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Troubled Characters: What you need to know about 25 psychiatric disorders to create credible back-stories for them.
Troubled characters in fiction may display the full symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, early signs such as panic attacks, or traits such as fearfulness and sense of entitlement. Troubled characters have long existed in fiction. Perhaps the one that first comes to mind is the mad wife locked in the attic that Charlotte Bronte created in her 1847 novel, Jane Eyre. Although Bronte portrayed the symptoms of the psychiatric disorder and the effect that the troubled character had on all the other characters in the story, she limited her creation of a back-story that would provide a rational for the character’s development of a psychiatric disorder to a single cause– a strong familial or genetic influence. Today, many authors describe in detail how their troubled characters’ beliefs, emotions, and behaviors affect the other characters and their lives but they still provide only a single cause for the characters’ development of the psychiatric disorder. Frequently cited single causes include: abandonment by the father or mother, being raised by a single parent, divorce, parental alcoholism or drug abuse, being born unwanted, and abuse. Although these causes are known risk factors for many psychiatric disorders, they are not the only risk factors. In order to write credible back-stories for troubled characters, authors need to know: the risk factors and the protective factors for specific disorders, the precursors for specific disorders, and the precipitating events for specific disorders. They also need to know how these factors interact.