Writing: Firsthand Accounts of Psychological Disorders
There is some good, juicy stuff on the internet today for writers, courtesy of Rachel M. Brown.
For full disclosure, I haven’t read her book, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, about her childhood as a Jewish-American in a religious compound in India. That’s neither here nor there, really. What I want to talk about is contained in The Neon Season, her livejournal account. In it she discusses her own experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, and how its symptoms have manifested in her.
I want to point out two things before linking.
The first is that her main target in terms of characters suffering from PTSD are fictional characters from a Japanese cartoon series. I don’t personally have an issue with this – I don’t get the appeal of the series, but people have said the same thing to me about Sabatini, so I shrug and figure we all have our crosses to bear. However, when she starts talking about things like Gundam pilots, it’s not psychological code, Yiddish, or Hindi – it’s a cartoon character. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the reference isn’t all that important.
The second is that this is only one person’s experience. Far from being a drawback, for me, this is the core and crux of why it’s important to read and absorb it. For far too long, too many authors have taken a truly complex topic and tried to make it appear universal. If even ten percent of budding writers listen to Ms. Brown when she says that flashbacks don’t involve “… a lot of screaming and enough dialogue that onlookers can not only figure out what’s going on, but can follow the story of the memory like a radio play,” then I’ll be a happy boy.
Paying attention to individual experiences is key to writing well. You need to understand that different people react to situations differently, especially when you’re writing about people who have dealt with horrific situations. Look at Stephen Metcalfe’s play Strange Snow for a good example: Both Megs and Davey become self-destructive after Vietnam, but one deals with it in explosive fits of temper while the other drinks it slowly away every night.
I’m willing to bet that Metcalfe met with a number of PTSD survivors while writing the play. Now, thanks to the internet, you can find dozens of self-revelatory journals in a matter of minutes. Read them. Process them. Try to understand them, or, failing that, file their experiences away for use in a later work of your own.
Start with Ms. Brown’s three-part series, “A User’s Guide to PTSD.” Start here. Start now.
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