1. ianrose

    ianrose New Member

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    how to convey trauma?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ianrose, Mar 30, 2017.

    heyo!
    In this little bit I started writing, the protagonist has just experienced lots of trauma. I didn't write or describe what happened, but basically her home was invaded and her bodyguard/best friend was killed. After this, she's just recounting how events in her life led up to this. There's a scene where it finally hits her what all she just went through (her best friend dying, home destroyed, killed countless people who were trying to kill her) and she breaks down. I'm wondering on how best to describe this "break down" and if there's anything I should include, as I tend to repeat a lot of things like "guttural noises ripping from her throat". So, really, I'm just confused on how best to describe this hard hitting scene.
    thanks!
     
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  2. RPGlitchy

    RPGlitchy New Member

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    Well, I'd like to think about it like a panic attack. Usually, things happen very rapidly. You remember a few key moments, start to hyperventilate, then blackout if it's bad enough. Or recover and try to forget about it if it isn't bad enough.
     
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  3. RPGlitchy

    RPGlitchy New Member

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    EX:

    He died...She could almost remember the way, he was talking to her before he had left.

    "Hey, cool girl. Don't worry about it. I'll be back."

    "Liar," she whispered, crying. "You never came back."
     
  4. ianrose

    ianrose New Member

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    That's a good idea, I've been trying to over describe things haha.
     
  5. Sigma Zed

    Sigma Zed Active Member

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    As a therapist, I’ve seen trauma manifest in several forms. Panic attacks are surely one as a person in previous post mentioned. Your character could have moments where she thinks back and replays the event over and over again, making her miss out on important life event like work. She could also experience depression and a lack of interest in things she usually enjoys. Depression is often comorbid with anxiety so she could become stressed out about simple things. PTSD is something your character could easily have developed from that event. Instead of just reliving the experience in her mind, she’d physically relive the event. She’d feel everything she felt at the moment her friend was killed. This could be triggered by a loud bang like the gunshot that may have killed her friend. She may even have trouble developing new relationships in fear that another friend will be taken away. Like a person above me mentioned, she could go over it in her mind and say that he lied when he said he’d make it. She could relate that to all other relationships.

    Other things could be: Night terrors, disorientation, could appear withdrawn, be irritable, angry, trouble concentrating, and have mood swings. She could experience lethargy, and her heart can start to race out of nowhere. I hope this helps! Good luck!
     
  6. ianrose

    ianrose New Member

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    Wow, this is just great reference in general. Thank you!
     
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  7. Sigma Zed

    Sigma Zed Active Member

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    Not a problem! Happy to help! :)
     
  8. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I haven't read the other comments just yet (easier to keep a clear mind for my own ideas that way), so I'm sorry if there's any double up!

    Great question, by the way. Exploring trauma and the emotional fallout is a grim undertaking and so hard to get right, so kudos to your courage just jumping in there!

    In the immediate moment of realisation, of going, "oh shit, what just happened," it would be fair to expect some or all of the following: flashbacks, breathlessness, racing heart, nausea, clenching hands, clawing at self or furniture or clothing, repetition of phrases or words "Fuck. Fuck. What the fuck?!?" etc. Make things fast-paced, staccato. Make the reader breathless. When the character is coming to grips with a traumatic event, their brain is racing, panicking, getting angry, then maybe terrified, etc etc. Drag me along for the ride. Get me inside that poor woman's head and show me how the flashing memories are affecting her. Don't tell me she is panicking. Show me her breathlessness, the headache that is exploding inside her head, her inability to focus her eyes on anything, her jumpiness at any small sound ... you get the picture. :)

    Every person responds to trauma differently, and depending on your protag's personality, history, character, age, context and culture, her breakdown/reckoning time will look very different. I'm just going to brainstorm some ideas of how the fallout after a traumatic experience could look for any individual, but obviously some/most/all of it might not fit your character. And that's fine. :)

    Also remember that a person doesn't just have one point of reckoning with a traumatic event. Our brain processes different elements of a terrible experience in different ways, at different times, at different depths. I might yell and throw things and get angry today, and tomorrow I might weep silently and lie in bed and next week I might sit on my couch and pick at my fingernails and wonder if I should just end it all now. It's okay to give your character different layers of experience. Have her get really angry today but then pull her back out of the pit, give her something proactive or positive to think about for a little while, and then throw something else at her: a question or thought that takes her breath away and stops her in her tracks and takes her straight back to that horrible space. Trauma is like an ogre. Lots of layers. (Shrek reference, anybody?!)

    Some further ideas ...

    QUESTIONS/TORMENT
    • "If it can happen to him, it could happen to someone else." If the protag witnessed the murder of a key person in her life, she might start obsessing about all the other people in her life who could get killed. Murder is arbitrary. Nobody can stop it. If he (bodyguard, possibly incorrectly assuming male?) could get killed, then so could any other person that matters to me. Further fallout as a response to this idea might be:
      • Life has no purpose
      • What's the point in building relationships with anybody
      • I need to protect myself from growing attached to anyone in case I lose them
      • Who gets to decide who dies and who doesn't?
      • Why him and not me?
      • Advice to others: don't get attached to anybody, you might lose them.
    • Was it my fault? Was it something I did or didn't do that allowed this to happen? If I hadn't asked him to be my bodyguard, he wouldn't be dead now.

    • Everybody I killed had family and friends. Those people are going through what I'm going through because my best friend was killed. I have caused this torment to others. That makes me no better than them. It doesn't matter that it was self defense. I stole other people's memories and loves and relationships.

    EMOTIONS/PSYCHOLOGICAL
    • Panic attacks (google for plethora symptoms of)
    • Spacing out/forgetfulness
    • Shutting down/closing off/putting up a wall (with others and self) and not allowing those emotions to come through
    • Rage
    • Desparate to be alone
    • Desparate to not be alone

    BEHAVIOURS
    • Climbing into bed, staring at the ceiling
    • Compulsive cleaning/shopping/walking
    • Dial phone number of person who died, hang up, dial again, repeat
    • Climbing into bed and staring at the ceiling and forgetting to eat or move for hours/days on end
    • Self destructive thoughts or tendencies might appear even when somebody has never self-harmed before
    • Crying
    • Inability to cry despite a desperate desire to.

    There's nothing you should include. There are no rules about how a scene like this should or shouldn't be conveyed, except for: any behaviours exhibited must be consistent/congruent with the character. I don't want your character to suddenly have a total breakdown with gutteral sobs and a roaring shout if she is a delicate little piece who wears flowers in her hair and sings to the birds. It just doesn't work.

    Congruence doesn't mean only one response is possible, it just means that the response you choose to show should give us a window into a deeper part of her soul/spirit/head/heart that we haven't seen before, and needs to give us a better understanding and appreciation for her as a complex and unique person. I'm going to try to give an example. Let's say the character is the strong, silent (stereo)type. :) You could take the breakdown in almost any direction you like, but some will be more or less consistent with that "strong, self-contained" persona.

    Some congruent options might be:
    1) She is suddenly sobbing uncontrollably. I, the reader, am appalled and devastated as I witness this character, of all characters, the one who never breaks, never bends, down on her face in the shower, sobbing and coughing and half drowning as water pours over her face and up her snotty nose and pummels her naked, vulnerable body.
    or
    2) She goes into total shut down. She is sitting on the floor and staring out the window. Eventually she notices she is growing cold and the sun is going down, which is odd because the last thing she remembers is holding a hot mug of tea and watching the steam fog up the cold glass as the sun rose to melt the frost off the windowpane. The mug now sits at her side, the tea cold and untouched, and shadows are creeping past her. How long has she been sitting here? Is it even the same day? Did she eat?
    or
    3) She throws herself into her work. The harder she works, the more my heart breaks for her because I know she is just trying to avoid the subject and going into denial and I know that can't possibly end well...

    Anyway, hopefully some of this has made sense and been helpful! All the best!

    P.S. >>

    That doesn't make me feel anything. I don't care about the emotion because I'm being told it's there but I'm not being allowed to experience it with her. Show, don't tell. :)
     
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  9. ianrose

    ianrose New Member

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    Holy hell, this is so much???
    Thank you, I think this just improved my writing in general. This is an amazing description of how writing works (in my head anyways) and I'm definitely going to share it around. Aaaah you just don't know how happy this makes me?? Thank you so so much :love:
     
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  10. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Haha I'm glad that it's helped! Just realised how terribly I wrote certain sentences in that comment. I was numb with exhaustion when I wrote it at 11pm after a massive day of moving house and my choice of words and phrasing could have used some work. Totally missed the double-up in the dot points with the character climbing into bed and staring at the ceiling. But you seemed to get the gist of my message, anyway, so all good!

    Something I think I glossed over a bit, but which I think is important for realistic characterisation, is to let your character start to pull herself together, and then knock her down again. Real people don't just have one big breakdown and then start healing and getting better from there. She will have good days and bad days and sometimes a day will start off good and then something will happen to remind her or scare her or give her a flashback and, just like that, she's back down the rabbit hole and has to claw her way back out again.

    Layers. ;)

    All the best with your writing!!
     
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  11. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    One of my FMCs saw her home encampment (she was Xiong-nu nomad) wiped out by the Han Chinese when she was twelve. She goes on to become, at that age, a warrior with another tribe. But after her first combat at 14, she has another trauma, one for which she blames herself, and can share with no one.

    Her reaction to the trauma was to put all those feelings in a box, never to relive them. She refuses to have friends of either sex, for fear the story might come out. She continues single-mindedly to become the best fighter she could be. She comes to lead, around age 20, a small group of men (10), something unusual but not unheard of among the Xiong-nu. But they and all the warriors regard her as "a bow strung too tightly." Someday she will shatter. They can see the effects of what they do not know.

    She encounters a stranger, and motivated by those buried memories, or by the ghost of her long dead lover, she tells the story, the intimacy, her guilt, and she cries "the harsh, choking sobs that only the strongest of women can cry," while the stranger holds her. Afterward she is numb, having drained the pus from a long-festering wound that might otherwise have killed her. For her, the telling of this story, another accepting it, is the essential catharsis that "unstrings her bow." Having come of age in the man's world of the Xiong-nu warrior, she learns also how also to be a woman with the stranger. Having lost her family a decade back, and rejected its replacement, she regains her sense of family with the stranger's traveling companions.
     
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  12. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Powerful stuff! I'd read this book!
     
  13. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    "The Eagle and the Dragon, a Novel of Rome and China," link through member publications on this site. Kindle download is free till midnight, give me a review. And that is just one of three love stories in this tapestry of action and adventure at the dawn of the Second Century.

    Lew
     
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  14. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    @Lew I've downloaded. I'm a huge fan of ancient Rome literature, and studied Latin for about two years some time back. I'm looking forward to reading The E & D. :)
     
  15. Sigma Zed

    Sigma Zed Active Member

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    Wow, this is really good. I expands on some of what I mentioned and took it from clinical to literary. Very good and I recommend people take a look at this!
     
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  16. ianrose

    ianrose New Member

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    Thanks, and good luck with moving!
     
  17. ianrose

    ianrose New Member

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    Wow, this sounds amazing! Im typically not a fan of historical fiction (is that what it's called?) but I'd definitely give this a read
     
  18. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    It is historical fiction in a rigorously accurate setting, but that was my problem. You don't have to know any history to enjoy it as an action/adventure/multiple love stories! Thank you!
     
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  19. Sigma Zed

    Sigma Zed Active Member

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    Dang it. I can spell the word it, I promise!
     
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  20. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Sure ;)
     
  21. Sigma Zed

    Sigma Zed Active Member

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    You caught me! :p
     

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