On writing characters with PTSD

by Gilbert Beilschmidt

Question: Okay, so my MC has PTSD after being nearly-killed and drowned and set on fire and other really not nice stuff, and so he obviously suffers mentally. He's really distrustful and quiet and withdrawn around everyone but his nearly-boyfriend and his brother.

QUESTION: Is is cliche to have my MC suffer from nightmares, low self-esteem attacks, and anxiety around people apart from really, really (I mean unbelievably) close friend?

Answer: I'm assuming you've researched the symptoms of PTSD or have some experience with the typical effects.

The trick to avoid cliche is to remember that this illness is happening to one unique character in particular. You are describing how this person, with his unique history, strengths, weaknesses, talents, likes, relationships, etc. copes with the particular traumatic events that he alone experienced. His behaviour will not be exactly the same as anyone else suffering from trauma, except in broad terms.

You can paint all the houses in a neighbourhood blue, but that won't make them all look the same. Every house will still have its unique look and design. It will however make them all blue houses.

Be specific about your character -- his thoughts, feelings, and behaviour -- and you will avoid cliche.

The other thing to consider is that you bring to the story your skills as a writer. Your description of this character, your style, vocabulary, and voice, will be different from that of other writers. Try to find your unique way of telling the story, because that will also help you avoid cliche.

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