Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writing Characters with Psychological Disorders: Help for a Rescuing Psychiatrist

Lynda: I have been meaning to speak with you regarding your workshop at the last RMFW conference. I had spoken to you about some challenges regarding a character (a Psychiatrist) who stays late at work one night and witnesses patient experimentation at a private facility, and then helps that patient to escape.

You had mentioned that the Psychiatrist (Tara is her name) must have some sort of heroism and realize that in her own self. I thought you were right on target as I had done an Enneagram on her about a year ago, and decided that was one of her main character traits. I had mentioned that my critique group is having difficulty believing her plight, as her behavior is very unprofessional. You told me that perhaps I need to make her internal motive BIGGER. I agree with you, but I am still struggling to figure out a more personal motive to drive her to help him escape. It's not an attraction to the patient or anything.

A little history: She had an affair with the Administrator of the facility and I am wondering if I should either make it an adulterous affair on her part so that Raymond (the patient) witnesses something. OR- I am also considering her releasing him as an act of revenge (the administrator ended the relationship) but the latter sounds a little weak on her part and both are still very unprofessional.

Thoughts? Have you seen anything in your professional career that might fit/help this scenario? It seems that anything I am going with, internal fear for the patient, revenge, adultery, is weakening Tara too much and she really needs to help him escape. The patient can't do it without her and I also need her to be the sleuth of sorts and reveal information so she has to take her time before she reports anything to authorities.

Also, in an effort to isolate the aging gene, the patient (Raymond) has had his DNA tampered with and is able to heal more quickly and also slow his aging. The side effect of his genetic tampering has caused him to have an obsession with burning things (pyromania) which I know is a childhood illness. I think this fits well with his slower aging as he has regressed in some areas of his personality. Could this illness (pyromania) be susuppressed with treatment/therapy only to reveal itself later in life after a near-death experience?

BTW, I thought your workshop was fascinating and I was very pleased with what I learned. I was able to use it for a secondary character who has schizophrenia. Any information you can give me on the above would be very helpful.
Sincerely, P.N.

P.N.: Wow. A couple of interesting questions to launch my new series. Thanks so much for offering them! The most fun part of talking about these issues will be the comments and the discussion. I hope lots of people will chime in!
I think I probably said something about the psychiatrist being a "rescuer." Many of us helping types have a strong dose of that archetype. And, the "rescuer" is commonly found in a triangle with the "victim" and the "perpetrator/aggressor." I think it's completely probable that Tara might be driven by her need to protect the underdog. She might have something in her background -- a trauma in her childhood -- that caused her to be uber-sensitive about the victimization of others.

J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas from the "Death" series comes to mind. Due to experiences in her early life, Eve has a highly-developed (some might say obsessional) need for rules, justice and taking a stand for the victimized. What could have happened to Tara to cause her to act out her rescuer tendencies? What is the underlying pattern that fuels her decision? She might be triggered by something in the present environment, but the button was probably created long ago. I'm a "Harry Potter" fan, and Hermoine often points out Harry's tendency to rescue -- to leap in without thinking due to his childhood. I don't think Tara's affair needs to have anything to do with her urge to protect this patient.

Re: the pyromania. I've never had any hands-on experience with a fire-starter in therapy, so I hope others will share their experiences. But the good news is that we write fiction, which means we get to rearrange reality to suit our purposes! Pyromania (and many other conditions) can be managed through therapy and treatment, only to reappear later for many reasons. I like the idea of a near-death experience. Or even an experience from another life! Sky's the limit.

Awesome topics. I will check back throughout the day between clients. Let's get a good discussion going in the comments section. If you have a question for a future post, please send it to: boulderboomer@aol.com


Blogger Debbie said...

Really interesting concept. I'd love to see what you do with it. Your question leads me to some questions of my own.

Is this story taking place in our world?
Why is the patient in the facility in the first place?
Is he the only patient being experimented on?
Could he just be moved somewhere else?
Why wouldn't she report the experimentation to law enforcement and let them deal with it? (She'd still be rescuing.)

Depending on where the story is set, the last question would be the big stumbling block for me as a reader. There would have to be a compelling reason for her to avoid telling the police or I'd be bounced out of the story.

Good luck with it. I'll be watching for it on the shelves.

8:36 AM  
Blogger N. R. Williams said...

You've asked many excellent questions. Lynda has some great answers. I will say from my personal experience, my mother had an overwhelming need to help the underdog. She was a nurse. Because of this I too go to the rescue of the person who is being targeted by, bullies, or because of their race or personality. I can't help it. I'm miss understanding. I have even opposed a manager openly in the work force because she was such a racist. That didn't win me any brownie points let me tell you.

The other person commented on the police which I think is easy. Simply establish some reason early on but don't go overboard on description. One or two sentences here and there in you ms. about the reasons to keep things hush, hush. Or maybe your heroine has cried "wolf" once to often and the police don't believe her anymore.

If it were I, seeing someone tortured, I would try to help. This sounds like a great read. Good luck.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Gail Storey said...

Lynda--fascinating blog, a winning combination of writing and psychological insight!

9:54 AM  
Blogger Tara Maya said...

I like the idea of doing Enneagrams for characters. I've done something similar, although I used Meyers-Briggs.

4:34 PM  
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11:49 AM  

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