First assignment: Write your story statement.
Jennifer, a young autistic woman, must navigate and survive a world of institutional abuse while preserving her sanity.
Second assignment: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.
To save her from self-harm, Jennifer is committed to the often unseen world of America’s inpatient mental health system. Known for their abusive tactics portrayed in movies such as “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” these facilities unwittingly chip away at their captive’s sense of self. Institutionalization quickly follows. Staff members are known to abuse their power, resulting in both physical and emotional harm to the patients. The epitome of these institutions being a behavioral modification center in Canton, Massachusetts, which employs intentional pain through electric skin shock to coerce their victims into submission.
Third assignment: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).
Shouting At Leaves
Fourth assignment: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?
Book 1: Population One by Tyler McNamer (Avia: August 5, 2013), 205 pages
Analysis: I’ve not read this but according to the sample pages and the description of the book this is “part memoir, part inspirational guide,” I believe this book to be the closest in idea to mine. I have intentionally written my story to be a guide and cautionary tale to those who may consider committing their loved ones to residential care. It is also a guide for those who are on the autism spectrum on how to embrace their differences and live a full, meaningful life.
Book 2: Thinking In Pictures Expanded Edition: My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin (Vintage: January 10, 2006), 270 pages
Analysis: I’m familiar with Temple Grandin. She wrote this book as a middle-aged woman. We are similar there. I think that’s where our similarities end. Temple’s books take a more scientific approach to explaining life with autism while my manuscript is an immersive story.
Fifth assignment: Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.
When an autistic girl is thrust into psychiatric institutionalization, she must fight to maintain her dignity and self-worth.
Sixth assignment: Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.
Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?
Being admitted to her first hospital, Jennifer sees this as a very temporary situation. She fully expects to go back to her life of family and school. After her second, then third admissions, she shifts her thinking, realizing this is a new life she must get used to. She feels guilty for being a failure to herself and her family. She has spent years leading up to this point, trying to manage her autism and comorbid obsessive compulsive disorder while living a “normal” life.
Her secondary conflict could very well be the fact that she has become institutionalized. She is more comfortable in the often abusive halls of a mental health facility than in her own family’s home. She feels guilty, as if she has chosen this life but simultaneously knows it is not her fault.
Last assignment: Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.
In this memoir Jennifer takes the reader into the underbelly of mental health care. She exposes their methods and abusive tactics from misuse of four-point restraint and seclusion right up to doctors who knowingly overmedicate. We meet other patients and explore their relationships with each other as they each cope and survive in their own way. We also learn how Jennifer deals with her autism- which went undiagnosed for years, while being treated as simply a misbehaving adolescent and then adult. The climax of this being her seven-year stint at a highly unethical behavioral facility which employs painful skin shock to control its residents.