Disturbed: Playing Characters With Mental Disorders

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Disturbed: Playing Characters With Mental Disorders

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby Discipline on Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:51 pm

Premise:

Playing any character that isn't you in every way, shape, and form is a challenge for anybody, and the more one deviates from themselves, the more difficult it gets. The use of "insanity" or mental disorder is not a new literary device in character-making, but it's one that is often used tastelessly or ineffectively - thus, this guide is here to set us straight, if you will, on writing these "unstable" characters.




Contents:

(Organised into this form for ease of finding. I purposely chose these punctuation marks because they aren't often coupled with letters right after them. If you're looking for a specific place, please use the entirety of the code, or else you might as well have tried to find it yourself.)

Section I


!. - Character Creation
  • !a. - Relevance
  • !b. - Choices
  • !c. - Causes
    • !ca. - Tragedy?
  • !d. - Lucidity

  • @. - Plot
    • @a. - Fitting Storylines
    • @b. - Interaction With Others
    • @c. - Return, or Death?

    Section II


    #. - Characterisation
    • #a. - Writing Style
    • #b. - Change Through Story
      • #ca. - Too Much Change?
    • #c. - Sliding Scales
      • #cb. - Irrationality

    |. - Closing Notes
    • |a. - Method Writing
    • |b. - Tastefulness
Last edited by Discipline on Fri Nov 25, 2011 8:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Disturbed: Playing Characters With Mental Disorders - Sectio

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby Discipline on Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:53 pm

!. - Character Creation


  • !a. - Relevance
What do I mean by relevance? I refer to how this attribute of a character, their mental disorder, is important to the story, the character, and development. If you mean to simply tack it on as an afterthought, to promote a Mary Sue-ish character as something more than that, then why bother? However, if you take the opposite route, if you take it to build this character, you may find that this character may be far too two-dimensional to fit into the story. There should be a healthy balance of the different facets of a character. I, being male, do not classify myself as a male straight off, and your character should not be classified straight off as having this disorder or that. Surely, there are more important things about this character than that.
Given this, then, we should also take care to not disregard our character's mental disorder, for while it is not the defining quality of that character, it is quite important. There is, as we have gone over before, a healthy balance of things.

  • !b. - Choices
Choices covers a great deal of topics, from such choices as degree of lucidity (which differs in different mental disorders, and will be discussed further in a later chapter), personality, appearance, and other things. Those topics not directly dealing with the purpose of this guide will not be discussed in this section.

One of the more important choices to make in creating a character is what sort of mental disturbance your character has. A non-comprehensive list can be found here. These disorders have been culled from various lists, including the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is partially recorded in this link.

Important disorders of note (i.e. disorders that, in my experience, are the most often used in RP) are the many schizophrenias and schizophrenia-like disorders, the dissociative disorders (particularly dissociative amnesia), the personality disorders, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, delirium and dementia and eating disorders. It is crucial to note that not all, or even most of these conditions have symptoms involving hallucinations, visual, auditory or olfactory. One need not perceive things that aren't there to be "insane". They simply must have something wrong going on in their mental functioning.

  • !c. - Causes
What is the reason for your character's condition? Abuse is commonly linked to dissociative disorders, while schizophrenia has links to a partially biological basis. Delirium and dementia are commonly found in the old, and eating disorders are frequently caused by bullying, such as that caused in one's school years, or perhaps being in a job that requires a state of leanness. Whatever the causes of the disorder, one must present it believably, such as that the reason given (possibly in your character's history?) won't require much head-scratching from a reader's perspective to link it to your chosen mental disorder.
    • !ca. - Tragedy?
Tragedy causing a character's mental instability (for example, having a character's parents die in a trolley crash while the character is still a small child) is a slightly overdone thing, but if you have an excellent idea, go for it. However, by no means should you go off and write something entirely out-of-the-way unless you can pull it off gloriously.
(A side note: By no means does tragedy just mean a death. Being abused, whether sexually, emotionally or physically is a tragedy as well. Being violently and painfully injured or tortured is a tragedy. Basically, anything violent and sudden can count as a tragedy.)

  • !d. - Lucidity
Lucidity is how "clear" one's thoughts and ideas are. Think of it as a character's state of consciousness. If one is in a coma, full-blown and basically a vegetable, they would be on the opposite side of lucidity from a person who, although lacking the ability to even move, can think thoughts clearly and eloquently. For one trapped in that condition (a real-life condition termed Locked-In Syndrome), life can be a living hell.
Coming back to our original point, the different disorders may have different degrees of lucidity, and in different portions of life. For one with anorexia nervosa, they may function and think normally in life, but in regards to their body image and proper nutrition, their thoughts are deeply disturbed. For one with dissociative disorder, their thoughts about food may not be distorted, but their perception of life and time can often be grossly distorted. For one with paranoid disorder, their ideas about almost anything might be disturbed or strange, and for one with simple schizophrenia, all perceptions might be incorrect. Perceptions of hallucinations generally point to a lack of lucidity in a character.


@. - Plot


  • @a. - Fitting Storylines
For all the good that having an amazingly fleshed out character does you, it doesn't do you anything if it doesn't fit in the plot of the RP or story you're making it for. Consider the role that your character's mental disorder has when you try to formulate or fit a plot. If you've written your character with a large reliance on the mental disorder to flesh out your character as opposed to other facets of them and subsequently find there's practically no room for your character to grow in that regard, consider going back the drawing board and perhaps develop other things concerning your character. Likewise, if you see that your character seems to be lacking a bit in the description regarding his or her mental disorder and how it affects him or her compared to how you'd like your character to progress, you may want to build your character again from the ground up.

  • @b. - Interaction With Others
Considering everything we've previously discussed, this section should be quite obvious. One must stress the idea of continuity, which is an idea that will be further delved into in following chapters. Your character, whether fully aware of their actions or almost totally unaware that their thoughts are irrational, must act and react in ways that make sense to them. This need not mean, of course, that they act rationally even if they're practically insane - however, what they do must have something that they perceive to be a reason. Insanity does not equate to flippancy - indeed, most, if not all people with schizophrenia are not even aware that they have a problem, and believe it's the world, and not them, that lacks sanity.

  • @c. - Return or Death
One of the more important things to figure out is how your character will end up at the end of the RP. Will they have returned to a (semi-)normal existence and no longer suffer from a mental ailment, or will they die along or at the end of the RP? Not allowing the character to have closure in their plot before the RP ends is not usual practise, although if you wish to write in a sequel to the RP, it may do you some good to preserve that character and their attendant mental problems.

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Disturbed: Playing Characters With Mental Disorders - Sectio

Tips: 0.00 INK Postby Discipline on Fri Nov 25, 2011 8:40 pm

#. - Characterisation


  • #a. - Writing Style
The telling of your character's story should be conveyed easily through the style of your writing. Some favour idiosyncratic styles that often clip words and use different diction (word choice) and syntax (word order) than usual; others prefer writing normally, and bringing the character to life through solely actions and words. I personally prefer the former - there's a certain biting edge, I feel, that one gets when you write similarly to how some of these sufferers of mental conditions think. Nevertheless, what one should strive for should be clarity, individuality, and interest.

  • #b. - Change Through Story
People with mental disorders, of course, should not remain the same throughout an entire story, lest they become dull and useless. A character that has no change, whether plot-wise or personality-wise, is a boring one.
This, of course, does not mean that they should have sudden and random changes. Continuity should be stressed here. Character development should be realistic, and the character should be affected realistically, with careful attention to everything.

    • #ba. - Too Much Change?
    • When does your character change too much? That is not an easily answered question, for every RP is different. However, when in doubt, ask yourself the following questions:

      • Does this "change" in a character's personality or environment have a point?

      • How will this affect the plot? Will it make it more interesting, or even make it too confusing?

      • Does this make sense?

      • Will this fit with what's going on now?

      • #c. - Sliding Scales
      There's a sliding scale of sorts when it comes to writing these types of characters. Do you play the "mental condition" card in almost every post and try to constantly think about it and how it affects how your character perceives things, or do you, not wanting to overexpose your character, hardly touch it after writing it in your character description? I feel like this ties into the previous chapter well, because as your character develops, he or she may find that their condition may debilitate them more than before, or perhaps they are fighting it off. Who knows? Try to reflect your character's state of affairs through the careful consideration of how often you mention the condition.

    • #cb. - Irrationality
Writing schizophrenic characters, in particular, may be quite difficult because they are most affected by distorted perceptions. They are irrational to our mind, and yet, when we write them, we must do our best to show, and not tell. Their actions must make sense to them. To further facilitate this, when I write from a schizophrenic's perspective, I oftentimes will do the following:

  • Use a more clean, "clinical" way of description.

  • Always write what your character perceives, and not what is real and then say things such as "however, he did not realise it was actually so-and-so."
  • Finally, writing in such a way that reflects your character's jumbled mess of thoughts may also help a lot.

  • |. - Closing Notes


    • |a. - Method Writing
    The Method system of acting stresses submersion into your role - that is, studying the personality and understanding your character to such a level that you, in essence, become that character when you get on stage and act. I practise and preach a same method for writing from a character's view. If you cannot understand why your character is doing some action or another, then perhaps you should try to flesh out your idea of that character more, or consider changing something here and there so you can see it making sense.
    This style of writing should be quickly discerned from "self-insertion", a practise that some writers, lacking enough inspiration to create a whole new character, perform when they write. The crucial difference is that self-insertion is placing yourself into a story, and Method writing is becoming a character in a story.

    • |b. - Tastefulness
Like any other minority group, it is important to stress the idea of good taste when writing as a character that is suffering from a mental disorder. You should research mental disorders before you begin to write about a character having them, and only when you feel confident placing yourself in the shoes of that character should you decide to create a character with a mental disorder.



Thank you for perusing, and have fun roleplaying on RoleplayGateway!

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