On Writing: Characters and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When writing a novel, there are so many different elements to think about, that the only way I can get them in my head in order to concentrate on the story and not the underpinnings, is to write them down. My story problem today is whether Chip, my hero, goes through some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He probably has to — everyone he knows has disappeared along with most of Colorado. That’s enough to give anyone stress. And, of course, I kept him in constant peril in order to force him to choose safety over freedom. Now that he is safe, he has time to relax and reflect. The horrors of what he endured would have to haunt him and torment him. Just because he’s safe, it doesn’t mean the poor guy gets an easy time of it.

I already established in On Writing: Characters and Grief that Chip will be going through a spot of depression, and depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder share many of the same traits. In both cases, people can feel helpless and hopeless, isolated and detached, fatigued and drained. They can lose interest in daily activities, and they can have trouble sleeping.

But Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not simply depression under another name. A person who suffers PTSD can also experience flashbacks, terrible dreams, loss of memory around the specifics of the event, diminished feelings, impaired personal relationships. The company of others can be painful. They might become hypervigilant, always watchful and alert. In addition, sights, sounds, or smells can trigger reactions or jog a memory of the trauma.

Chip is already becoming vigilant, but he needs to become hypervigilant; not only is it one of the symptoms of PTSD, it will become a survival necessity.

Until now, Chip has responded to all his problems by sleeping; he seemed to sleep all time. Of course, part of that was because of me — whenever I couldn’t figure out a way for time to pass, I’d put the poor guy to sleep. But I do think that’s a realistic reaction — too much happened too fast, that it wore him out. So, to show the change in him, he should have trouble sleeping — I like the idea of his roaming around at night while others are asleep. And when he does sleep, he should have appalling dreams.

His feelings of isolation, his inability to connect to others and the pain of being around them, will all help me keep him and his love interest apart. They have to hate each other until they fall in love toward the end of the book, though they will be thrown together much of the time. (One purpose for their hatred is that she will need to choose his way over the crowd’s way, and to make it more forceful, she has to do it despite her dislike for him rather than because of love.)

Thank you for bearing with me. I think I have a better grasp of where Chip needs to go in the story, and I know where I need to go — to write it.

See you later.

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