1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Reflecting a child's need for human contact

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CMastah, Jun 7, 2015.

    So here's the thing:

    One of my two MC's (who is eight and traumatized from the massacre of his people) is being raised by my version of dwarves who are emotionally stunted. He is eventually introduced to a substance that CAUSED them to become emotionally stunted (but neither they know this nor is the reader supposed to either at this point, it's hinted at later by other characters who aren't dwarven), and when he starts using it, his traumatized state leaves fast (I even show that he uses it far more than they ever did).

    What I need is to show how he is while he still hasn't been introduced to it. One of the things that afflicts him is hallucinations, but I think I've got that down (relatively), what I need is to show his need for human contact (not literally human, he's not actually human, what I mean is emotional support). So far I've got lines like when he sees magic for the first time, he thinks about how he wants to tell his friend, but his friend is dead. I also mention how his body yearns for the embrace of parents, but they're also dead. One of the things that haunts him is how he feels he failed the other MC (who he THINKS is dead) and he keeps hearing her voice calling to him, he also blames himself for not grabbing her when he had the chance.

    I need ideas on how to reflect his need for human contact/emotional support. So far I've got just two sentences to reflect his need for support and that's it. He's kept alone in a small room to study (again, alone) and I might mention how he wants to play with his friends, but they're not there anymore, but I got nothing else. I also feel that the dwarves' lack of compassion and sympathy don't stand out clear enough either, I've got him mentioning how they seem so distant but I feel like I might need some scenes (one which I have planned is that they bury one of their dead children but the parents don't seem fazed).

    Any ideas?
     
  2. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    What might really help is to show the child trying to emotionally attach to the dwarves he's with now. Even though they aren't warm or welcoming or whatever, the child would more than likely still attempt to bond with them.
    Maybe he keeps following them around and gets in the way? Maybe he tries to recreate a 'safe' moment he had with his parents with one of the dwarves (if he was younger I'd suggest trying to climb onto their knee or something but at 8, that's a bit much).
    There's lots of room for less literal connections as well. He might be scared of the dark, wet the bed, hum to himself (it's a self soothing/anxiety thing) or exhibit other behaviours related to trauma - all of which will help you build up a picture to compare to, later.
     
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  3. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Kids that need / want attention tend to act up a lot. They get attention and the behavioral reinforcement happens at that instant, leading to an ongoing cycle of seeking attention through misbehaving and getting it.

    Does that help?
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    You might do some research on PTSD since he'd be likely to have that - learn about flashbacks, see if there's anywhere you could insert scenes of him experiencing anxiety attacks or the like to demonstrate that's he's not doing so well. He'd have that kinda thing going on anyway but the lack of compassion would only exacerbate the symptoms.
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Emotionally stunted in what way? Immature? Dulled emotions?
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    slightly off-topic but related to a different thread you started - emotionally stunted dwarves who are not compassionate at all choosing to voluntarily take in an orphan based on some distant business contact with the orphan's tribe? Sense of duty only goes that far. I'm not sure it's realistic.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You say "human" contact, but I'm assuming that you mean social, interactive contact. I'm making the distinction because, like RachHP said, I would expect it to be shown by the child clinging to and trying to make connections with the dwarves.

    For example, maybe every full moon they go out to gather the pink mushrooms that grow by moonlight. He always clamors to go with them, because he gets to spend lots of time in the mushroom wagon trying to talk to them, and they can't shoo him away the way they usually do if they're trapped with him in the wagon. Sometimes they will answer his questions, or at least grunt in response, and he determinedly fools himself into thinking that they enjoy his company in the wagon. And when the wagon is crowded, he is crowded against the dwarves, and has the warmth of contact with another living being.

    Then he encounters the substance, mushroom time comes around, and he thinks about the cold and the damp and the icky smell of the mushrooms, and he decides not to go.

    As another possibility, maybe the dwarves have a cat for traditional rat-hunting purposes, and he has befriended the cat, always feeding the cat a share of the nicest food. One day the cat comes by for his treat and he looks at it and can't remember why he ever gave away perfectly good food. And he's vaguely irritated when the cat purrs and tries to rub against his legs.

    Stuff like that.
     
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  8. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    2nd paragraph, 2nd line: (not literally human, he's not actually human, what I mean is emotional support)
     
  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I see this as sort of a situational thing. That is to say, there will likely be moments that lend themselves as perfect opportunities for that sort of thing. Given the child is 8 y.o. and yearns for conection, interaction, and support. You might want to include scenes that show him trying to connect with the dwarves, to make friends, to fit in (if he doesn't belong with them). You might have a scene in which he makes a joke and no one laughs, making him feel a little awkward and self conscious. Or you might write a scene in which the young dwarves are engaged in some work or play and he cannot keep up and ultimately get's left behind. You'll want to take the time to reflect on his feelings in each moment.

    I say that with this caveat: do not explicitly state how lonely or out of place he feels over and over again. In fact, if you do this well, you shouldn't need to state it until later - just as the reader is sure of it. With fiction, unlike in in academic writing. You don't want to state is then show it. You want the scenes to create the conclusion in the readers mind so that when and if you do actually say it, they can think bact to the context you've already built around it.

    Does that make sense? o_O
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    ....OK. Are you saying that my assumption was wrong? It appears that you're agreeing that it was right. Since I wasn't criticizing the OP, I guess I'm not altogether seeing the need to evaluate my reading comprehension skills.
     
  11. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    No need for assumptions when it's spelt out plainly? I guess I am curious if you read the post or just the title?
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Were the dwarves in the title? Yes, I missed a sentence. (Oh, the humanity!) Aaron, if you enjoy hunting down people's inoffensive errors, go for it. I don't see the pleasure, but I'm not the one doing it. I'm hijacking the thread by discussing this, so I'll stop responding.
     
  13. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I seek pleasure through helping and understanding. I responded to OP and then started to read what others had written. I am sorry by posting a response to your assumption I seem to have insulted you or offended you. In no way shape or form am I hunting things down.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Here's another thought. As the child is 8 years old, I assume he's well past the needy baby stage of his life.

    There may be a difference, between a very young child who years for loving human contact (social interaction, physical touching) but who has never experienced it, and a child who has experienced it and lost it. A child who has never had it might well try to get it any way he can, by doing baby things, or snuggling up to the first warm body he encounters, or overreacting and becoming clingy to anybody who shows him the slightest sign of affection.

    This child in your story, however, is old enough to remember clearly what happened to him and how he lost the people he loved and who loved him. Rather than diving full tilt at any potential substitute, perhaps he totally withdraws because he now knows the danger that comes with loving someone who might be taken away. Some people who have been hurt this way simply withdraw, wanting to avoid ever suffering that pain again. They also may try to find ways to become very strong and competent on their own, wanting never to need somebody else again.

    This doesn't mean they aren't lonely. They are lonely as hell, and can become very detached. But they try to compensate for their loss by making themselves impervious to other losses. I think this would be less likely in a very young child, but 8 years old is not so young. In the USA, this person would be in 3rd grade. Old enough for these kinds of patterns to have set in.

    Being cast in among 'unemotional' dwarves might offer him exactly what he's looking for. Support and safety, without emotional strings.

    This kind of a buttoned-up character can be one whom a reader not only identifies with, but can easily grow to love.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
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  15. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Invisible friends.

    Like @RachHP mentioned, self-soothing behaviors, such as humming. Sucking his thumb. Rocking back and forth. Chewing on things.

    Attachment to things - toy, blanket, anything really.

    There have been studies that show that people who are lonely take longer, hotter showers. The physical warmth of the water somewhat makes up for the lack of social warmth. Weird but true. And the reason I take such long showers...

    He's probably sick a lot too. Emotional effects the physical.

    Trouble sleeping. Depression.

    He's probably quick to cry especially if someone asks him about himself. "How are you?" Oh my god, you care? I'm a puddle of blubber now.

    Another thing you could mention is how any touch of another person (dwarf) effects him in a big way. Say when someone hands him something, just brushing his fingers against theirs' sends waves of electricity through his body. When someone's deprived of contact, any contact is explosive.
     
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  16. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Thanks, lots of great suggestions here.

    They're not nurturing and the 'stiff upper lip' thing isn't a mannerism/act, it's hard coded into their DNA (pretty literally due to the substance their race have been using for thousands of years). Their race have helped and protected other races in the world due to their (the dwarves') beliefs in right and wrong, but they're extremely distant. I suppose perhaps to say that they're lacking in sympathy isn't correct, maybe empathy? I think perhaps I chose the wrong descriptions here. They are compassionate and will help those in need, but their natural lifestyle is a tough one and their children begin learning a military lifestyle as early as an education. Discipline is important, but I decided not to have them incorporate corporal punishment with the MC because he's not supposed to grow to fear them (also a lot of the problems he gets into (life threatening in several cases) is because he's not disciplined).

    I think I used the wrong description here. The dwarves' have a sense of right and wrong and have helped many in their history (the one who granted them that substance in their history was doing so as an act of kindness when they had saved his family), but they're the sort who have no softness to them. The MC is found at one point to be having a vivid nightmare that the female MC is being murdered and their only concern is to yell at him to be quiet so their troops can sleep. One scene I might include is that after he's confined to his study (essentially the size of a small cubicle with no external lighting), he complains to his dwarven mentor that he doesn't want to be alone and the dwarf scolds him and tells him to get back to work. The MC's tribe was actually extremely close and were nowhere near as harsh as the dwarves, which is a huge shock for him (the female MC is raised by a loving human on the other hand).

    I actually noticed in my second draft that I do a lot of telling in this regard rather than showing. The POV of the story is in 3rd person personal (if that makes sense, it's akin to game of thrones rather than lord of the rings in this regard). It's something I'm really going to have to work on.

    I want to make his need for human companionship clear, because once he starts using the substance, he takes a 180 degree turn away from his current self. There'll be minor signs that something is wrong, but he won't be able to figure it out (one of my worries is that the reader will assume I'm handwaving away the trauma).
     
  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well then, know this: When trying to make an idea come across clearly to the readers you have to remember they are stupid, but smarter than you think. Makes no sense, right? Put another way, you have to really balance between giving them too much and not enough. To overcome this, writers are forced to find the right details and the right timing because it is possible to come on too strongly with an idea, overcompensating for possibly not compensating enough. Readers never know what you're thinking so you have to be organized and strategic in you thinking and presentation. Even so, they are smart enough to deduce, given the right clues. ;)
     
  18. bumble bee
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    A bit off topic for your original question, but hopefully still helpful (??) I am reminded of Bruce Parry's The Boy Who Was Rasied As A Dog and other stories from a psychiatrist's notebook. It describes several cases of traumatised children that he dealt with during his career and what the can tell us about the effect of trauma on brain development.

    In it he describes a patient who lacked very early nurturing experiences with a consistent caregiver (she was moved to a variety of foster homes throughout her early years but was never badly treated). She never developed the sort of pleasure in human contact and ability to show affection that most people take for granted. However she was placed in a good foster home during later infancy (aged 3 or so, I think) and did develop the appropriate 'higher brain function' ideas of social responsibility/morals/duty etc

    Her difficulties went unnoticed for years because she was able to function socially in a general sense but showed up in behaviour in more intimate relationships (with her daughter). She responded to her daughter's physical needs but didn't try to soothe her when she cried, just fed and changed her and put her down. She also didn't instinctively play with her. Is that a helpful way to think about your dwarf characters?

    Children's responses to trauma that Parry described include: Role playing or drawing the event that caused trauma, rhythmic behaviours (rocking, tapping, unusual rhythms in walking), self harming, withdrawing, losing weight.

    What about self soothing- hugging himself, stroking his own arms/hair. Leaning into someone sitting near him for contact.

    The book really is worth a read if you're interested- it's obviously grim in places.
     
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  19. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel like psych-nerding you with research, so I'm going to. Not sure if the research (which is kind of common sense stuff) will be helpful, but it's completely related:

    John Bowlby, attachment theory, Rhesus Monkeys experiment
    http://www.simplypsychology.org/bowlby.html

    Maslow's hierarchy of needs (see tier 3)
    http://www.theneurotypical.com/maslows_basic_needs.html

    Dan Siegal's mindfuck of a concept "interpersonal neurobiology"
    http://sfprg.org/control_mastery/docs/Siegel.pdf

    From Siegal:

     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2015
  20. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    OH another idea, if you wanna go down the psych-nerd route:

    Take this brief online test as if you're your MC. You will learn their attachment style. Their attachment style will determine how they long for contact. Some long for it in a desperate, clingy way that comes off as having poor boundaries. Others crave closeness but fear rejection and abandonment and so they isolate. Some flip from one side to the other in ambivalence. Abused children tend to have erratic attachment patterns if the abuse is really bad and the trauma untreated. Getting to know your MC's attachment style might get your imagination juices flowing.
     
  21. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    Dwarves? Yes, I love it! Such a perfect example to show a child's need for love or social contact or whatever. And the fact that they're both physically stunted AND EMOTIONALLY STUNTED, that's just unbelievable to me. Such a perfect metaphor. You have to keep going with this. Don't care about what anyone else says. Just keep believing in yourself and writing this. You have to go all the way. Make those dwarves from Lord of the Rings cry with emotion for this little lonely boy!
     

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