Resources to Make Mental Illness, Personality Disorders, and Health Struggles Real in Your Characters

The doctor will see you now. . .
The doctor will see you now. . .

Regardless of your genre, it is likely that you will be dealing with the luxury and challenge of developing realistic characters who express all of the beauties and flaws of real people.  Although we are all arguably experts of mankind in some form, we are also often blinded by our own experiences and persuasions.

Luckily, today’s world is teeming with resources for writers who want to create realistically complex (and perhaps damaged) characters.  A degree in psychology isn’t necessary to empathize with and thus create a mental world ripe with the struggles and traumas so many human beings face.  A few references to check out for your next dark and brooding character:

  1. The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM V:  This is a diagnostic manual and, although it is of more practical use for clinicians given its format and intended use, it could also be the seed that helps you identify just what your character is struggling with.  If it’s a disorder (and unfortunately sometimes even if its not–we’ve gotten a lot wrong in the past as a field) then it’s in the DSM.  Don’t want to shell out the $$$ for a full copy all your own?  Then check out your local library, which should have a copy available.  You can always just buy the desk reference edition for your writer’s nest–it looks great next to Roget’s.
  2. Often our characters are struggling with physical or mental health issues that require medication and result in side effects that can be the impetus for an engaging story line. If you aren’t sure of the common medications for a particular condition, or the side effects of those meds, then the Mayo Clinic’s free online catalogue is a great resource for you.
  3. TED Talks offer opportunities to hear people with a variety of traumas and disorders share their insights and experiences.  A few of my favorites are:
  4. And just to add one more: Radiolab recently featured a show on Elements, including a discussion of lithium and bipolar disorder.  Their portrayal of a young woman’s oncoming manic episode helped me understand the state of mania better than I ever had before.

Read them in good health and great writing.

#amediting: Summiting Edit Mountain

There’s that moment, indescribable but sought after by any writer, when you enter that last period and type in the words ‘The End’ in act of triumphant satisfaction.  You finished!  Your story is complete, the character arcs and plot lines all tied up neatly and any dangling ends snipped into a tidy bow with the soft clicks of your keyboard.

Or . . . Not.

Just as writers know how gratifying finishing the first draft of any work can be, they also know that what lays ahead for them is the twisting, long, and sometimes treacherous road of editing that first draft into a final draft.  Sometimes, it can be such a daunting process to set out on that we writers will avoid it, spending our time conjuring up ideas for our next manuscript or browsing online for a little splurge to mark the occasion of another story ‘finished.’  I know, because this is exactly where I am right now in my work.

Having completed my first draft and begun the editing process on my second manuscript, I find myself at Base Camp 1 on the high peak of Edit Mountain.  Not to fear, though—I have a plan.  As I trudge through grammatical crevasses and my crampons plunge into misplaced modifiers, I’ll be trying the following to help bring myself to the summit peering out from the misty distance: Final Draft.

1) My first goal in editing this manuscript is to go through and fix any spelling and grammatical errors.  I set this as my first goal because it will inevitably reacquaint me with parts of the manuscript that I may have mislaid in my mind while also offering a very objective and finite task.

2) Next will be to go through the manuscript and use the commenting function of my word processor’s Review tab to denote any important plot points, foreshadowing, or character traits.  Likewise, since this manuscript has quite a few locations and the last names of some of my characters evolved as I wrote further into the work, I’ll also be looking for and correcting inconsistencies in these basic facts of the novel.

3) Only then will I go through and examine the plot arc, foreshadowing elements, and character consistencies throughout the story.  I feel this can be the most difficult part of editing, but having gone through the story with the previously outlined steps, any issues with these more fundamental aspects of the manuscript should be readily apparent and I should feel ready to address them.

4) Finally, if all goes as planned?  Open the bubbly and send it off to my wonderful beta-readers for feedback.

And my ultimate hope?  That compartmentalizing my editing process will make it manageable and, dare I say, even a little fun.

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, though, #amediting.