Ok, so I have a character, Jack, and I don't know how to get him on the "back again" path. You know, when you move past what happened? Get happier?

My character has suffered a series of traumatic, personal events. Now he has to cope with the aftermath, plus new responsibilities, guilt he places on himself, blame placed on him by others, and he's worried about more traumas happening in the future.

I am seriously stuck, I don't know how to fix what I've done. How should I go about trying to keep him mentally stable even? How on Earth do I fix this?

Oh, and not only that but...That's not the main plot of the story. My story has many intertwined plots all in one big ball...So I can't focus ONLY on this.

  • 3
    Which is why you should write what you know. If you cannot get into that character and don't know how he will go on, then writing about him is "too big for you". I never write about rape, because I don't "get" rape. I don't mean that you have to experience everything you write about, but it has to be within the frame of your personality somehow. I would say that you wrote yourself into a dead end, and you can either fake yourself out of it, or abandon that draft and write something else.
    – user5645
    Dec 24, 2016 at 8:13
  • How do you fake yourself out of it? Easy. Most of your readers will know nothing about what you write about either, so they will be unable to judge what your write. So, just make something up.
    – user5645
    Dec 24, 2016 at 8:41
  • How do you fake yourself out of it? Good question. I think that even if the writer cannot envision the character he is writing about there are still ways to fake it. There are lots of stories in the world. You can have your character mimic other similar characters you know about. Dec 24, 2016 at 10:49
  • I've edited your question to take out the detail of your particular story. On Writers SE, we try to make questions as broadly applicable as possible. Otherwise it becomes a "what to write" question, which is off-topic for us. Dec 24, 2016 at 14:18
  • 1
    Thank you guys, and I'm pretty new to SE so I didn't really know how to make the question. Thanks for the help.
    – AmazingMc
    Dec 24, 2016 at 16:15

5 Answers 5


Perhaps your Character needs to have something good happen to him to pull him out of the depression? Characters usually achieve small goals and have some good stuff reward them while they are on their journey and running into obstacles.

  • That's a good point and idea...Thanks
    – AmazingMc
    Dec 31, 2016 at 17:55

If you want to write sensitively and authentically about personal trauma, you have pretty much two choices:

  1. Endure it yourself. I don't recommend choosing to undergo this.

  2. Talk to other people who have endured trauma, or possibly people who counsel trauma victims.

Creating a real, rounded character who has suffered and then learned to adapt and grow past the pain requires lengthy, detailed observation of the human spirit. If you can't do this from the inside, you must do it from the outside, and if you can't do it at all, write something else.

Please don't write a story about someone who suffers terrible things and then brushes it off and all is well at the end. It reads as cheap and phony and offends people who really have suffered.


The short of it: Your character needs a way to find hope.

As others have said, you can skim over the entire process and let readers assume that your character’s figuring things out. But in my opinion, if the trauma was a major driver of your plot, so should your character’s recovery.

I have a fairly extensive background in dealing with mental illness, and there is one recurring pattern. People who suffer from (major) depression often use phrases such as, “What’s the point?” because they have lost all hope for the future.

At some point (through therapy, or otherwise), they find someone (or something) they can relate to who has endured the same struggle, but who has already progressed past that obstacle (without necessarily being “cured”). This shows them that they are not alone in this struggle, and that yes, those hardships can be overcome.

This is one reason group therapy and support groups are so powerful for survivors of trauma.

But just as when trying to help a depressed friend, the last thing you want to write is on-the-nose dialogue where some know-it-all serves the main character with a solution on a silver platter. “You MUST do this if you’re going to get better,” or “Look at all the people who have it worse than you.” And magically, your main character sees the light, bounces back up, and all is well.

More people than you think suffer from mental illness. I can guarantee you, reading such dialogue is going to piss them off. That’s not how things work in the real world. The answer must feel self-generated. So your character needs to undergo the same process.

Have various secondary characters, or mere circumstance, (inconspicuously) present them with clues. Then let your protagonist figure it out on their own.

In the novel I’m writing, I put my protagonist through such an ordeal, by making her lose everything. I follow up with one single nihilistic chapter, but pretty quickly her best friend comes to the rescue (you don't want to bash your reader over the head with how desperate your character is getting, because reading that sort of thing gets old quickly).

As I mentioned earlier, the best friend doesn’t offer solutions, only support. Just like in the real world, the first thing you offer is support, not solutions.

Of course, depression isn't cured overnight. So she starts to bounce back, then crashes again. What the friend’s intervention did accomplish however, was getting the protagonist out of her inertia.

Support is what gives us the strength to get back on our feet.

She decides to return to the town where she lost everything, in hopes of figuring things out. There, she bumps into a guy she despises, but because he’s trying to apologize for his behavior leading up to her traumatic event, she listens to what he has to say.

Somehow, HE went from being a deadbeat to someone who now has a firm grip on his own life. She determines that the reason he used to be such a jerk was he went through trauma of his own for years. Then the event that caused HER trauma was apparently a wakeup call for HIM. In a roundabout way, she recognizes a bit of herself in him. She realizes they’re rather similar, except he has now progressed beyond that stage of his life, even though no one ever expected him to.

Relating to his struggle is what gives her hope and ultimately sets her on the path to recovery.

This is a major theme of my novel, so I devote several chapters to it. Since this subplot isn’t central to your story, obviously you’ll need to adjust.

Either way, I think it is important to depict the ups and downs of the healing process, because that is what real people with depression experience every day.

I imagine your character will go on with their life, with that trauma constantly in the back of their mind. It might impede everything else they do, but little by little, clues will show up in everyday events that help them connect the dots.

Hope is what allows us to move forward in the face of overwhelming odds.


TL;DR: You don't have to focus heavily on the trauma, just drop enough hints that Jack is dealing with it (or is haunted by it) when the plot isn't progressing.

Ask yourself if you really need to set your character 'back again' at all.

As someone who hit a wall of depression and anxiety in their late teenage years, I can tell you that the feeling never fully abated. People, like me, who experience deep depression/anxiety will probably tell you that it never truly goes away. It lurks, waiting to reemerge when you're most vulnerable.

I learned that it was fruitless to 'cure' myself from feeling horrible. No amount of good things nor the highest of highs will ever stop the inevitable lows, however depression/anxiety can be very manageable with the right attitude. Nobody at work, nor many of my closest friends know that I'm like this.

How does this relate to Jack? Well maybe Jack will forever be changed by this event and his daily struggle with dark thoughts:

Now he has to cope with the aftermath, plus new responsibilities, guilt he places on himself, blame placed on him by others, and he's worried about more traumas happening in the future.

Honestly, that sounds like a deep and very interesting character. It makes him real. People can be quite resilient - Jack can continue to function normally from the perspective of others, but maybe since the trauma he hates to be alone? Or suffers nightmares?

I personally disagree with the other answer. Real people don't just get happier after trauma. Good things happening don't cancel out the bad things.



I find myself wanting more detail in the question. "Lauren Ipsum" says that it is inappropriate to give story-specific detail, but you could still say, for instance, whether or not the items in the “series of traumatic, personal events” are of the same type. …Also whether or not the guilt and blame are justified — although the feeling is that they are not. (I take it that the fear of future “traumas” is rational.)

I find myself getting vague memories of characters, in movies, who have a dark (evil) or pathological [usually both, conflated, I venture] inner motive, and who normally appear "normal" to other persons. The point there is that it sounds as though you do not want to go in that direction. (The ulterior motive is the important one, in such cases.)

I second “Rapscallion” ’s statement that one is not unaffected by traumatic events. There is the point that one is generally able to come across as “normal”. (This is informed by the simple fact that things such as friends, sunlight and activity do make one feel better, directly and immediately.)


There is a “quick-and-dirty” fix available, if you need it: appearing to be “normal” can be a “survival” trait. That is… however badly one might have been affected by something, such as to cause (or strongly dispose) one to pertinent emotions or behaviour… this can be astonishingly over-ridden, where the detail of a situation triggers an (irrational and subconscious) belief that some particular behaviour (“normal” or otherwise) can protect one from a feared hurt. A simple example is an injured animal; in the presence of a predator, an injured animal will behave as much as possible as though it is not injured. The parallel with a human being in a social situation is fairly straightforward.

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