Mental Health Monday: You Can’t Judge A Character By His Diagnosis

In inpatient work, the constant stream of patients being admitted and discharged creates a hectic pace that’s both exhilarating and overwhelming.

Before meeting a new patient, we review the chart (to get some idea of what’s been going on) and we also get report from the nurse to see how the patient has been on the unit.

It’s really remarkable how different people look “on paper” as compared to what they’re like “in real life.”

We’ve had extremely violent patients present as charismatic and engaging. We’ve had tiny, quiet, seemingly meek patients admitted for out of control behavior. We’ve had suicidal patients arrive with giant smiles on their faces. And we’ve had psychotic patients insist they are not mentally ill and that we’re the ones causing all the trouble (that tends to be a popular one).

It’s part of a writer’s job to create clear, distinct characters so readers can understand the characters’ motivations and become invested in the characters’ lives.

How do we describe characters? Through their thoughts, actions, morals, values, beliefs, friends, homes, jobs, and hobbies. And don’t we want our characters to be a perfect mixture of symbolism and consistency?

Sure.

But if a character is too “smooth” they may just turn “vanilla.” (And by vanilla, I mean boring.)

So, like people “in real life,” we need to make sure our characters aren’t always what’s expected. They need to have quirks. They need to have conflicts. They need to have multi-faceted personalities to make them more “alive.”

Ok, I guess I’m done rambling for today. What do you guys think makes for a good (read interesting) character?

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah’s The Strangest Situation.

Remember, these posts are for writing purposes ONLY, and are NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

Mental Health Monday–Character Conflict

As writers gear up for NaNo, I want to review an important tidbit to keep in mind.

Stories thrive on tension and a sure-fire way to create tension is through conflict. Not only can conflict occur between characters, it can also happen within a character.

Here are some examples of conflict between characters:

  • Protagonist vs. Antagonist
  • Protagonist vs. BFF
  • Protagonist vs. Parent
  • Protagonist vs. Love Interest
  • Antagonist vs. Minion

Pretty straight forward, right?

So how do you develop conflict within a character?

  • Put him or her in a situation where he/she has to choose between two “bad” choices. (Does the phrase “the lesser of two evils” come to mind?)
  • Make it so the antagonist is a sympathetic character and let the protagonist see it. This will put him or her at odds with defeating the “bad guy” versus giving them forgiveness or helping them.
  • Set things up so the protagonist can’t necessarily tell the difference between reality or fantasy. This doesn’t have to apply strictly to paranormal or even psychosis, but situations can be open to interpretation and it all boils down to perception. For example, if a protag sees her love interest hug an attractive woman, the protag may assume he’s married or dating when in reality the “other woman” could be a cousin or sister.
  • Like all humans, it’s natural for our protag’s to have mixed emotions about things. For example, maybe the protag is trying to quit drinking because he’s got a DWI, but his buddies are egging him on to drink. He knows he shouldn’t, but dammit, why can’t he have a good time like everybody else?
  • Remember that the higher the stakes, the more tension and the more conflict arises.

What strategies do you use to raise tension and conflict between and within a character?

Check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarah Fine’s The Strangest Situation for some awesome writerly posts!