1. Urban Profanity
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    Urban Profanity Member

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    Writing a character with mood swings

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Urban Profanity, Mar 3, 2015.

    My protagonist experiences swift mood swings, in which she will lash out at those closest to her for no good reason. Currently I write a brief prelude to these events describing a strange feeling of something "turning" inside her and a burst of energy, followed by a quick internal monologue justifying her action.

    The story is written in the 1st person, and so afterwards she expresses great shame and confusion, but I worry that the strange and out-of-the-blue actions will not be reconciled by readers, or they will lose sympathy for her.

    Can anyone think of an example where this sort of thing was written successfully, or give any ideas as to how one might do so?
     
  2. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    There are probably examples of it working, but I can't really think of any, due to my rather paltry knowledge of such things.
    Although, I went through more or less the same concerns for the protagonist of the story I'm currently working on. Originally, he became rather psychologically damaged from various horrible experiences, and went through the same mood-swings/lashing out during the second third of the book. But when I looked over it, I found it just made him seem rather whiny and pathetic, even though in the context of the story it would be justifiable. It's important to remember sometimes, that intentionally whiny is still whiny. Just like intentionally annoying, is still annoying. So I ended up essentially dropping all the mopey aspects of his personality.

    That's not to say that it can't work. Nothing is off limits if done well. But you will need to be aware of the audience for such things, since many readers will just find the character rather annoyingly melodramatic.
     
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  3. Alley
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    Do you know why the character is experiencing these mood swings? Is it a story of supernatural transformation (like the Hulk?), more of a psychotic phase (like Jekyll & Hyde), or is it along the lines of close to "normal" neurotic behaviour most people have up to a certain point? Or is it behaviour which might be caused anatomically, like say due to a brain tumour?

    If it's tumour/anatomically induced it might help to do further research and look up other symptoms: I could imagine her describing experiencing other symptoms and feeling something is off and wrong would help to stress the sense of not being in control that's required to identify with a character behaving oddly or badly.

    As for slightly neurotic behavious: it probably wouldn't feel strange to her, she'd see it as absolutely appropriate behaviour. If she is a highly insecure person in fear of rejection, she might end up rejection at any social encounter, thus misinterpreting normal or friendly comments, reacting very badly to criticism, or she might lash out at people to avoid a perceived rejection by rejecting the other person in the first place. All the while, she still might feel that maybe it's herself who's causing all this distress, while feeling unable and helpless to do anything about it. This is very difficult character to portrait in first person, though, because you have to rely on her narrative. I could imagine this being done though.
     
  4. Urban Profanity
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    Thanks Void and Alley.

    I try and convey a mystery about it through the story - she has a feeling from a young age that she has something inside her that is different to those around her, and she receives various diagnosis but never believes them to be true. I have bi polar, so I have quite a bit of understanding about the effects and the feelings involved, I'm just worried about my ability to convey them to a reader!

    I did consider writing it in third person, which would probably make the task easier, but that's not how it presents itself when I sit down to write. When I have time I might put up an example and get detailed feedback. Thanks again for your input.
     
  5. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Welcome to the club! It's me and @Lewdog, @obsidian_cicatrix and @staceylouise.

    I'm BpD II co-morbid with ADHD.
     
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  6. Urban Profanity
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    Urban Profanity Member

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    There's a club?!? That's good to know :)
     
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  7. Alley
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    I just realised I know a book you might want to read if you haven't yet:
    Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

    If what you want to convey is a sense of out of placeness and otherness: there it's done wonderfully and in first person. It's a tough read though, and I remember having to go out and be among people right after finishing because I found it quite disturbing. It takes a bit of a different angle from what you seem to be looking for, but I think Faulks faced a number of problems similiar to yours. I couldn't say more without spoiling it for people who haven't read it yet - but I found it quite captivating.

    I'm sorry to hear you're battling with bi-polar. I know it's not much help - but I've always found people very inspiring who were willing and able to face up to it and to discuss it as well. I think the insights you can give are invaluable to people who were lucky enough not to have to face the same kind of problems - partly because we tend to not be aware of the value of just getting up in the morning and being well, and also because most people I know are absolutely out of their depth when they are in a situation were they need to deal with mental health issues of their own or of loved owns.
     
  8. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I'm BpD II co-morbid with Borderline Personality Disorder.

    I had typed out a reply earlier but I'm on the downward spiral, so I sat and looked at it for a bit, decided my opinion was worth less than nothing, and promptly deleted it. Luckily I rapid cycle back and forth even on the way down. ;)

    On the subject of the reader losing sympathy, I don't see why that should be the case. You are in better position than most to illustrate what is going on in your character's head. One thing I would say is that, if you want your character to be sympathetic, avoid having her attempt to justify her behaviour. It could read like making excuses. If you can get the reader into her head space at the triggering moment, her reaction and regret will be understandable.
     
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  9. Urban Profanity
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    Thanks obsidian!
    I think justify was probably the wrong word - I write her thought process in the lead up to some outburst. I try and describe the physical and mental sources of seemingly unjustifiable actions. My worry is that it will seem weird or unfathomable to most, as its author is!

    I have BP II with rapid cycling also. And throw in a little PTSD for good measure. A major theme throughout the book is the way she treats, and is treated by those close to her, and the heavy toll it takes, because thinking about that in my own life makes me cry :(

    Thanks again for your input, it's very helpful.
     
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  10. Catrin Lewis
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    I'm not bipolar and I've never asked this question of my friends who are. But would somebody in that circumstance be aware that she was getting into that state but be powerless to stop it? Or is that a kind of dissociation?
     
  11. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Sometimes? There are usually ways to know when you're getting out of control, and hopefully you have someone you trust there to calm you down. On the other hand you'll usually have triggers, certain topics of conversation, or places, or even people. With those it'll make you fly into a rage with pretty much no warning or forethought.
     
  12. Urban Profanity
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    Sometimes there are signs, but at others it seems to be almost like a switch has been flicked. I often can see in retrospect that there were signs and that I should have removed myself from the situation, but at the time there's never much clarity, for me anyway. It's frustrating, and beating up on oneself for not noticing it it not usually helpful, but it's what I do most times.

    I guess that fiction is a great way to build understanding in readers as it allows them inside the mind and body of a sufferer.
     
  13. Urban Profanity
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    As jack says, it helps if your friends are near because they can usually tell it's about to happen because they have seen it before. I'm lucky to have understanding friends who love me and know that it's an illness, and that I'm not just crazy.
     
  14. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    @Catrin Lewis

    I agree with Jack and Urban. Sometimes I see it coming. Sometimes the triggering event happens too quickly and, to an outside observer, it looks like I have just freaked out over nothing. In fact what is happening is that the trigger has started (or sometimes continues) a chain of thoughts, one leading to another, each getting progressively harder for me to deal with.

    I'm putting what follows in spoiler tags, just in case.

    I even have to be careful online. Just yesterday a member made a troll post. It wasn't actually aimed at me, not by tagged screen name at least, but my instant reaction was to take it as such. My biggest triggers have to do with unexpected change, losing things, time keeping and rejection, and I was already feeling a little poorly over a meltdown I had at the dentists just a few days ago. I'll try to explain just to give you an idea.

    I suffer a number of irritating physical side effects, the most annoying of which is Bruxism. I literally get so wound up, I grind my teeth to the point of breaking them. My dentist, bless her, does her best. I've been on a serious downward turn for about a month now. I usually manage without drugs but I knew this time was different so I'm waiting on a re-referral back to my consultant so the appropriate drugs can be dispensed to stabilise me. I haven't been sleeping well. On nights I do get some sleep it tends to be: Asleep 90 mins; Awake 60 mins. What this means is that I never properly achieve REM sleep. My memory has been very poor, sufficiently so that I've even started to question whether there's something even more sinister going on in the background.

    My daughter very often has to advocate on my behalf. She takes care of things like keeping track of appointments, simply because I can't and don't trust myself to do it. Due to an oversight on her part, I missed my last appointment. That was a trigger right there. I managed to hold myself together, despite the pain I was in, and a new appointment was made.

    On the morning of the new appointment I was feeling very vulnerable, worn down by the lack of sleep and the racing thoughts. Although every fibre of my being was trying to persuade me to stay safe under my duvet, I got up, got washed (which as many Beepers will tell you is no mean feat in itself ;)) and quickly fired up my computer to check my mail. A close friend (one of many who conspire to keep me on an even keel) who is holidaying in Aus spotted me and we chatted for a while. I got the sense he was trying to distract me and he asked what the weather was like. It was only then I noticed the blizzard conditions outside. Just great! Did I mention I'm almost phobic about snow? Not to mention the fact I'd been starving myself (as I'm prone to do when I'm depressed, as at that point I don't believe I deserve food. Yes, I'm well aware of how ridiculous that sounds) and I have absolutely no body fat to keep me warm.

    Anyhoo... after some considerable rallying of discipline, I dragged myself into the clinics reception. I'm big on body language as I can't always trust how I interpret what is being said and her demeanour said it all. Something was up. Turns out my dentist lives in the backside of beyond and she'd managed to get her car stuck in a drift.

    Just telling me they were going to have to reappoint was enough to start a chain reaction.

    Now, I'm only too well aware how it looked from the outside. I looked like a tantrumming child who wasn't getting her way. But I'm special, why can't you take me now?

    In that moment, I became suddenly adrenalised. Think something akin to a situation that would terrify you; let's say for sake of argument you are alone at home at night time and you realise someone has broken in. Imagine the sensation of that realisation in your chest. Without even taking the time to rationalise, your body starts to prepare. Fight or flight? My instinct was to protect myself, to go to ground, but there I was standing in the middle of a public space, my mouth flapping, words that I have no memory of spilling out, as I desperately tried to convey to the receptionist what it had taken to get me to that point. Sometimes my life feels like it amounts to lists: things I must do, things I must avoid. Without ticking this particular box, my world was potentially going to fall apart. I needed to sleep, I needed to eat, and I knew neither of these things were going to happen until the matter of the pain was resolved.

    I completely forget that the person witnessing my meltdown can't read my mind. Although it looked like I was freaking over not getting to see the dentist, it felt like my very essence was being dismissed (that was the Borderline element kicking in) and I immediately felt worthless and humiliated. And that was the crux. In truth it felt like the universe was having a massive joke at my expense. When I don't sleep properly I become suicidal. I sensed I was a hairs breath away from a psychotic break. The last thing I needed was a voice in my head giving me a reason me to do it.

    Would you believe I got so low at the weekend I considered throwing myself out of my 8th floor window, just because I lost a memory card of my camera? It wasn't actually because of the card. It was that losing it activated the trigger. I managed to pull myself from that brink, and my dental receptionist had inadvertently pushed me toward the precipice again.

    I recovered from that and the WF member, without realising it, started off those suicidal thoughts again.

    I have suffered an ickle psychotic break, but luckily it's not as bad as I feared. I'm not wearing my tin foil hat just yet. I just wish my coffee didn't taste like antiseptic. ;)
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
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  15. Sipsik
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    I think what you are doing, sounds very interesting. Keep that up. I think (at least for me ) character having flaws or making things she is ashamed later does not lose sympathy at all. For me characters who have trouble with themselves seem the more interesting, usually when I see a fic character whom I donĀ“t like, and afterwards when I discover they have troubles too, they become more likeable for me.
     

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