Writing well-rounded characters is a craft that requires considerable skill, talent, and empathy. One of the most challenging yet fascinating aspects of character creation lies in developing individuals who have experienced painful traumas. These characters have the potential to touch our hearts, tear at our emotions, and lead us deep into the complex mysteries of human psychology.
How, then, can authors tackle this daunting task and write about trauma with sensitivity and accuracy? In this blog post, we will discuss tips on how to create authentic and engaging characters who have survived painful experiences.
1. Understand the Nature of Trauma
The first step to building a character who has endured trauma is to understand what it entails. Trauma is any event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causing feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and—often—intense fear. It can result from various situations like abuse, accidents, loss or war – all of which can inflict deep psychological wounds.
It’s essential to research the specific trauma your character has experienced so you can accurately portray its impact on their psyche. A person suffering from PTSD due to military combat will not exhibit the same symptoms as someone who went through a traumatic break-up.
2. Show the Healing Process
While writing about trauma can be emotionally taxing for both the reader and writer, it’s critical to remember that healing is possible. The most compelling characters are the ones who grow and change throughout the course of a story—and those who’ve endured harrowing events are no exception.
Incorporating your character’s healing journey into your narrative allows readers to root for them as they overcome their past hardships. This could take many forms such as therapy sessions or conversations with loved ones. Alternatively, healing may come from more unconventional sources or self-discovery.
3. Avoid Stereotypes and Clichés
Treating trauma with sensitivity means avoiding stereotypical depictions that end up trivializing its effects on survivors. Don’t depend on clichés or predictable behaviors when writing about characters dealing with emotional pain.
Instead, look into various responses individuals may have to similar traumatic situations—a person’s response and coping mechanisms may depend on factors such as their personality, upbringing or social support system.
4. Be Mindful of Triggering Content
When writing about trauma, it’s important to consider the potential impact your words may have on readers who might be struggling with personal experiences related to your subject matter. While it’s necessary to include details for authenticity’s sake—and to educate those unfamiliar with specific traumas—you must also strike a balance between being realistic and being sensitive.
Consider utilizing content warnings within your work if there are explicit descriptions of abuse or other potentially triggering events for some readers. Doing so displays respect for readers who may wish to mentally prepare themselves before diving into potentially challenging material.
5. Create Multi-Dimensional Characters
A character who has experienced trauma should not be defined solely by their past pain but should feel fully fleshed-out in terms of their interests, motivations, and relationships outside of their trauma.
Highlighting these dimensions creates not only more believable characters but also helps lift them from being caricatures dominated by victimhood alone into empathetic individuals whom readers can relate to and learn from.