And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
It's time to put aside my drawing for Dinosaur for a while, unfortunately.
Having finished the 50-page promotional excerpt, which is essentially the beginning of the book, I now have to plan and write the rest of it, and that will take some time. I have already worked the story out in broad strokes; now I have to get down to the nitty-gritty. And I think the nitty, in this case, really will be quite gritty. Maybe too gritty..?
In the part of the story that I'm working on at the moment, "Lisa" is in her second week of treatment at the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Institute, and is struggling a lot. As part of her treatment, she must describe her terrifying thoughts about hurting children to the staff, without doing any rituals that lower her anxiety. (This is a standard treatment for OCD, known as ERP, or Exposure and Response Prevention.)
I remember quite vividly what it felt like to have to do that. Even though intrusive thoughts would usually flash across my mind, in ERP I had to imagine each thought in great detail, and expand on it. If OCD was an impacted wisdom tooth, then treatment was extracting the tooth in slow motion.
The question I'm facing now, as a writer, is whether to describe the thoughts and images to my readers: getting hold of a little girl or boy and hurting them. This is stuff that my readers – like you, me, and every rational human being – would find repugnant.
If I omit the details, there is simply no way readers will be able to understand why it was so difficult. They'll comprehend that it was hard, scary, terrible, etc., but they won't feel it. I'm afraid that a lot of the power of my story will be lost.
If I include the details of the thoughts, it's quite possible readers will be disgusted by it and throw the book in the garbage. They may want to call the police.
There may be middle ground, though: I could introduce the details of the gruesome thoughts just a little at a time. As Lisa progresses in treatment, she is able to go into more detail about them. Therapists call this process 'habituation' (as in, like a habit, something you do repeatedly without putting much thought into it). By gradually exposing readers to more of my thoughts, they too may become habituated to them. I guess I'll have to try it out on a few test readers first, and see.
In the meantime, if you want to get a sense of exactly how difficult OCD treatment is, I recommend that you watch the brilliant Ethan S. Smith give a conference presentation about OCD. He describes how he experienced the illness, how it ate away his life until he was at death’s doorstep, and how he climbed his way to health. I’m leery of inspirational speakers, but Ethan stays away from psychobabble and sentimentality. Watch it until he shows the first video clip in his presentation, and you'll be hooked.
I took the title of this blog entry from his talk, incidentally. Watch it to find out why.