Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Resources » Writers Corner

Writing Mental Illness - Infinite Potential



User avatar
57 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 46
Reviews: 57
Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:03 pm
View Likes
TheStormAroundMe says...



I have no shortage of ideas, and here is the most recent.

This is a complete blurb:
Spoiler! :
Parker hasn't ever really existed, not to anyone. He has friends, but his friends are better friends with others than they are with him. He has one best friend, not that it ever helps. His mother walked out when he was nine, leaving him with a deadbeat father who has no idea how to raise kids. He's only had sex one time, that he didn't even consent to, which resulted in a baby that he must care for by himself and a lifetime of ridicule. But all that's about to change.

His godmother recently moved to San Francisco, dragging along so much cash she has no idea what to do with it. His godfather is out of the picture. There's one last thing he can do to make himself exist. He can give his baby away to a better future.

Parker sets off for California, dragging along his best friend and his child, hoping for new opportunities on the horizon. Through gas stations, bars, and dark alleyways, they look for a way to make it on the run. And maybe, just maybe, Parker can find some way to leave those bad memories in the dust.


Basically, it's about a boy with PTSD and a baby from rape, who runs off with his best friend, who has OCD, in order to give the baby away to his godmother.

Does this idea sound too cliche, and does anyone have any tips for writing mental illness?
"Du er ikke alene." -Isak, SKAM

Spoiler! :
You just had to click on it, didn't you?

TheStormAroundMe
  





User avatar
1077 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 48960
Reviews: 1077
Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:37 pm
View Likes
StellaThomas says...



@TheStormAroundMe - the idea sounds pretty good to me! I'm very intrigued at the concept of your male MC being left with a child he doesn't want - it's refreshing if sad. And I like the idea of them being on the run with a baby in tow!

Although I don't really understand - what is it that they're on the run from? Why don't they just call ahead and ask his godmother if it's okay and then she flies to them and picks up the baby? Obviously this is just a blurb but it seems there's some holes.

But it sounds good.

Regarding mental illness I have two suggestions that I know you already know but bear repeating:

1- do your research
2- avoid clichés.

By doing your research, know your DSM-V criteria for both conditions and then read around and see how personal experience always differs slightly from the "textbook" version of a disease - slightly, but not completely. I don't know, to me, there's nothing worse than someone saying "this character I wrote has PTSD but it's different from normal PTSD in that X". That just makes it sound like you want to give your character a mental illness but couldn't be bothered to properly represent one. So know what exactly it is when we talk about these conditions, and as I say, reading a lot of personal experience stories - or, if you are somehow blessed with such opportunities - talking to someone with them, will really enrich your stories.

(On the talking note - remember that mental illness isn't just in your head, it also often has physical manifestations - the way someone speaks, the way they dress, the way they sit, if they fidget, if they're clean & tidy, if they make eye contact - these are all used when assessing mental illness, and as a writer, they are also key to making it seem realistic).

But on the other hand, avoid clichés. Yes, your OCD character might want to wash the door handle fourteen times and check the locks on the doors all the time. But not all OCD is like that - obsessive intrusive thoughts can take any form (for instance, people who have obsessive thoughts that they're worried they'll murder someone or hurt someone and will go to extremes to stop themselves from doing this - including repeating mantras etc. as coping mechanisms).

Lastly, there is humour in all illness, but it is crucial that you laugh with them but not at them. Don't make a joke about your character being stuck by their compulsions, but don't be afraid to let them make fun of themselves if you need moments of levity.
Absolutely not a ninety year old German lady masquerading as an Irish med student.

"Stella. You were in my dream the other night. And everyone called you Princess." -Lauren2010
  





User avatar
1247 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 100070
Reviews: 1247
Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:39 pm
View Likes
Rosendorn says...



Why all the mental illnesses?

Mental illness sounds like your plot, here, and I tend to caution people very strongly on making mental illness the plot. Unpacking trauma and living with OCD is not something that can happen in a self-discovery-roadtrip.

Why does he have to be raped to have a child and look for a better future? Why does he need a deadbeat dad (who will also be a source of trauma and difficulty relating to people)? Why does his best friend have OCD tacked on there like some random quirk that defines him?

If you want to write a story about a boy with a kid who goes to give the kid a better life, write it! But if you're tossing in all this stuff to have the Tragic Past Overcome trope, you need to do a lot more research into how mental illnesses affect people. Because mental illness is not just some tragic backstory, nor is it some quirky personality definer. It's a thing that impacts every aspect of your life, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, and it really deserves more respect than just a listed trait.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
35 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 857
Reviews: 35
Sat Jan 07, 2017 10:15 pm
View Likes
queenofscience says...



Hi.

I would suggust doing reserch into your illness. Please protray mental illness accruatly. We need correct repentation of mental illness. Mental illness is a illness if the brain and it's synapes-remember that. It's not a 'weird personal probleam' it's a medical one. Maby you could have some characters who don't understand, and some who do. Make it a balance. Show the stuggels with the illness ( and the not so pretty parts that we don't see) and how it effects you socialy-family,friends,your job etc. Mental illness can be (and offten is) very debilitating. So, yes, please protray it accuratly. It's important.

( I have been down the rode of mental illness and have experanced many things. So, yes, I 'get it'.)
I am the science and science fiction guru.

The mind is beautiful, yet brilliant. You can think, create, and imagine so many things.

Eugenics= scientific racism.
  





User avatar
19 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 13
Reviews: 19
Sat Jan 07, 2017 10:57 pm
View Likes
CarryOnMrCaulfield says...



I'd just like to state that most people with mental illness, particularly the ones who are actually diagnosed, are completely normal. Often times you can't even tell. Save for many severe cases, most people who are mentally ill are average people who easily function in society, and you cannot even tell. I have a borderline "severe" case of bipolar disorder, and it is very easy to manage. I take my medication every day (except when I run out and procrastinate ordering my meds, but the longest I have ever been off of lamictal, the most important medication, has been four days, which is not very long and withdrawl just causes a weird form of headache) and get a lot of sleep (although I have a weird sleep schedule sometimes). Aside from the occasional anxiety attack, I appear to be an average, functional human being with above average intelligence, and I have never met a single person who has ever looked at me as if I am particularly weird (save for maybe in a "he's pretty quirky" kind of way).

If you want to depict someone with a severe mental illness, I suggest that you read the DSM or watch films that depict it accurately. I have never seen it, but I heard that "Requiem for a Dream" is a good one. I highly suggest "A Beautiful Mind" with Russel Crowe, which does a good job at depicting severe Schitzophrenia. If you want to depict someone with severe antisocial personality disorder, interestingly enough, "the Dark Knight" is a good movie to watch if you want to see a severe sociopath at work, and "Silence of the Lambs" is good if you want to see a severe psychopath. While sociopaths and psychopaths are often depicted as crazy in the media, many of them are functional and succesful, just to let you know.

The media often glorifies mental illness and gets it all wrong. Don't model your characters after the mainstream media. It often contributes to the stigma. I am not "triggered" by innacurate depictions of the mentally ill. I just cringe and move on with my day. I suggest that you start by reading the DSM. It is a great first resource. If not, talk to a psychiatrist/psychologist if you happen to know one.
  





User avatar
57 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 46
Reviews: 57
Sat Jan 07, 2017 11:54 pm
View Likes
TheStormAroundMe says...



Rosendorn wrote:Why all the mental illnesses?

Mental illness sounds like your plot, here, and I tend to caution people very strongly on making mental illness the plot. Unpacking trauma and living with OCD is not something that can happen in a self-discovery-roadtrip.

Why does he have to be raped to have a child and look for a better future? Why does he need a deadbeat dad (who will also be a source of trauma and difficulty relating to people)? Why does his best friend have OCD tacked on there like some random quirk that defines him?


I'm sorry if it came across this way... my blurb writing skills are not very good. The main point of the story is the fact that he wants his child to have any future at all. Their family is not doing so hot as far as money goes. Mental illness is a difficulty for him, but is not the main focus. He isn't looking for a cure for his own illness, or a way to make everything stop. I realize now that my summary seems to suggest that. Whoops!

In my sentence at the end, I tacked on the OCD to the best friend just so people would know what illness he struggled with. I did not mean that it was his defining characteristic. I do not have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder myself, and I don't want to misrepresent anything.

Sorry about that!
-Grace
"Du er ikke alene." -Isak, SKAM

Spoiler! :
You just had to click on it, didn't you?

TheStormAroundMe
  





User avatar
395 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 3690
Reviews: 395
Sun Jan 08, 2017 5:48 pm
View Likes
Holysocks says...



I think mainly with mental illness, we want people to take it seriously already, because it is serious. It's taken quite a while for people to even consider certain mental illnesses as "real", and not just "in people's heads". And I'm not saying you won't do this, TheStormAroundMe, but it's good to be aware of that! We definitely need/want more people to accurately portray mental illness in writing, and if that's something you're interested in and want to do, go for it! ^_^ But like others said; research is key! There probably are some really great first hand and second hand experiences on Youtube, and you might be able to find some good blogs on the web dealing with stuff as well.

I think you have a pretty interesting idea for your story. It's hard to tell from a blurb what all is going to happen though. One thing that was kind of odd in my mind is the boy kind of seemed really young, and that made me feel rather weird- even though I know that's probably the point. I for some reason viewed him as like an eight year old... but he's probably more like 14 - 16(?) Even then, it still is going to feel odd and maybe make people feel uncomfortable because of the content- but that's just because it's a really tough subject you're writing. You might want to do some research when it comes to the rape victim side of things, because there's surely many tropes with that as well!

But it's pretty obvious that you're someone that doesn't like following the mainstream when it comes to ideas, so I think you'll do fine in figuring things out! c:
I hope it's a good joke because otherwise I'll have got it for nothing...

WARNING: Do not take grammar advice from me... EVER.
  





User avatar
35 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 857
Reviews: 35
Sun Jan 08, 2017 6:44 pm
View Likes
queenofscience says...



Hi, guys.

Yes, A Beatiful Mind is a GREAT movie, and a very accurate deption of schizophrinia. (I know so because I am diagnosed with it.)

I have heard from several sorcees that Silence of the Lamb's is not a great repensontation of mental illness. I would suggust looking up movies that 'accrutaly protray mental illness'.just goigle it.

Have fun reserching.
I am the science and science fiction guru.

The mind is beautiful, yet brilliant. You can think, create, and imagine so many things.

Eugenics= scientific racism.
  





User avatar
19 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 13
Reviews: 19
Sun Jan 08, 2017 10:44 pm
CarryOnMrCaulfield says...



queenofscience wrote:Hi, guys.

I have heard from several sorcees that Silence of the Lamb's is not a great repensontation of mental illness. I would suggust looking up movies that 'accrutaly protray mental illness'.just goigle it.

Have fun reserching.


The only inaccurate part of Silence of the Lambs is that Hannibal would not have been put in a mental institution. He would probably be put in a prison. He represents an accurate extreme case of Antisocial Personality Disorder, or psychopathy. Most psychopaths are not serial killers, however all of them are basically horrible people deep down. There is never hope for a psychopath, as it is a personality disorder and medications can't help a person develop empathy.
  





User avatar
1247 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 100070
Reviews: 1247
Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:33 pm
View Likes
Rosendorn says...



Yeah, the thing about blurb writing around mental illnesses is you have to... basically not mention them in the blurb itself if they're going to be a side helping to the plot. You can give the summary of what you want to write, then separate out "this character has this illness, that character has that illness, how will that illness impact my plot, is any aspect of my plot unrealistic based on how these illnesses impact people", etc. The joys of both trying to get help on stuff while also not making it consume their life.

(I'm walking that balance in a few projects right now, actually... mental illness is all consuming in real life, sometimes, and writing that out while also having the plot move forward is hard!)

If you're looking for sources of research, blogs are a great place to start! You can find firsthand accounts of what it's like to live with those illnesses. For example, you can get this under-represented perspective of antisocial personality disorder that can show how it's used for good instead of evil.

Blog communities form around mental illnesses, and sites like the now on-hiatus blog self care after rape can provide you an insight into the mental effects of it. OCD has a whole bunch, and you can even find authors who have it and write about it like Maggie Stiefvater.

Now, be careful not to lift direct events from these blog posts into your own writing, but you can use them just to actually read the mindset. Understand when to ask questions, too— vent posts aren't the place, nor are safe space blogs where their primary purpose is to talk to other people with the illness. Specific sites that are open to reader questions are the main place to ask questions in the blogsphere.

I do have an article on PTSD if you want to start your PTSD based research there.
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

#TNT powered reviews
  





User avatar
482 Reviews



Gender: None specified
Points: 22737
Reviews: 482
Wed Jan 11, 2017 9:14 pm
View Likes
Tenyo says...



I don't really have any tips for writing mental illness. Personally I would say adopt any traits of the illness you want and then ignore it, and let your characters develop independently of any particular diagnosis.

Your plot, however, sounds amazing! The idea of this not-couple trekking across the country with a baby in arms trying to make a better life for it, is a gold-mine for warm fuzzy feelings and heart ache.

It sounds really exciting and if you ever decide to write or post it then please, please tag me =]
We were born to be amazing.
  





User avatar
19 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 13
Reviews: 19
Mon Jun 05, 2017 7:36 pm
CarryOnMrCaulfield says...



Rosendorn wrote:
If you're looking for sources of research, blogs are a great place to start! You can find firsthand accounts of what it's like to live with those illnesses. For example, you can get this under-represented perspective of antisocial personality disorder that can show how it's used for good instead of evil.


Old thread, but I don't know if I'd agree with this. It seems like the person who wrote this was trying to justify how great of a person they are. The whole idea behind ASPD is that the individual lacks empathy and only cares for him or herself.

Sure you'll meet psychopaths who are talented and skilled at what they do for society, but that doesn't change the fact that, inside, they are not pleasant people, and, for that, they should not be trusted or be a suitable candidate for friendship. I've been friends with several sociopaths, and they've been terrible, destructive people. Fortunately I got out of those relationships before any damage was done on me, but still, they're sick, twisted, and only care about themselves. It is not their fault though, so, even though they cannot show empathy towards us, we should show empathy for them.
  





User avatar
395 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 3690
Reviews: 395
Mon Jun 05, 2017 8:18 pm
View Likes
Holysocks says...



@CarryOnMrCaulfield, a lot of the simple descriptions for mental disorders are taken out of context and perspective by the media and society. The simple description for Antisocial Personality Disorder is that they lack empathy and "only cares for themselves", but nobody asks how much empathy do they lack? do they? It's not as simple as most people's brief understandings of these disorders are.

You say you've had experience with personalities like this, and that's great! But just because the potential majority of a disorder is one way, doesn't mean there's a smaller percentage in that same group that has completely different symptoms.

For instance, I was diagnosed with Autism when I was sixteen. The simple description that is played up in the media constantly is that Autism means I don't like being social; I don't like people. Of course, this isn't true at all! I love people and spending time socialising! However, being in large groups or being in highly stimulating environments for long periods of time can be very difficult for me. Doesn't mean I don't like people, but it might come across that way when I leave a party before it even gets started or avoid busy stores like heaven help us Wal-Mart.

That's the whole point of the "look at blogs and personal stories" approach; everyone's different, and by definition; everyone's disorder is different! :P
Last edited by Holysocks on Mon Jun 05, 2017 8:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I hope it's a good joke because otherwise I'll have got it for nothing...

WARNING: Do not take grammar advice from me... EVER.
  





User avatar
19 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 13
Reviews: 19
Mon Jun 05, 2017 8:26 pm
CarryOnMrCaulfield says...



Holysocks wrote:@CarryOnMrCaulfield, a lot of the simple descriptions for mental disorders are taken out of context and perspective by the media and society. The simple description for Antisocial Personality Disorder is that they lack empathy and "only cares for themselves", but nobody asks how much empathy do they lack? do they? It's not as simple as most people's brief understandings of these disorders are.

You say you've had experience with personalities like this, and that's great! But just because the potential majority of a disorder is one way, doesn't mean there's a smaller percentage in that same group that has completely different symptoms.

For instance, I was diagnosed with Autism when I was sixteen. The simple description that is played up in the media constantly is that Autism means I don't like being social; I don't like people. Of course, this isn't true at all! I love people and spending time socialising! However, being in large groups of being in highly stimulating environments for long periods of time can be very difficult for me. Doesn't mean I don't like people, but it might come across that way when I leave a party before it even gets started or avoid busy stores like heaven help us Wal-Mart.

That's the whole point of the "look at blogs and personal stories" approach; everyone's different, and by definition; everyone's disorder is different! :P


Exactly. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was seventeen. My psychiatrist said that it is not so much a singular illness, but an umbrella term used to describe a similar collection of neurological traits in the brain. Mental illness isn't really even a "thing", but it is rather a difference in brain chemistry, since everyone's is pretty much different. It made sense to me.

For instance, I have a very high IQ, but a very low EQ. It is difficult for me to pick up on social cues and I often say things very bluntly that could offend people, and I do it aimlessly. I also am more head than heart. It can be hard for me to show empathy to others sometimes too, but I try my hardest. A psychiatrist once told me that bipolar disorder has manifested itself in me in its own way. As a result, I have some antisocial behaviors, as well as some very, very mild behaviors exhibited on the spectrum.

The main reason I do not trust that blog poster though is because the individual in question has antisocial personality disorder, and the manner in which the author speaks is very sociopathic and self gratifying. That's the main reason I do not trust him/her. If it were another illness that the person was talking about, I would be far more likely to believe them. You get where I'm coming from?
  





User avatar
117 Reviews



Gender: Other
Points: 4007
Reviews: 117
Mon Jun 05, 2017 8:43 pm
View Likes
ChildOfNowhere says...



As important and interesting as it is, and as much I'd like to add to it myself, this conversation is straying from the original topic. If you'd like to continue over at SD&D, though, I'm sure many people would welcome the opportunity to give their own opinion on ASPD and whatever other specific disorders you decide to bring up.

Re: writing mental illnesses, I think that phrasing itself is a bit of a problem. Yes, they are most definitely important to give lots of attention to when writing characters suffering from/diagnosed with any, but still remember you're writing characters, people first — not their diagnoses.
This account proudly supports lgbt* rights.


-is a sir-
  








The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust