Oct 22 2008

“How Can I Make a Character With Mental Disorders Work?”

1. PLEASE DON’T USE ANY MENTAL DISORDERS YOU HAVE. It will probably be harder for you to determine what your readers will think about the character if you’re on the inside looking out.  Using your own conditions may also raise severe authorial-distance problems.  Personally, I’d lean towards a quick rejection on these submissions unless I was TOTALLY convinced that the author was writing something other than a glorified version of his life.

1.1. If you are dead-set on using a mental disorder you have, please pull out all the stops to differentiate the character from you.  For example, maybe the character is really, really bad at some things you pride yourself on, has a different personality, makes mistakes you wouldn’t, makes choices you find unlikable/hard to sympathize with, etc. If the author is unwilling to differentiate himself from the character, sadly the story is probably a wish-fulfillment fantasy–dead on arrival in the publisher’s office.


2. Try to keep the character’s mental condition from overwhelming his other traits. Readers tend to prefer characters that are well-rounded and have several traits that interact in interesting ways. In contrast, a character that’s dominated by a trait like “crazy” is probably just a caricature that’s hard to like.


3. Please work especially hard to make a mentally ill character likable. Making the character sociable will really help readers sympathize with him.  A character that’s, say, unusually concerned about his own mortality will seem much less cold if he’s friendly, empathetic and/or interacts with other characters normally.  For example, Flowers for Algernon did an excellent job of softening a mentally damaged character by making him friendly.


4. Using a mentally ill character will seriously affect the tone and marketability of your work. That doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to sell your work (ahem, see Flowers for Algernon), but it’s something you will have to keep in mind.  For example, if your main character has a mental disorder, you’d probably want to mention that in your synopsis and backcover blurb to make sure that you were reaching the right readers.

61 responses so far

61 Responses to ““How Can I Make a Character With Mental Disorders Work?””

  1. Psychozon 24 Oct 2008 at 11:16 am

    Talk about convenient.

    I was going to do a story about a team of three anti-heroes, each of them is psychotic, One is young and hyperactive and when he has episodes he is uncontrollably hyper and has hallucinations. The next is suicidal and extremely depressed and she cuts herself ALOT. The last has anger issues and frequently goes berserk. They work together because they are forced to by an organization that makes them wear stun collars to prevent them from hurting themselves and others. The thing is in order to use their powers they have to take a drug that makes them have psychotic episodes, while in the episode they can use their powers without going so crazy that they can’t focus. When they are done with a mission they are given the antidote that turns them back to “normal” and suppresses their powers.

    Their powers are: (the hyper one) Can morph his limbs and body into weird creatures that he draws and has advanced gymnastic abilities, he also has a weird super-skinny form that has the same powers but is way faster and crazier. The suicidal one, can turn her skin metal and has Magneto-esque abilities except he has to touch the metal first, she also has a form that looks similar to her metal form but is extremely sexual . The angry one, can make energy bombs and self-destruct without hurting himself, he also has a angry monster form.

    It’s pretty intense, the world is dark and gritty, and the main characters live in the Auburn Pitts Asylum.

    What’s your opinion, B. Mizzle?

  2. B. Macon 24 Oct 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I have a few suggestions.

    1. I didn’t get the impression that these characters are very relatable or likable. I think that the one that’s heavily suicidal will be the hardest to like. For a first novel, it might be easiest to work with one crazy protagonist rather than a team of genuine psychotics. For example, Mel Gibson’s character in Lethal Weapon, my own Agent Orange and maybe Jack Bauer are crazy but not psychotic. Alternately, Niki Sanders (in Heroes) was genuinely psychotic but was perfectly lucid and friendly most of the time. Another element that made her more likable was her loving relationship with her son.

    2. It feels like these characters are dominated by their mental conditions. I would recommend trying to diversify them by adding traits besides how messed up they are.

    3. I suspect a publisher would wonder about how to market this work. Do you have a target audience in mind? It would be easier to get a publisher on board if you could argue that a significant number of readers without mental disorders would like the book. Right now, I feel like the characters are too dysfunctional for it to have very much general appeal.

    4. It’s definitely possible, but tricky, to write a book where the heroes are unwilling.

  3. Psychoz/Ragged Boyon 24 Oct 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I was just throwing an idea I had out there. I’m still working with The Hellions. You didn’t realize the characters were loosely based on mine.

  4. B. Macon 24 Oct 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Well, I didn’t want to say anything, but we track IP addresses…

  5. Bretton 06 Nov 2008 at 8:27 pm

    I have at this point two, possibly 3 characters with personality disorders.

    The first two are a girl with manic-depressive disorder, and another with mild multiple personality disorder (3 different moods- cold, relaxed/normal, light and bubbly)

    The third is Gravity/Levity. I’ve mentioned her before. Is this too many personality disorder characters? Keep in mind that by the time the first 2 girls show up, Gravity/Levity will be long gone.

  6. B. Macon 06 Nov 2008 at 9:25 pm

    I’d recommend limiting it to two by eliminating one of the multiple-personality victims. MPD is tricky because it creates multiple characters. Additionally, having more than one case of MPD may make it confusing (“wait, is this the same multiple-personality girl from before?”)

  7. Bretton 07 Nov 2008 at 4:27 am

    Ok, I’ll make her normal.

  8. Ragged Boyon 16 Dec 2008 at 4:25 pm

    You know what I think an interesting, if not incredibly hard to write book, idea is. There are three different main characters, but get this, they’re all the same person. Each takes turn using the body and each have their own set of powers and abilities. The original personality vanished along time ago, and now three rogue personalities take control of the body.

  9. B. Macon 16 Dec 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I once had an idea to write a fantasy story about a SWAT officer possessed by a demon. I found it surprisingly difficult to narrate a mental conversation between two characters that aren’t actually conversing. (The amount of italics just got overwhelming whenever they “spoke” to each other). Please let me know if you figure out a way to solve that problem.

    Alternatively, there’s no reason the personalities have to communicate. (I’m not well-versed in psychology, but I think most multiple-personality sufferers are aware they have dormant personalities but don’t communicate with them). That would probably reduce the need for italics, but then you wouldn’t really be able to develop a relationship between the three personalities. That could be tricky.

  10. Ragged Boyon 16 Dec 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Well, possession in different from dementia. I vaguely remember my psyche teacher telling about how dissociative identity disorder patients sometimes talk to themselves outwardly. I think normal speech would be ok, if not a little weird.

    I think communication between personalities would work, I think sleep is the best time for this to occur. The story could go into the person’s mind into a false reality where each personality exists together.

    Off the top of my head three personalities I’d try to work are:

    An Adrian-esque personality, lively and hopeful (The most personable)

    A nihilist, narcissitic totally in love with himself (I think a destructive personality is too obvious)

    And, maybe, a girl, expressing that the character isn’t necessarily gay, but that their gender identity may be dormantly distorted. She sees beauty in the world but not in herself.

  11. Ragged Boyon 17 Dec 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Here’s my idea. Above.

  12. B. Macon 17 Dec 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I like the element of the personalities interacting together when the person sleeps. That sounds like a neat solution for the conversation problem. I’m still a bit concerned that major psychological disorders may disorient an audience, but I guess that’s unavoidable for a book of this sort. (Also, Flowers for Algernon succeeded despite being very disorientating).

    What do you think?

  13. Ragged Boyon 17 Dec 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I think how much “mental disorder” you throw at the reader is a factor in it’s disorientation level. Not having the character in a poorly mental state at all times my help the reader’s mind stay clear. If I was bringing it up everywhere it would get annoying. DID, unlike most disorders, can have a normal side which will help its workability.

    I wanted a girl personality, but I couldn’t think of how to explain it so I went with gender confusion, she won’t be into guys, I’ll consider narcissism.

    I wasn’t really planning on wwriting this, but I’ll write the ideas down some where for later.

  14. Holliequon 17 Dec 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Just going to throw out that I thought “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time” (I think by Mark Haddon) was a good portrayal of someone with a mental disorder. The main character was autistic, IIRC.

    Also, RB: the girl-personality could be a lesiban (or whatever the split-personality version of that is).

  15. B. Macon 17 Dec 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Was that the one where the chapters are only prime numbers? Heh heh.

  16. Marissaon 14 May 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Hmm. I get the feeling that this post, especially point number one, would be highly relevant to a few conversations in the past couple of days.

    On a side note, I’ve got a few characters that are most definitely mentally unstable, but only one of them has a disorder I can actually identify at this point. (Schizophrenia, to be specific.)

  17. B. Macon 14 May 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I’d recommend asking a few of your professors if they know anyone on campus that has worked in the publishing industry. If you can find anyone, I’d recommend asking him in an open-ended way what he would think about publishing a novel with a protagonist that shares a mental condition with the author. I think it also would be relevant to mention that the author wants to educate readers about stereotypes and that the character is not the main character.

    I’d also recommend bringing a page-long synopsis of the story. That will help the professor understand how this character fits into your book. (Your actual synopsis will be significantly longer, so I’d recommend being clear that this is an abridged version for his convenience).

    Here are some other suggestions.
    –Don’t make it personal. The advice will probably be more honest and useful if you let the professor talk about general cases.

    –After you’ve briefly explained the setup, DO NOT TRY TO DEFEND YOURSELF OR YOUR BOOK. Just listen. It’s probably your best chance to get unfiltered advice from a publishing professional about whether your book will survive the first glance in a publisher’s office.

    –If you get offended, annoyed, or upset by what he says, please calm down… that’s taking it too seriously. He is merely offering professional advice, not personal criticism. If a professional review of your work or concept or ideas is likely to upset you, I would really recommend finding a new career or self-publishing.

    –If the professor sounds receptive, make sure you ask him for a few editors you could submit to.

    –If the professor sounds skeptical that it could work, ask him if he could think of any ways to make it more publisher-friendly.

    Good luck!

  18. L.A.Writeron 18 May 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I had an idea for a superhero that has psychopathy and schizophrenia. I think he’d be very likeable because he jokes about his disorders.

  19. B. Macon 18 May 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I think a psychopathic hero might be an unusual sell. That said, it seems to have worked out for Deadpool and Umbrella Academy. Also, outside of comic books, it is surprisingly successful for Chuck Palahniuk.

  20. Jaya Lakshmion 02 Jun 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I want to write about a mother who has mild fetal alcohol syndrome, but she’s perfectly lucid, has feelings, and is a good mother. Can that work?

  21. B. Macon 02 Jun 2009 at 6:50 pm

    It’d be sober and probably a bit depressing, but I think that it could work depending on the target audience.

  22. notsohottopicon 16 Jun 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Okay, so a few of my characters are not necessarily psychopathic…or at least, they don’t think they are because their cultures accepts their actions as normal(well, sometimes). However, I think I made them more effed up than they are supposed to be. Help, please?

    For example:

    Domovoi: Has the ability to shapeshift in a flock of carnivorous birds, which usually tears up hostile enemies to shredded pieces of flesh. As a result, he becomes a closet cannibal. Other than that, he’s a hardcore utilitarianist(the culture he grows up in promotes this philosophical theorem strongly), selfless, and highly patient when it comes to my next character…

    Kir: A parasite that has invaded the brain of a female human host. Parasite Kir is at a critical stage in learning, in which she has to adapt to the host’s environment. However, similar to how babies use their mouths to identify objects and textures, Kir follows the same route. Somewhat awkward when she tends to put bladed objects in her mouth, or lick walls, or at least anything that comes into her interest. Considering that Kir’s host is in her late teens, and yet she has the mental capability of a 2 year old. As a parasite, she has no basis for good and evil, but she is willing to learn more about the human condition. Not necessarily a retardation, just trying to learn about her surroundings.

    Some feedback would be nice, I’m unsure about the ‘putting foreign objects in one’s mouth’…because if you’re just as perverted as me, you’d be thinking about that too…

  23. Hollyon 05 Feb 2010 at 6:45 pm

    It is very important to research psychological issues the same way anything else is researched. An on-line search for bipolar checklists, for example, will provide a list of symptoms but not how the symptoms affect the person. Symptom checklists often do not include different types of the condition nor the varying ways the condition can affect a person. Books on how to “view” and cope are not always best. A percentage of bipolar patients do not respond to treatment. Some bipolar patients refuse medication because it interferes with aspects of their personality such as creativity. There is one book out there that looks at being un-medicated bipolar in the same manner as a drug addict that doesn’t want treatment, telling medicated bipolar patients not to interact with them. Which brings me to point one about not using personal difficulties. I disagree. Being bipolar is a lot more then having emotional highs and lows. Its a state of being that I equate to being blond with blue eyes. Who better to write about a topic then someone who lives it?

  24. B. Macon 06 Feb 2010 at 1:04 am

    “Who better to write about a topic than someone who lives it?” There are a few reasons you might not want something written by someone who’s living it.

    –The book will probably turn into a wish-fulfillment fantasy starring the author unless the author is freakishly good at introspection and characterization. Building distance between the author and a character (and probably plot) that fall that close to home is quite difficult under the best of circumstances and I wouldn’t recommend that a first-time author try it.

    –I’d be nervous about taking on such a book because I suspect that the author would identify too closely with the character to be flexible on editorial changes. “Hey, this bully character is too one-dimensional. Could you give him a bit more emotional/moral depth or make him more likable?” If that antagonist is based on real-life people that have bullied the author, that request is going to go down like a ton of bricks. The problem is that straw-men stand-ins for the author’s tormentors usually suck as far as villains go.

    –If the author has a burning interest to write about his life, writing an autobiography or memoir may work better. There’d still be the pressing issue that most people aren’t interesting enough to star as a main character. But at least this would force the author to think more about “how can I make a book about myself worth reading?”

    However, if you’re really confident that you can pull it off, I’d say go for it. The only thing it would cost you is your time. (Unless you’re self-publishing, which I highly do not recommend for this sort of hard-to-sell product).

  25. defon 24 Mar 2010 at 4:31 am

    need some help, in my story, i want to show a character with mild depression, and even though i’ve researched depression before, im not sure how to go about showing it in my story. any help would be great

  26. Jakeon 24 Mar 2010 at 4:49 am

    Well Def, you could go the cliche way and have your character just lounge around alot. Have them fire off lines reflecting about there life and how bad it is. It’s really the only way I know that you can write about mild depression. Try not to let it become the focus of the character, because as you said it is only MILD depression.

    I would recommend picking up a book about depression or something similar.

  27. Holliequon 24 Mar 2010 at 10:17 am

    Depressives tend to look at the world very negatively, I believe. So things like “I can’t” or “I’m no good at X” or “Why would I be helpful?” are common. They’re more likely to see things as half-empty, and perhaps focus on negative things or ways in which a plan could go wrong rather than be positive/hopeful.

    Bear in mind that this is just a (new!) psychology student’s opinon. To get a real feel of depression, I would recommend looking up interviews or life stories. You can probably find a couple on the internet quite easily.

    One thing I would like to stress is that those suffering from depression (especially in milder cases) may not neccesarily be inactive. This is especially helpful in a story, where you don’t want a character to sit around doing nothing! 😀

  28. B. Macon 24 Mar 2010 at 10:41 am

    According to WebMD, some of the symptoms of depression can include

    –Depressed mood, sadness, or an “empty” feeling, or appearing sad or tearful to others
    –Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
    –Significant weight loss when not dieting, or significant weight gain
    –Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
    –Restlessness or irritation (irritable mood may be a symptom in children or adolescents too), or feelings of “dragging”
    –Fatigue or loss of energy
    –Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
    –Difficulty thinking or concentrating, or indecisiveness
    –Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide

    I could see recurring thoughts of death/morbidity, excessive fatalism and irritability working pretty well, particularly for a side-character. In a book where death hangs around every corner, recurring morbid thoughts would probably add to the mood. Being excessively fatalistic would probably be an obstacle that would have to be overcome, but it could make for a suicidally determined protagonist. (“Hey, I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well die trying to do something”). Irritability would complicate relationships and might serve as an interesting obstacle to overcome or get around.

    For protagonists, I’d be worried about the proactivity issues. I think a lack of proactivity would probably keep the character from solving his problems and doing other interesting things. Another possible concern would be that excessive, unreasonable guilt may annoy readers. (“Get over yourself!”)

  29. roseaponion 24 Mar 2010 at 11:03 am

    Personally, I would portray depression, especially mild depression, in a more ambiguous way. Your character might feel detached from the rest of the world and even from his own actions, like he’s watching himself do what has to be done.

    After a bad scare or stressful experience, depending on his personality, he might go into some variety of escapism – anything from eating whatever’s handy without realizing he’s eating, to locking himself in his room with a book, or even swinging completely out of his normal personality and trying to be someone else for awhile, outgoing instead of shy, loud and obnoxious instead of quiet, or vice versa. I’ll assume you want to leave drugs and alcohol out of it.

    He probably would have at least fleeting thoughts of abject worthlessness, or have the idea that other people think he’s a horrible person even if he’s really a nice guy and in reality has a lot of friends. Depression isn’t something that can be rationalized away with a stack of evidence – it’s there, like a big solid wall, until it isn’t. The way to deal with it is by not looking at it head on, and concentrating on a tiny piece of what can be done in the moment until you get your day’s chores done and realize it isn’t bothering you anymore.

  30. Mike Alexanderon 05 Apr 2010 at 3:50 pm

    hunh. I’ve got a character with issues relating to people not following the rules. He can take care of himself, but don’t let him catch somebody not behaving according to the social contract we all have. His super power is to teleport a suit of alien technology that adapts to his environment, so he is able to take care of the situation. Eventually, the armor begins rewiring his brain, so he becomes more stable as he uses the suit.

    Initially, he was just a garden variety rageaholic, but I have read “the curious incident”, and agree that autism might be a better route. *or*>> As I wrote the above paragraph, I realized that there needs to be a cost to using the armor- more stable as human, but more dangerous as a hero; or he begins thinking like the aliens whose technology he is using.


  31. Koveon 05 Apr 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I could use some tips on describing and writing dialogue and scenes for one of the characters in my story. Here is his information:

    Edward Burton – he is 61 years old and more commonly known as Spook, due to years of service he performed for the government. He is a thin, withered man with many types of gadgets and devices attached to his belt, wrists, bandolier, anywhere he can hook one to himself.

    His powers are as follows:

    Edward was nearly driven insane by his abilities. The increased intelligence opened his mind to a whole new realm of possibilities. He was a captive of the government for 10 years and his inventions provided the GFC (Genetics Frontier Corporation) and the SIB (Superhuman Intelligence Bureau)with most of their tech and equipment, at least got them started on it. Once he learned what they were doing, he defected, destroying all of the original work he had done there. He was once a spy, but is now lost in the machinery. He learned that his inventions were being used to hunt and capture emerging superhumans for the purposes of keeping their existence hidden from the public and hoping to harness their immense power for military purposes.

    Traits that can be used to describe him are: Creative, Paranoid, Unstable, Faithful, Honest, Energetic, Rugged, Helpful, Reserved, One-of-a-kind, Wierd, Analytical, Anti-Social, Nervous

    He is an unsettled, jittery man who mostly speaks in fragmented sentences because his mind is like a chess board, it is always working on several things at a time and it is most often a few steps ahead of his conscious ability to recognize what his mind is doing. He actually has to stop what hes doing to allow himself to catch up to his thoughts.

    any input would be very helpful as I find myself struggling to adequately portray this man as I see him in my mind.

  32. Echoon 26 Jun 2010 at 9:12 am

    I’m thinking of making my main character a kleptomaniac. Do you think that this could have a negative effect in the story? ( kleptomania would be a side story – the main plotline has more of a contemporary fantasy feel.)

    Thanks for the help,


  33. B. Macon 26 Jun 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I don’t anticipate that kleptomania would be very difficult. I don’t think it would complicate the reader-protagonist relationship as much as, say, retardation or multiple personality disorder or a sexual disorder or maybe Asperger’s.

    Nor do I think it’d compromise the likability of the main character much. Indeed, depending on the circumstances, it might be a likable quirk. While some kleptomaniacs are presented as insatiably greedy, I could see it being presented as a cultural trait (if his culture doesn’t do private property*) or maybe a purely clinical imbalance of chemicals or possibly a moral choice (Robin Hood?).

    *For example, in real life, many pre-Columbian cultures of the Western Hemisphere. In fiction, it might also be the case for nonhumans/aliens, a utopian group, or a very competitive society that believes you are only entitled to what you are prepared to defend, etc.

  34. maxon 27 Oct 2010 at 1:03 pm

    how do you create a character who has a learning disabilities

  35. B. Macon 28 Oct 2010 at 12:18 am

    Max, I think the article and above comments covered most of the ideas I have on that, but here are some that come to mind.

    –I would recommend making the learning disability just one part of the character.

    –I’d recommend fleshing out the characters around him. Frequently, when the protagonist has a mental disorder and/or disability, every character in the story is either one-dimensionally nasty about it or one-dimensionally sympathetic/understanding. I’d recommend mixing it up more. Maybe the character’s best friend grows frustrated with him over something or his otherwise loving parents buckle under the strain.

    –If you’d like to get published, I would strongly recommend against using a mental disorder or learning disability you have* unless you’re doing an autobiography. Most people don’t have the self-awareness to do an authorial stand-in well and to give the character the flaws, shortcomings and setbacks that editors expect to see. Alternately, if an author is dead-set on going with a mental disorder he has, I would recommend pulling out all the stops to differentiate the character from the author. For example, maybe the character is really, really bad at things the author prides himself on, has a different personality, makes mistakes the author wouldn’t, makes choices the author finds unlikable/hard to sympathize with, etc. If the author is unwilling to differentiate himself from the character, sadly the story is probably a wish-fulfillment fantasy, dead on arrival in the publisher’s office.

    Have you had any particular challenges or concerns writing the story?

    *Or, in the case of self-diagnosed Asperger’s patients, mental disorders you think you have.

  36. ekimmakon 29 Jul 2011 at 8:50 pm

    What do you mean, self-diagnosed?
    Ah, never mind. Point now, is a bit of aid with my novel.

    When Yuki is first introduced, she doesn’t realize that who she actually is. She considers Shadow (her alter ego) to be another person that she knows. The fact that Yuki can remember all the details of Shadow’s life, but none of her own, leads to this mental conversation

    Do I have amnesia? I don’t remember having amnesia… doesn’t that mean I have it? If amnesia means you forget, then I’ve clearly forgotten having it, which is why I don’t remember it. Unless the reason I don’t remember is because I never had amnesia which is why I don’t remember having amnesia because I never did have it. But clearly I have it, because I’ve forgotten about me, which is why I’ve forgotten about having it…

    Hoping the italics work out there… anyway, would it be irritating to readers that the main character doesn’t figure out the truth, when it’s quite easy for them to guess? I don’t see her figuring it out till the end of the next chapter.

  37. ekimmakon 29 Jul 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Snap, didn’t work. Sorry about that.

  38. B. Macon 29 Jul 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I fixed the italics. (For more on SN coding, please see this).

  39. ekimmakon 30 Jul 2011 at 3:33 am

    Thank you… now about the rest of my question?

  40. XYZon 26 Feb 2012 at 10:50 am

    Excellent points. I’ve been looking for an article like this for quite some time now, and I’m glad to have finally found one which addresses my problems.
    As everyone else seems to be asking you, may I ask you for your advice on the novel I am currently working on? It’s quite a realistic, ‘gritty’ post-apocalpytic story where the majority of the world have been mysteriously killed by an attack, and nearly all of those remaining have gone insane and are now cannibalistic murderers. Becaus f the nature of the attack, many of the main characters have mental illnesses and I was wondering what you thought.
    Bennett- Autistic and dyselxic, with very little empathy or sympathy for others. She is the point of view character and obsessed with survival, meaning that she dislikes trusting others.
    Moriarty- Possibly autistic, with manic depressive disorder and some symptoms of a sociopath. He is a genius with absolutely no social skills and comes off as very cold at best.
    Grey- Bipolar. Extremely extremely hyper and cheerful, creative and active most of the time, but has periods of extreme depression.
    What do you think? And before you ask, there are at least two other normal members of the group (jury is still out on Wes) who keep these guys in check.

  41. B. McKenzieon 26 Feb 2012 at 4:07 pm

    “Bennett: Autistic and dyslexic, with very little empathy or sympathy for others.” How much will you be able to tie dyslexia into a post-apocalyptic setting? The troubles with empathy and sympathy strike me as more dramatically fertile, given the setting.

    “Moriarty: Possibly autistic, with manic depressive disorder and some symptoms of a sociopath. He is a genius with absolutely no social skills and comes off as very cold at best.” In terms of his psychological profile, he sounds like he will overlap with Bennett quite a bit. It might help to distinguish them more (either in terms of psych issues or you may have already done so with their other traits).

    “Grey: Bipolar. Extremely, extremely hyper and cheerful, creative and active most of the time, but has periods of extreme depression.” Moriarty has manic depressive order too, right? Differentiating Moriarty (or perhaps merging him into another character) might be helpful.

    Good luck! I don’t think I’ve ever read something quite like this and I’m cautiously optimistic that it can work. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  42. Valkyrieon 26 Feb 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Would alcoholism count as a mental disorder? My hero is an alcoholic who tries to use hypnosis to get rid of her alcohol addiction. It works for a little while. Then she starts having cravings for blood. She realizes that instead of eliminating her addiction, the hypnosis simply transferred her addiction from alcohol to blood. Thus begins her life as a vampire.

  43. YoungAuthoron 26 Feb 2012 at 10:47 pm

    how does hypnosis turn her into a vampire?

  44. B. Macon 26 Feb 2012 at 11:21 pm

    “Would alcoholism count as a mental disorder?” In the context of writing a story, I’d say yes–definitely differentiate the character if this is something you struggle with, make sure she’s not one-dimensionally nuts, make sure she’s likable despite her issues with alcohol (and, ahem, blood!*) and be aware it could affect the tone and marketability of the work. (I don’t think alcoholism would necessarily affect the marketability a lot, though–in some genres, notably detective/noir and stoner comedies, it’s pretty common for protagonists to have substance abuse issues).

    I think the addiction to blood could present more serious issues than her addiction to alcohol. I think it’d be easier for people to understand (and perhaps relate to) an alcohol addiction she actually has rather than an addiction to blood she thinks she has. And I’d be creeped out if this hypnotic addiction led to her actually trying to bite people (unless she were actually a supernatural vampire–then it’s a genre convention).

  45. Valkyrieon 27 Feb 2012 at 12:21 am

    YoungAuthor: “how does hypnosis turn her into a vampire?”

    It makes her start craving blood, the way she used to crave alcohol.

    She’s not a supernatural vampire, but she shares a lot of characteristics with vampires. Like a vampire, she loves blood but hates alcohol (since her alcohol addiction was removed by hypnosis). Since she has a day job, she has to do her hunting at night. She uses a butterfly knife to attack bad guys, since she doesn’t have fangs. After she beat beats them, she’ll make a cut and drink some of their blood. Then she leaves them for the police.

    The locals hear about this woman who attacks criminals at night and drinks their blood, and they conclude she is a vampire. Over time, she finds she enjoys this vampire persona.

  46. B. McKenzieon 27 Feb 2012 at 12:57 am

    Uhh… it could be a likability issue if the protagonist is drinking people’s blood without some sort of supernatural explanation. Especially if she enjoys it (or the persona in general).

    Also, if there’s no supernatural explanation, I think it may raise suspension of disbelief issues if she drinks several people’s blood without contracting at least one significant disease.

  47. Valkyrieon 27 Feb 2012 at 1:21 am

    B. Mac: “I think it’d be easier for people to understand (and perhaps relate to) an alcohol addiction she actually has rather than an addiction to blood she thinks she has.”

    That’s not how hypnosis works. Bad hypnosis can make you actually addicted to something, not just thinking you are addicted to it.

    Thank you for your help!

  48. B. McKenzieon 27 Feb 2012 at 1:55 am

    Maybe she gets hypnotized into a fighting addiction instead of a blood addiction? It’s still a significant obstacle and could create drama, but would probably raise fewer likability issues.

  49. Sakitaon 16 Apr 2013 at 10:47 am

    Hi, as a student psychology, i want to say something about this subject too.

    As the article says, don’t make the mental disorder overwhelm your hero’s personality.
    If i learned anything with working with people with mental disorders, is that every single one is human. If you see them shopping or walking in the streets, you wouldn’t notice they’e different. They make mistakes and do good things as well.

    What i personally find a rip off is a schizofrenic or antisocial villan who are so evil, there is nothing human to find in their personalities. Even the biggest villains have relationships.

    Another tip: pretty much the most used mental disorder (apart from antisocial disorder/psychopathy) is multiple personalities. Since it’s actually the rarest mental disorder in real life, i find it kinda funny how it’s used so much in movies and comics.

    And a last tip. If you are going to use a character with a mental disorder, please INFORM YOURSELF about the disorder. It’s not because you’re a psychopath, that you’re going to be a criminal, or even do anything bad. And, schizofrenia is not the same as having multiple personalities. So please, inform yourself, so you can have a realistic character.

    (Grammar Nazi’s, please don’t be to hard for me. I’m actually not from an english-speaking country)

  50. Zeus 101on 19 Aug 2013 at 7:27 pm

    How do you do a character who has multiple personality disorder

  51. Gbuster861on 25 Sep 2013 at 11:56 am

    Back again! Ya know I’ve realized by going through most of your help topics that I have at least one character that could be labeled under each one of your topics, this one? A man that is imprisoned in a 5×5 cell with no windows or light source other than the hole above where guards and other shady peeps come and urinate on him for 7 years! I believe wholeheartedly THAT ^ would cause a person to become a tad crazy… Anyway he goes on to develop a second personality, otherwise known as MPSD by any psychologists that happen to be superhero fans out there, This guy’s normal day to day personality is a guy who believes strongly in his moral decisions and the consequences that come with them where “the other guy”, -Bruce Banner from Avengers, would walk around whispering to himself about sticking his thumbs in some random Joe’s eye sockets for no apparent reason. Note this guy is the “GOOD GUY” Major flaws AND based off of a very good friend of mine, if any of these ideas are used without my permission… Just don’t use them they’re copy written.

  52. Gbuster861on 25 Sep 2013 at 12:06 pm

    First sorry to everyone, I probably should have read the majority of the bottom half of the comments as they talk about MPSD… O.o Second Zeus 101 creating a character with MPSD is relatively simple to do. First off you have to have a reason that character has it or why they developed it IF they weren’t born with it, which I might add is EXTREMELY rare. Second you have to make it to where the second personality is easy to distinguish from the main one. I can not stress enough DO NOT pull a Me, Myself and Irene! 98.9% of the time, it will NEVER be like that! Thirdly you have to make the second, third and/or fourth personalities, depending on how many you chose to have, all be different and have different motivations, triggers(things that happen for them to pop out and say hello), etc. If you have anymor questions, anyone, please get ahold of me on here to ask or get my email from an admin, Id be happy to answer your questions or help you in anyway I can.

  53. B. McKenzieon 25 Sep 2013 at 3:59 pm

    “A man that is imprisoned in a 5×5 cell with no windows or light source other than the hole above where guards and other shady peeps come and urinate on him for 7 years! … He goes on to develop a second personality… and walk around whispering to himself about sticking his thumbs in some random Joe’s eye sockets for no apparent reason. Note this guy is the “GOOD GUY.” … Just don’t use my ideas they’re copy written.” I don’t anticipate that plagiarism will be an issue.

  54. Anonymouson 18 Apr 2014 at 1:12 pm

    what if your character has multiple personality disorder?

  55. Natalieon 27 Oct 2014 at 8:53 am

    For a story I am working on, I’m going to have my main character be thrown into an area where people who can’t control their powers are put. (Majority of people who can’t control their powers usually have disorders.) The main character (who doesn’t have a disorder and can control her powers) is on a time crunch mission and needs to team up with some people, one of them is a girl with DPD (Dependent Personality Disorder) and The main character is trying to get both of them out of the area, but the girl (Holly lets call her), Holly’s attachment to the Main character(Lindsey lets call her) have gotten them in a couple of situations that could have been avoided. Lindsey gets upset but has to focus on the situation at hand. When both of them are out of there, Lindsey sorta does the whole “get out of here” speech, but Holly doesn’t want to leave Lindsey’s side.
    P.S. What do you guys think?

  56. Soul of Witon 25 May 2015 at 3:15 pm

    I had an idea for a comic book about a young girl with ADHD. I am a girl with ADD, which isn’t much different, honestly, but still. I wanted it to be less about her powers and her hero side and more about her disorder, as in, what effects it has on her life and the people around her, but still a story about a hero (I had an idea for her powers to only work if she’s relatively focused.)

    I don’t want to prove people wrong, or teach them anything, but I thought it would be an okay way to make kids with that disorder feel a little more empowered.

    I don’t really think she’s all that much like me but at the same time, the disorder itself is a pretty large connection. She gets distracted/daydreams/interrupts on accident/forgets important things just like I do, but I am not sure if that is me putting myself into the story or just accurately portraying something we both experience.

    What do you think? Can I make it work? Any tips to make her more believable? I’d really appreciate the input.
    -Soul of Wit

  57. GreatLeoon 26 May 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I didn’t know you had this page, B.Mac! Thanks it will help grandly, mate

  58. Fae Lanson 22 Apr 2017 at 10:42 am

    I have tendency on writing disabled characters. I grew up immersed in the special education culture because my mom was a Special Ed teacher. I know many traits of different disabilities and i do research on the ones i don’t know enough about. Is that the way to do it?

  59. o_n'on 22 Apr 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Fae Lans: It s definely the way to search on disorders, rather than writing it out of blue.
    To me it is not bad thing to pull of, because it is shows you are serious about your work.

  60. chloe_annabellaon 13 Dec 2018 at 10:35 am

    an idea for a book that i had was that someone had disappeared and one of the characters had OCD. lol, scratched it.
    But how do you write about depression(in a character, who is minor)? and make it good? like, i have depression but i don’t want to put my ideas and what i do on the character

  61. B. McKenzieon 15 Dec 2018 at 10:13 am

    “But how do you write about depression(in a character, who is minor)? and make it good? like, i have depression but i don’t want to put my ideas and what i do on the character.” Less of an issue for a minor character, so no major red flags, but generally I think that most symptoms of depression would not make most characters more interesting in most cases. In a minor character, I could see this working, mainly if it gives other characters opportunities to do interesting things. For example, if a main character’s boss is relatively inactive and/or has mostly given up on the job, the main character may have to deal with problems that normally wouldn’t fall to him and situations he’s not prepared for*. That could be interesting. But I’m having trouble coming up with any scenarios where depressive symptoms would make a main character more likely to have interesting scenes, besides possibly an extremely low level of concern for surviving or (if the author is VERY comfortable pulling this off) unusual introspection.

    *Generally, I think superior-subordinate relations that are more flexible and/or somewhat dysfunctional (think old-school Star Wars or Game of Thrones) are more dramatically promising than, say, classic Star Trek.

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