1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Handling depressed characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Feb 20, 2013.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I have a RP character, Chim, who is currently trapped in another world. He wound up there by accident when travelling alongside the villainess' disguised henchman, in complete ignorance that the villainess or her henchman even existed at all. Said henchman had been sent out looking for an escaped captive, and found Chim on the search, then decided one was as good as the other to bring back to his superior.

    Chim was freed by a friendly denizen of the other world, and took up refuge in a forest where he met more friends. The villainess, meanwhile, is spreading her evil into Chim's home world, seeking to conquer it alongside her own, something Chim knows nothing about and can do nothing about. The villainess will eventually be defeated in Chim's home world, and the gateway between the two will close. Unfortunately for Chim, that means he's still trapped in the other world, with no way to get home. Needless to say, he is none too pleased.

    Fast forward three years' time in the world Chim is trapped in (which is only a matter of weeks in his home world, during which far more interesting things happen to other characters), and he is now very depressed. My trouble is, I'm not at all sure how to portray it. I know the common symptoms -- lethargy, lack of will to do simple things like eating and taking care of himself, no enjoyment in what he used to find fun -- but it's getting into that mindset that's going to be hard. The timeskip is also part of the problem, which unfortunately can't be solved easily.

    I do not intend to RP three years of a spiral into depression where nothing happens that's at all relevant to the plot in Chim's home world; it's only after the three years have passed that another gateway opens, and people from Chim's home world stumble into the other one and meet Chim. Then they all go adventuring to defeat the henchman-turned-new-villain, who has risen up in place of his defeated mistress, before returning to their home world together. I intend for Chim to work his way slowly up out of depression during that time, helped along by his new friends and the hope of being able to go home again. The process may not be complete by the time he's home, but at least there'll be progress. Hopefully.

    tl;dr -- How the crap do I handle showing a character with depression, and getting him out of it in the midst of adventure?
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  2. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

    I think some form of addiction could be used. Depending on the personality traits of Chim, it could be any number of things. Risky and impulsive, gambling, sex, drugs; if he's more of a introvert then you could go with an over-obsessed project or self-harm, maybe even self-exile into the wild or something. Each would have it's own set of problems, and be more plot-moving then major-depression.

    Another thought, maybe have him start a whole new life, job, significant other, and actually be happy with his new life. Then when his buddies come back for him, he's torn apart by duty and past from his present happiness? That way, the adventure is a battle of wills, to stay in his world, or the other?
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Hm. Well, I'm not sure if any of those impulses would apply; Chim's not human, but a Fae. In the world he's trapped in, he lives in a forest that reminds him somewhat of his home but just isn't the same, and the guy who rescued him and brought him to the forest has to leave on a potentially dangerous mission to find the gateway to Chim's home world of Faerie, where Chim can't come along for various reasons: 1) The rift/gate is under the power of the villainess, who wants to kidnap and torture Fae to study them; 2) said gate lies in the midst of a vast underground cave network once inhabited by dwarves, which means there is a LOT of iron in there, which is highly toxic to Fae; 3) even the good guy looking for the gate doesn't know *exactly* where it is, just the general area, and he doesn't want Chim to get lost.

    While living in the forest, Chim has nothing to gamble with, nobody to have sex with (unless he wants to get into bestiality), and no access to drugs (except possibly mushrooms). He doesn't have a job, whether in his world or in the one he's trapped in (hard to find work when you live alone in a forest far from civilization). No significant other, either, for reasons stated above and below. He's the only one of his kind in that world; hardly anyone has even heard of Fae, and those who do only know because they helped rescue Cadell, the guy whom the henchman was actually searching for in the first place, who is a different type of Fae than Chim. None of Cadell's rescuers know of Chim's existence, and he doesn't know them either. The people who eventually end up taking him back to the other world are there unintentionally, and they have no idea who he is before they meet him, although they become friends along their journey. Chim really has nothing tying him to the other world, so he'll be overjoyed to go home again. No real conflict there at all.
  4. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I think what you really need to do is find a depression support board and just read what people have to say about what they think and feel, or if you know someone who is depressed talk to them. My fiance is suffering from depression so it's something I'm living through at the moment, but I'm not sure I could do his feelings justice in describing them.

    But what I will say about it is that his behaviour has changed. His whole personality has changed. Before he was outgoing, the first to suggest social events, and the one to invite the most people others didn't know, cheerful, loud, basically the leader of our friend group. Now he avoids leaving the house if he can, tending only to go even to the supermarket when I'm there with him. He talks only to a small group of people. On the bad days he exclusively uses grunts or even texts to communicate with me, even when I'm standing right next to him, and won't talk to anyone else at all except via me (seriously, I've had to talk to his Mum on his behalf like this before).

    He has developed an obsessive personality over a particular fandom (something he'd never have done before he became despressed - he was happy just to enjoy something and move on), for the purpose of escapism, to the point that he has written tens of thousands of words of fanfiction in it, where before he never did anything creative and even joked that he was illiterate.

    So one way you can portray your character's depression is to show a huge change in the way he acts and reacts to things around him. If before he was sensible, now he might take unreasonable risks; if before he was very physically active, now he might not move at all if he can avoid it. If he was laid back, now he might become obsessive over something unimportant, or engross himself in a task or fantasy to distract himself from reality.
    Ireth likes this.
  5. WyrdMystic

    WyrdMystic Inkling

    If he is not human, then think about how the symptoms would manifest in a fae. It may be a different form of madness more suited to his nature. Otherwise, check the boards, research - there's plenty out there and many forms depression can take.
    Ireth likes this.
  6. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    One thing I think is that every scene needs its character to find a purpose soon, and a lot of depression is giving up on purposes.

    So, look around for at least some token goal --a half-baked scheme for getting home, a hope to chip out a stone hunting knife without it breaking, observing the locals, anything-- that fills part of his scenes, or maybe a larger danger of getting caught or something that he has to keep an eye on. The depression probably means he's only going through the motions of dealing with this thing, but he still half-cares.

    If his scenes don't have some goal like this as a spine, they'll sink into just a muddle of pain and hopelessness. That's good for a page or so, but to stretch it any longer it needs that spine.
  7. Rob P

    Rob P Minstrel

    I'm always reminded of the scenes where Gollum/Smeagol talks to himself rationalising and not rationalising his inner conflict. As mentioned above something for your character to focus on. Gollum had the ring and how it consumed him.

    Your character has depression which can manifest in so many different ways. If Chim is the hero in your work then to have him fall to rise again only to be dragged back down again would be intense for the reader, hoping that he could rise once more. So perhaps he allows the depression to take him but focuses on something darker to lift him out of depression into something else, manifestations of anger, hatred. Have some interest draw him away from that self-destruction to perhaps see some light in his world only for his people to find him bringing the focus of his original depression back into his life. Granted they will be searching and on an adventure but will Chim succumb to his previous incarnations of depression, anger, hatred, self-destreuction or will he prevail and become freed of those chains.
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    You could always read another work that deals with the issue and see how that author handled it. See, for example, Slyvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Unfortunately, Plath had first-hand experience with clinical depression.
  9. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Thanks for the suggestions, guys. ^^ Though I don't know how much space I'll be able or willing to devote to his character development throughout the three years he's trapped, since the real focus of the story is on the gateways that open and close between the worlds, and the major characters who pass through them. Chim is not a major character, and was never really intended to be; his entry in the story was literally a whim. Whether or not he proves to be instrumental in defeating the next bad guy remains to be seen.
  10. Kit

    Kit Maester

    Many depressed people sleep a lot. And yes, the escapism... it's difficult to rouse up an interest in *anything*, but sometimes one can get fixated on some kind of mindless diversion. Also part of that aspect is that it's difficult to focus. Nothing seems important, so even if you get started doing a task, after a few minutes you're like, "F this..." and wander away.
  11. Jaredonian

    Jaredonian Dreamer

    One of the unfortunate things about writing a depressed character is that the symptoms of some different illnesses don't necessarily make for a very pro-active character, as you seem to have discovered already (which isn't to say it hasn't been done well before). Reluctance to do even simple tasks is a common symptom, and for a main character would probably cause a lot of problems in keeping them interesting. That being said, for this to work well in a story, I think it would be important to allow your readers to develop sympathy for Chim by showing him early on in his home world when he is happy, so that later on in his story when he has become depressed, they will be rooting for him to get better, and then give him some sort catharsis at the end that will finish his story arc. Even minor character deserve satisfying ends to their stories. I also think that Chim as a character sounds pretty interesting, and he sounds like he could really be used well to help learn more about his world, provide a different perspective on the other world, and also tell an interesting character story.
  12. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Well, he showed up in the middle of a very long, ongoing RP, which I don't plan to turn into a publishable story due to its crossover elements with Tolkien's universe. The RP is a private project between a friend and me, so it's not as though anyone else can actually read it. He does appear in my novel Winter's Queen (actually he was there first, and I brought him over to the RP later), but under entirely different circumstances and plot, and again as a very minor character.
  13. Alex97

    Alex97 Troubadour

    You could use dreams to convey his depression. Although it's not necessarily a symptom of depression, nightmares can be linked with all sorts of psychological problems.

    A while ago I wrote about an ex special forces operator, turned PMC (private military contractor). He was captured and tortured alongside his friend who is later killed. After his escape he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and often has nightmares where he sees his friend being killed. He arrived home to find his wife dead and saw her in the same dream in place of his friend. I felt that this worked well in conveying the character's depression and guilt alongside a suicide attempt and an alcohol addiction.

    Perhaps Chim could dream of his homeland and reminisce. As his depression worsens these positive memories could become distorted.
    Ireth likes this.
  14. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Yes, good point; my fiance gets nightmares. He also has a weird sleep pattern. He'll sleep 16 hours straight then stay awake 4 hours, sleep 2, stay awake 24, sleep 12 etc. And sometimes he hallucunates - sees or hears things. You could use that sort of stuff.
    Ireth likes this.
  15. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

    I'm going to be completely open; I'm officially diagnosed with depression (and anxiety, but hey, one thing at a time right :D). So, if you're looking for someone with inside information, I suppose I can help. But, I'll say it now, everything I say will concern me and only me; others with the same or similar condition might feel different or might identify with me, I don't know. Hopefully it's enough to give you ideas though.

    Depression, as far as I understand, isn't a permanent case of the blues as some people think. I don't feel like crap every waking minute of the day. I did, for a time, but that passed years ago and was directly linked to something (a girl, go figure). I have my down moments these days, just like anyone, but for the most part depression is just an emptiness. You can do things; I write, obviously, and I work out, I have a job, etc. But there's no satisfaction, no feeling of accomplishment with these things, no matter how great the amount of work I put into them.

    Basically, don't feel like your character always has to be withdrawn or acting sad. I laugh, I make fun of myself and others, I speak up when I need to, hell I even dance (though not well). Depression doesn't define a person, it is simply one more layer that makes up a whole. Hell, others might not even realise your character IS depressed. I know personally that, usually, when I tell people about my condition they are surprised.

    As far as dreams, I experience vivid ones that often bleed into my memories, making them seem real. I haven't seen that presented in stories often, so that might be worth considering. However, I believe this is a product of the medication I take more than anything.

    As far as addictions, that depends on your character. Personally, I have an addictive personality; when I find something good, I stick with it. I believe this feeds into a subconscious desire to avoid being hurt but, then again, that could just be me. Though I'll be honest, I've done drugs. I never found them to my liking. I smoked for years and still feel the urge to; I liked doing it, and only quit because it was severly affecting my health. Alcohol, well, I'll admit to enjoying a certain oblivion with it. I don't set out to black out, if you know what I mean, but I drink enough when I do to forget the world and its problems. I sit back and enjoy, usually a good anime, and that's enough for me to blow off any steam.

    I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to ask here or in a PM. Depression, I feel, isn't well represented in fiction. If I can do anything to help that, I will.
  16. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

    I'd like to add something to my previous post.

    I was given a thanks for posting what I did. I sincerely thank that person (you know who you are) for that, but I'd like to just say that what I did wasn't courageous. Speaking about it is a part of therapy, whether in real life or here on the internet, and if anyone that is reading this suffers the same condition please, speak up. It helps, I can promise you that.

    Also, for the OP, I believe this is another important part of depression (and mental health in general). People do what they can to hide these conditions because they feel it's not "normal". Your character could deal with their issue by slowly, as the story progresses, opening up to others about it, therefore getting it out in the open and allowing them to deal with it. Bottling it up is what a lot of people, at least in my personal experience, seem to do and yet it's the absolute WORST thing they could do.

Share This Page