Advice on Writing my Heroine who deals with Depression?


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Thread: Advice on Writing my Heroine who deals with Depression?

  1. #1

    Advice on Writing my Heroine who deals with Depression?

    Since I'm writing from her perspective (first-person perspective), I am writing everything my heroine feels. No doubt, she's lived a very hard life. She's an only-child and all she wants is to be the best. Mentally, she is very hard on herself if she falls short of anything. She wants to make her parents proud of her. My heroine serves in the military and throughout her service, her body and mind go through so much wear and tear. Suffers from PTSD, has lots of nightmares. Naturally, she deals with depression a lot. The question is, how and how often do I write that as part of her thought process?

    At some point in the story, she sort of questions her existence. Why is she here? Why was she born into this cruel world? What is her true purpose? My heroine is only human, a mortal, and I feel this is something many humans deal with. Depression. There might be a moment where she considers suicide but her best friend comforts her in the nick of time to shift her thoughts away from that.

    I've read a lot about how readers feel about depressed character. I don't want to make my heroine's thought process sad so the readers stop reading. But I feel it's essential to her character. If she gets to the level of suicidal thoughts, she has a strong support group to lift her out of it.

    Tips on writing a main character who suffers from depression? What to write? How to write it? If she is a little bit suicidal at some point, how would I write that without going overboard?

  2. #2
    If I was to approach this I'd write very little of how she thought of it. I'd add only one or two direct thoughts from her early on, but from that point I'd use the way a depressed person would see the world in the descriptions rather than directly pointing to depression. Imagine SHE was writing the story and not you. That's what I'm doing with The Broken Swan. I'm not writing the story, Tommy is.
    Craft / Draft / Graft And Write To Entertain.

  3. #3
    I understand your question but I'd like to step back from it just a little bit and widen the idea to "making the character a certain way" because a lot of your threads are questions about character design.

    I'm not sure how hardcore planners go at character design but as more of a discovery writer/pantser a lot of my process of figuring characters out is to simply think about a situation that they're in or even imagine interviewing the character outside of the story and spend some time writing that, write them. Step into that headspace where I am them because that's the headspace I need as the writer and what I think the reader is also looking for.

    So, for instance, you're thinking up a character and she deals with depression. You're going to want to get a sense of her living with this condition. Whether it's a clinical/chemical cause of depression or dealing with bad things that have happened and how severe it is...I can't tell you that as an outsider to your process. You have to look at her history and feel her personality, imagine her reacting to various situations and get to know her like you'd get to know anyone else.

    As for how often to mention her mental state in the text, this won't be perfect at first. You're going to have to get to the point where you write and refine what you've written anyway because there are various factors at play. When you've written part of this and read it over, you'll ask yourself questions about it like:

    Does this part with character thoughts serve a purpose that moves the story forward?

    Is this part slowing the story down in the wrong place? (Pacing - there are times where you want a slower pace and sometimes you can't afford it)

    Does this reveal too much too fast, does it do what I want it to do within the story?

    And you'll want to get feedback on parts you've written from readers so that they can tell you if what you're writing is working or if it's getting bogged down.

  4. #4
    Decide on a negative habit when she feels very down. It could be over eating, not eating, legal drugs (cigarettes, alcohol), illegal drugs, putting herself down verbally, staying in bed all day, not talking to anyone, self harm, etc. Have this a a common thing she does and sprinkle in others as the situation fits. Assuming you want her to function you need ways for her to get out of these funks and perhaps an overall way the depression ends, depending on how your story goes. Also consider there are levels of depression and levels to their reaction. A person can over eat a little by having an extra scoop of ice cream or over eat a lot eating an entire 2L carton at once.
    K.S. Crooks- Dreamer and Author

  5. #5
    Do you want to write her with PTS or depression? While people suffering with PTS often display symptoms of depression, it's a different thing. Is she also suffering from blast induced traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

    I suggest doing your homework. PTSD has become a buzzword and a vehicle for demonizing our returning vets. Too many times, the attitude is "Watch out! He has PTSD and is a ticking time bomb!" Our vets deserve better treatment by society and the VA.

    PTS isn't a disorder anymore than any other war wound. We don't say a vet has "Missing Limb Disorder" or "A Body Full of Shrapnel Disorder".

  6. #6

    I like that you are taking on the challenge of writing a character that has depression. I think it is a poignant subject, and one that has not been covered enough in fiction, IMO. Most people have either experienced it directly or indirectly at some point in their life, and many suffer with it their entire life. If you can write a character that touches readers because they can relate or you have helped them to understand it better, then that would be a strong point in your story.


    As others have indicated, there are of course many different forms of depression, so I recommend researching and making a decision which type to adopt, and try not to waver from one to the other.

    When I listen to your MC’s personal questions it makes me think of a quotation I once heard. I can’t remember who said it, I think it may have been the Dalai Lama:

    "Depression is the difference between where you are and where you want to be."

    I’m wondering if your Heroine spends much of the story trying to cure and treat her depression, but then at some point realizes it's merely a symptom of not following her own dreams. It sounds like she has spent much of her life trying to please others. Does she make the connection at some point? Does finding herself relieve the depression?

    I recommend Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman for research.

    As far as the suicide part, I think it could be interestng that she considers it, but stops herself, because she realizes she has too much to live for. It could be very dramatic to write and a lot of readers could relate to that.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  7. #7
    There are plenty of depressed characters. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Very depressed in the first book.

    Sherlock Holmes exhibits symptoms of Clinical Depression.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post

    I like that you are taking on the challenge of writing a character that has depression. I think it is a poignant subject, and one that has not been covered enough in fiction, IMO. Most people have either experienced it directly or indirectly at some point in their life, and many suffer with it their entire life. If you can write a character that touches readers because they can relate or you have helped them to understand it better, then that would be a strong point in your story.


    As others have indicated, there are of course many different forms of depression, so I recommend researching and making a decision which type to adopt, and try not to waver from one to the other.

    When I listen to your MC’s personal questions it makes me think of a quotation I once heard. I can’t remember who said it, I think it may have been the Dalai Lama:

    "Depression is the difference between where you are and where you want to be."

    I’m wondering if your Heroine spends much of the story trying to cure and treat her depression, but then at some point realizes it's merely a symptom of not following her own dreams. It sounds like she has spent much of her life trying to please others. Does she make the connection at some point? Does finding herself relieve the depression?

    I recommend Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman for research.

    As far as the suicide part, I think it could be interestng that she considers it, but stops herself, because she realizes she has too much to live for. It could be very dramatic to write and a lot of readers could relate to that.
    It's a very natural part of me to experience depression and even brief thoughts of suicide (from my past). I like the thought of writing a female warrior who is exactly like me in a sense (and I'm a dude btw). My heroine does question her existence a lot and she seeks to find her true purpose. She gets along with her father well but not with her mother. She feels guilty that her mother would've had a better life without her. Things like that eat at her. At some points, her depression gets to the point where it feels like she has a knife shoved into her heart--she gets that low. Yes, it's like she's trying to please others in her life, especially her parents since she's an only-child. On the outside, she would seem to us as invincibly tough but on the inside she is a bit fragile due to her PTSD and all that going on inside her mind.

    I had a really good friend of mine commit suicide last year in the summer and he served in the military. I knew him really well and as someone who has also suffered from depression, I totally understand the thoughts he was feeling and they overwhelmed him. It's very sad to lose a friend like that. When I think about my heroine, the thoughts of suicide crosses her mind briefly but she pulls herself out of it before it's too late. Maybe her best friend snaps her out of that toxic thought process and convinces her to live. Make her proud of all her accomplishments and things like that.

    I love your quote you shared and your book recommendation. I'll have to check that book out for my research! Thanks tremendously for your help here!

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by MistWolf View Post
    Do you want to write her with PTS or depression? While people suffering with PTS often display symptoms of depression, it's a different thing. Is she also suffering from blast induced traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

    I suggest doing your homework. PTSD has become a buzzword and a vehicle for demonizing our returning vets. Too many times, the attitude is "Watch out! He has PTSD and is a ticking time bomb!" Our vets deserve better treatment by society and the VA.

    PTS isn't a disorder anymore than any other war wound. We don't say a vet has "Missing Limb Disorder" or "A Body Full of Shrapnel Disorder".
    I lost a close friend of mine last year to suicide. He was out of the military when I met him but we were very close friends. And yep, you're right, he even told me that a lot of people treat returning veterans as ticking time bombs. I know 2020 was rough for so many people and for someone like him, it was a very heavy weight on his heart on top of everything else. I will have to look further into the type of depression my heroine actually has. Thank you for your words!

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