Tuesday, April 30, 2019

PTSD for Characters

In our last round at FightWrite.net, we looked at some symptoms of PTSD. I called it PTSD for Writers because it gave writers an overview of what PTSD was so that in this round we could look at how those symptoms could be applied to our characters. That's how I saw it in my mind anywho. However, many writers wrote in saying that they thought it would address writers getting PTSD from writing. For the record that is WIENER - Writer in Inexplicably Extreme Neurosis Engendered by wRiting. Yes, I know "writing" begins with a "w" not "r". But I think the frustration felt by that spelling error makes the acronym hit home all the more.

But, I digress... As I wrote, in this round we are looking at practical applications of those PTSD symptoms. 
Intrusive Thoughts
An intrusive thought is one which pops up repeatedly in your head. Sometimes it intrudes randomly. Sometimes it is triggered by any number of things such as a particular object, sound or situation. The more one tries to not have the thought, the more attention the thought gets. It's a lot like an ear worm, a song you just can't get out of your head. The harder you try to get rid of it, the more it plays.

When a thought intrudes in on your character, it will take their body and brain back to the moment that the memory was formed. There may be a mental flashback in this moment which allows us as writers to dig up a bit of backstory without *author intrusion.

Because mentally a character is in that moment from the past, his adrenal system will respond accordingly. Emotions from the bad experience may or may not be displayed. But, adrenaline may be released nonetheless. This could cause symptoms of fight or flight

To add to the character's emotional distress, he may be concerned that he is still the person he was in his flashback. For example, if he is a soldier and the PTSD related intrusive thought is of him killing someone, he may be concerned that he will kill someone else in his everyday life. Even though he is no longer in uniform and far from the battle in time, the feeling of threat in him will be happening in real time, in the moment. Because he feels exactly as he did when he had to kill another human, he fears those feelings will cause him to kill again.

If he does insert those past memories into the present time, he may see images from the traumatic moment. The video at the end of the post gives an example of this from The Hunger Games. Katniss looses an arrow at a dear but then sees it hit a human.

Intrusive thoughts, as well as other symptoms of PTSD could cause the PTSD symptom of insomnia. If you have never had real insomnia, you cannot understand the physical, mental
and emotional impact of it. Going without sleep for too long is downright dangerous, so much so that The Guinness Book of World Records removed longest time without sleep from its achievements. People, you can swallow a sword and pull a rickshaw with your eye sockets for the title of GBoWW Holder! But, you can't go without sleep. That should tell you something. 
Insomnia won't just make your character yawn. In fact, they may not yawn at all. It will make them feel and seem drugged. Their affect may be flat. Their physical and mental response may be slowed. The character may be easily angered or trigger happy. 

Physically they will ache in their bones and their skin may be painfully sensitive. Their heart will pound in their chest and they may be nauseated and unable to eat. If you want your character who doesn't drink to be arrested for DUI, have him drive during a bout of insomnia. 

In our next post, we will look at a few more symptoms of PTSD and how they will look in our manuscripts. Until the next round at FightWrite.net, here's a clip of examples of PTSD in the movies and the most dangerous world records.
Get blood on your pages.

* Author intrusion is a lot of things but in this case it's when an author interrupts the flow of writing to give the reader information that does not belong in that moment. It's real irritating.


  1. This is VERY interesting stuff; just the sort of stuff I like to write/ read about ;D



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