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How to Write/Show Psychological Struggle

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ShadeZ, Oct 23, 2021.

  1. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    I have a character who dies/is betrayed and killed in battle by someone he thought was a close ally. However, due to other forces he ends up dying but coming back as something called a siigradur (silver one). His only memory is the last few minutes of the betrayal, he wakes to find battle field raiders picking over his corpse for coin and so on and they immediately try to kill him. Silvers are not too dissimilar to vampires, they are difficult to kill, they usually are classifiable as "dead" their soul or personality remains but they have a sharp increase of predatory urges and skills to match and in this case a lot of that aggression would be human directed since his only memory is of his murder.

    This character is alone for a long time left with faint memories he cannot reach echoes of a former life that he can't access and finding himself suddenly in a form that is incredibly aggressive and instinctive.

    Question is how to show his internal struggles with this. There are instances where for example he encounters someone he knew and knows not to harm her. Sort of a he knows her but does not remember her and also doesn't want to be seen as what he became.
     
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Generally, you use a character arc to demonstrate a character’s struggle. A personal or psychological struggle would mean that they are both the conflict’s protagonist and antagonist or, in other terms, they are their own worst enemy.
    This can take forms like them working off of faulty information or assumptions, making poor decisions or taking self-defeating actions, choosing to be inactive when they should be proactive, or operating on emotions when they should approach a problem logically (and vice versa).

    So, like if he doesn’t harm this lady because he has an impulse not to: so what? However, if he should logically harm her (like she poses a threat to him) but his impulse prevents him from doing so, that demonstrates a personal conflict. If he attempts to learn about her in an effort to learn about himself but hanging around her endangers him, that furthers the conflict.
     
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  3. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    Almost the opposite. He has to fight the impulse to harm her. What remains of him humanity knows her but his impulsive side sees she is a threat. It isn't helped that she thinks he is a Kilka (a rabid silver known to kill indiscriminately) and tries to kill him shortly after they are reunited.
     
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Well, there’s an impulse from his human side and an impulse from his vampire side.
    The human side, the conflict’s protagonist, is sending the impulse not to harm her through the logical process of “I know and she’s a friend”. The vampire side, the conflict’s antagonist, is sending the impulse to harm her through the animalistic process of “I’m a savage killer so I got to harm her”.

    Imagine there’s a little angle and a little demon inside his head piloting him like a giant robot. His thoughts are an argument between the two and his actions are the two of them fighting for control. That would be my advise for writing him. He should probably walking that line between thinking and acting like a rational human or an instinctual monster without going too far into either direction.
    Though I guess conventional story structure would dictate that he falls furthest into the monster side around the halfway point of the story while he reaches his most human around the end.
     
  5. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    Actually him waking up to the raiders is the end of the first book. He (Colson) runs into her (Clair) close to the beginning of the next book. In life, he was friends with pure vampires (easiest way to put it without a lengthy explanation) which is partly why he doesn't stay in the grave long. She knows enough to know the rabid version are so tortured and beyond help they consider death a mercy. The question show to show this? The story is third person pov not first so his thinking isn't told often it is shown? Best I have is that he might react like an animal before regaining sanity and in many cases where humans would react he would be apathetic. Example: He might grab her before noticing her/recognizing it is her. Because even later he is able to prevent himself from hurting her even as she is outright attacking him thinking he is feral.

    EDIT: also one of the hallmark changes is he can not no matter how much he tries feel empathy he can understand how a situation would suck, and he can remember what empathy felt like but his new mind considers it a weakness/something from a dream. To him the idea is as foreign as a dream where you have wings but do not in reality.

    The instinctive bit is not too unlike being trapped in a feeling of extreme anxiety (Kinda PTSD(ish)?) as it is his mind reliving the memory of his murder and reacting aggressively to the betrayal.

    EDIT #2: Come to think of it, it is almost exactly like a very dramatic variant of severe PTSD where the sufferer has a magically enhanced body to boot. So any aggressive outbursts are far worse. Plus lack of empathy and a species that has to kill to survive. Recipe for a massacre.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2021
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    You're throwing a little too many plot points at me without me having a good grasp on the story.
    I guess to kind of break things down:
    - Conventional story structure would imply he dips into his most "antagonistic" (as in, most monsterous) at the middle point. But just because that's the conventional thing, doesn't mean it's necessary or even expected. I'm just saying that while you would ideally have him right on the line between the two extremes, that doesn't mean he can't (at points in the story) dip into one extreme or the other.
    - The character has thoughts even if their thoughts are not shown to the reader. You should probably think of the characters decision making process as an argument between his human side and his vampire side. Sometimes the human wins and sometimes the vampire wins. Again he goes back and forth on the two perspectives without fully committing to one or the other (at least through most of the story). These un-shown thoughts would manifest as actions (specifically decisions) which is how the reader understands them.
    - Empathy can be a cognitive process as well as an emotional process. That might be worth remembering. Lack of compassion doesn't necessarily mean an absence of empathy.

    I guess what I would need to know is that is the vampire side of them a strictly Id-driven emotional illogical and irrational ailment on them while the human side is a strictly Superego-driven logical and moral "true self" that needs to be reestablished as their dominant personality?
    Like, is this basically like a werewolf story where the wolfman has to drive off "the beast within them". If so, werewolf stories, traditionally, focus on the character's guilt and remorse for actions taken while in the wolf persona and their drive to lift that curse acts as a metaphor for personal redemption and an absolution of guilt. Often that takes the form of a self-sacrifice for the sake of protecting others from the wolf persona - basically killing the villain by killing themselves - as self-sacrifice is generally considered very heroic but also very difficult.
    Depicting your character as unsure in their humanity, insecure or in fear of their monstrous side and having those emotions dictate his choices, perspectives and actions would probably be the proper way to demonstrate the character's internal struggle.

    Also: not super-related but you should check-out the movie Martin from 1978. It's a vampire movie, kind of. It's about a guy named Martin who moves in with his older and more religious cousin who believes Martin is a vampire. Martin dismisses the notion, even dressing-up a Dracula to mock his cousin. However, deep down, Martin believes he IS a vampire of sorts as he's compelled to kill women and drink their blood. And his hunt for blood causes a lot of problems, including being beaten-up by one of his chosen victims and being chased by police. He does attempt to give-up on his blood hunt and start a romantic relationship but his psychosis makes him so emotional maladjusted that he can't have a normal human relationship. The whole love story just becomes really sad and pathetic.
    But the point is that through the movie, Martin attempts to give into his "curse" and live as a vampire but that causes problems (by putting him in physical danger) while other times he tells himself there are no vampires and lives as a human but that also causes problems (namely causing him despair and misery). Since neither scenario is ideal, he just wavers between the two and that wavering is how his internal conflict is demonstrated.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2021
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  7. ButlerianHeretic

    ButlerianHeretic Minstrel

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    I tend to try if possible to remember an emotion that feels similar to what I'm writing about, or at least is analogous as a starting point. Like knowing a feeling is wrong but still feeling an urge to react according to that feeling. Feeling like I should have more empathy for someone in a situation and exploring the cognitive dissonance involved in that internal conflict. Sometimes acting a bit, getting into the headspace of fear or anger and using that as a starting point. I also feel like having a strong background in practical psychology helps with this kind of thing because it makes it easier to unpack what is going on with a feeling and explain it to someone who might never have felt such emotions. Maybe dig into The Emotion Thesaurus.
     
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