of spoiler-ed myself a couple of weeks ago but I have some RIDICULOUSLY EXCITING NEWS.

Picture: primary-school-Grace, hunched over the dining table, scribbling stories in exercise books and dreaming of publishing a Real Book one day.

Now picture little Grace’s dream coming true. Yes indeed, the (electronic) ink is dry! My debut novel, Every Version of You, is going to be published by Affirm Press!!!

Every Version of You is a science fiction novel set in late 21st century Australia. It features a Malaysian Chinese Australian protagonist, Tao-Yi Ling, and her partner, Navin, as they grapple with the rise of virtual reality and mind-uploading technology. It explores continuity of identity, love, migration, consumerism, bodies, illness, change, loss, and cultural grief. It hopes to channel the spirit of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, with a dash of Black Mirror.

Affirm Press is a wonderful, independent Melbourne-based publishing house who are behind Alice Robinson’s The Glad Shout, Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words, and Christian White’s The Nowhere Child, amonst many others. Affirm Press are doing exciting things in the Australian publishing landscape, and their vision for Every Version of You closely aligns with mine. I’m so, so delighted to work with them to whip this thing into shape!

If you’d like to follow me on my writing journey, you can subcribe to this website for blog posts.

If you’d like to stan me in other media, I’m also on Twitter and Instagram, where in addition to word-wrangling updates I share my excitement about what I’m reading, watching, or, occasionally, munching.

For the ultimate fangirling experiencing, you can subscribe to my brand-spanking-new-shiny newsletter: Brains, Space, & Ghosts. If you like the sound of writing excerpts, behind-the-scenes info, inspirations, and occasional musings, I’d be honoured if you signed up! I promise not to contribute to loathsome spam, and will send out the newsletter no more than once a month, likely less often.

Thank you again, friends, for sharing in my excitement about my debut novel. Tao-Yi and Navin’s story means a great deal to me, and I can’t wait to bring it to life.

Every Version of You is due for release in early 2022.

A few blog appearances

“I want stories about Asian women who are both good and bad, who drive their own narratives, and make up their own minds. I want stories about Asian women who get to adventure, fight, run away, fall in love, not fall in love, destroy their enemies, plot wicked plots, exact revenge, save the world, or be wonderfully ordinary.

Hi friends,

I was fortunate enough to contribute to few interviews and round-table discussions in the lead-up to the release of Black Cranes.

Angela Yuriko Smith lets me waffle on about migration, the model minority myth, exploring our darker selves, and wanting characters who can do everything. Also, my dad teases primary-school-me about my character name choices.

The Black Cranes, myself included, share the inspiration behind our spooky stories on the Horror Tree Blog Tour.

Last but not least, Ginger Nuts of Horror hosts a three-part campfire chat with all the writers and editors about otherness and dark fiction. Delicious stuff.

Of Hunger and Fury – Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women

I can’t believe it was only in June that I was wrangling my Malaysian Chinese gothic ghost story into shape. I’m pleased to share that the twisty, creepy, moody, indigestible thing has become Of Hunger and Fury, my original fiction contribution to Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

At risk of being expelled from the horror community, I will admit that, at the start of my writing journey, I didn’t intend to write horror. I wanted to write stories that explored the interior world of marginalised women of colour, and demonstrate the multitudinous forms of quiet resilience. I wanted to contribute to a collective pulling-apart of existing stereotypes and make these characters fascinating and terrifying in their unfamiliar three-dimensionality.

I enjoy using empathy as a specific language to the reader. In this piece, I played with sensuality and body horror to force the reader to experience being the monster. I transpose you into the character’s skin–to make you feel what she feels, to become her.

That’s why, for instance, I thought Jordan Peele’s Us was so clever. [WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!] Us was jarring and memorable because, for the duration of the movie, you are Adelaide. You live in her skin. You feel the horrific other-ness of the doppelgangers. And then, finally, in a compelling twist…you become them. The forced becoming of the other is powerful because it challenges your notions of who deserves to be centred and who deserves to be excluded.

I’m incredibly thankful to editors Geneve Flynn and Lee Murray for inviting a newcomer like me to contribute to this anthology. I’m so glad that your convention-hall chat morphed into this darkly delicious project, and I’m grateful for all the hard work you put in behind the scenes to craft Black Cranes.

A reprint of my Aurealis and Norma K Hemming Award shortlisted story, The Mark, also appears in Black Cranes.

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women is available from the publisher (paperback), Amazon (ebook) or Amazon AU (ebook).

The Ethnographer – Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #79

My short story, The Ethnographer, appears in Issue #79 of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine. The Ethnographer is my humble attempt to wrangle my feelings about inequality and powerlessness. It’s far from perfect, but I’m proud of it.

It introduces my second space voyager: the solitary, empathetic ethnographer, Egal Tyro, who journeys from their birth-planet, Mars, out of a desire to explore and commune with other life forms.

[My first space voyager was the bounty hunter, Orin, from my first ever published story, The Dunes of Ranza. Orin and Egal are both cybernetically-enhanced, non-binary, flawed, strong, deeply human. I love them both. I want to write them more.]

I also throw in an intelligent non-human species, visual and tactile languages, an alien planet with vast rocky basins that change colour as the sun shifts, giant rustling indigo plants, seedpod-milk, and at least three moons. Oh, also, ion-powered blimps. Preeeetty.

Thank you to fellow Aussie SFF writer Austin Sheehan and to my brother, Peter [ah, to be cursed with a sister who shoves stories under your nose every few months and demands critique], for beta reading the unwieldy draft and helping to whip it into shape.

I’m grateful to Andromeda Spaceways for accepting the story, and to editor Joel Schanke for a deft and thoughtful editing process. The issue has gorgeous artwork, including an illustration for my story (!). The stories are tied together by the theme of love.

It was also a very cool surprise to be in the company of writers AJ Fitzwater and Maria Z Medina. Maria’s lyrical, myth-infused story, Voice of God, took my breath away. AJ’s Tāne Mahuta was similarly an immersive, out-of-body, magical ode to nature.

You can purchase Issue #79 here or subscribe as a member on the Andromeda Spaceways website.

Hear, hear: narrating for AntipodeanSF

I still remember my only redeeming quality in Year Eight Drama Class was that I had a ‘nice reading voice’. So I tried something new recently: narration.

If you’re interested in listening to my sibilant s’s and palatable palatals, you can hear me narrate two snappy, quirky short stories for the AntipodeanSF Radio Show:

Bring Back The Night, by Robin Hillard [Amata, 26 July 2020] – From approx 8 minutes: https://antisf.libsyn.com/amata

The Slow, by Antoinette Ryder [Amanda, 5 July 2020] – From approx 22:30 minutes: https://antisf.libsyn.com/amanda

I tried listening to myself again, and I can hardly bear it! In hindsight, I sound bland. If I ever have another go, I’ll let myself get more into the story. It was a fun challenge though–it involved finding the right sized cardboard box, allocating the precise distance from phone to mouth to minimise spluttering plosives and background noise, and googling how to pronounce ‘detritus’.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the twisty tales by Hillard and Ryder.

Thanks Nuke and AntipodeanSF for having me!

Father’s House – Aurealis #129

My short story, Father’s House, is in Aurealis #129.

Here’s my ‘Story Behind The Story’:

Father’s House sprang from three concepts mashing together unexpectedly in my head. The technology to map and deconstruct the human brain is growing increasingly sophisticated. How long will it be before we try to replicate a human mind in digital form? More importantly, when we do so, how closely can we say it represents the original? At the time I was mulling about this, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act came into effect in Victoria—and with it, the crucial issue of determining capacity to consent. Finally, this story holds a great deal of personal significance. I was reflecting on the things that parents pass on to their children: stories spoken aloud, and stories so hidden they’re only a vague feeling. Like Henry, we carry pieces of previous generations in us, and we grapple with them throughout our lives.

You can purchase the issue or sign up as a subscriber through the Aurealis website.

Jigsaw Children in Audio

Forgot to post this a few weeks ago.
My story, Jigsaw Children, is available in audio form, narrated beautifully by Alethea Kontis.
Available at the Clarkesworld website: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/audio_02_20d/
Or also on the Clarkesworld Podcast:
…and other podcast sources.

Aurealis Awards 2019: Shortlisted!

Greetings, digital ghosts.

Just a little post to announce that my short story, The Mark, has been shortlisted for Best Horror Short Story in the 2019 Aurealis Awards.

 
Wang Yibo dancing on stage with a seductive twirl.
Mood

I’m feeling incredibly privileged and honoured that my second published work is an Aurealis Awards nominee.

Congratulations to all the other finalists: a stellar line-up!

https://aurealisawards.org/2020/03/25/2019-aurealis-awards-shortlist-announcement/