Monday, May 18, 2015

Writing Characters with Depression

A character in Gods on the Mountain has at least three episodes of great depression described in the book, one of which is in a flashback. These happen after three separate incidents, including the death of a friend. When I say he gets depressed, I mean he gets depressed hard. He shuts down. He's unable to do anything. He wallows in misery. All self-confidence is zapped out of him. He sees his talents and his worth as being lower than dirt. Even though he's nominally one of the heroes, he doesn't see himself as a hero, and he doesn't bear any of the cockiness so prevalent in many fantasy or science fiction heroes.

I based this largely off of my own experiences with severe depression.

Let me clarify that I'm not describing bipolar disorder, which is something else entirely, and which I've been told I don't have. There are other (non-genetic) reasons for my habit of depression which I can't go into here without turning it into a whiny sympathy-fishing-fest. Suffice to say, there are factors from my history that lead me to get the way I often do, but with the help of my selfless wife and supportive friends, I've been steadily recovering and trying to manage it. However, it's something still very real that I struggle with every now and then.

Is there anybody out there...?

When I try to articulate how I feel in such depressive episodes, I find it's a difficult condition to try to explain for others, because it's more than being "bummed out." Telling a person to "man up" in such a situation won't work. What's more, it's not possible to simply come out and say, "Yeah, I'm feeling down, and here's why." It's like your body just shuts down, mentally and emotionally. Whatever accomplishments you've made that day feel like nothing. It's like writing a 50,000 WIP in one day, only to have your computer crash with nothing saved - everything you've done, according to your depressed mentality, suddenly has no meaning. That's what it feels like.

I had one such episode this week, when during the evening I got into an argument with a friend. Without giving too much away, I said something poorly worded, and as a result they felt insulted and shut down the conversation. I felt bad because my intent wasn't to be mean or insult anyone, especially a friend. I didn't have anything else to say to the person, because my mind literally locked up, and I didn't know what to say. The guilt became stronger. I realized I couldn't get any sleep. I think I only got about two hours of sleep that night. Worst yet, I was struggling with myself on the inside, saying, "Just apologize," or, "Stand up for yourself." Part of me said, "This is stupid. You have bigger things to worry about. Move on with life." Even these internal voices fell on deaf ears. I'm writing all this as just as an example of how difficult depression can be for those who struggle with it.

When I wrote the depression scenes with the character mentioned before, I didn't just leave him depressed. There's a way out. Things happen that lift his spirits. I tried to show that there are ways out of depression, and we don't need to see it as the end. It's not the same for everyone, and for many it's harder than others. My hope is that it's carried across well in the story itself.


  1. Struggling with severe depression myself, I'm glad that you found a way to write a depressed character into your book. I'm gonna have to check it out, as soon as I get a paycheck, that is. :)

    1. Thanks for the post :D I hope you find that it portrayed the condition well, and in a respectful manner.

  2. Interesting article. I have yet to encounter a writer, artist, musician... in fact any creative type... that doesn't experience some form of depression. It comes and goes and can manifest itself quite severely in some more than others.

    I often find some my best writing comes at a time of despair. It might not seem it at the time, but looking back over the frantic scrawls and jagged sentences they seem quite insightful. We all have our demons lurking inside, its how we deal with them that often determines whether we slip into that abyss or not.