I have created a character who has survived through a massively traumatic event which, for him, lasted about ten years. He had a major hand in this event, though he was forced to do it. (Literally. Mind control.) He was rescued, in a way, but guilt plagues him daily.

The problem for me is that I don't know how to incorporate this into his life. What would be his breaking point, how would he react to a death joke, how long before he begins to trust people, or allow them to love him, what would his thoughts be when he remembers, etc, etc.

How would his continuous guilt affect him and his sanity?

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    I would recommend you do some research on survivor's guilt. It is, to the best of my knowledge, fairly common when compared with other similar things, and I'd imagine you can find quite a few descriptions of its effect on the daily lives of those who have it. Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 4:23
  • It should be possible for almost everyone in the world to feel some form of survivor's guilt. Think about how lucky you are to be able to use the internet to discuss the craft of writing instead of languishing in a refugee camp somewhere on the brink of starvation. None of us reading here had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during so many tragic events in so many parts of the world over the last 20 years. Dwelling on those facts for a while may help you actually feel survivors guilt, and give you some material for how your character would react to those feelings. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 14:54

2 Answers 2


He needs to be reminded of the event, and not always in the same way. Sometimes the reminder could jump to his mind, unbidden, unwanted, and unexpected. Other times, maybe he sees victims of the traumatic event that were not as lucky as he, or perhaps relatives of victims. A shirt someone's wearing, a scar he gained, the way someone says something, a sound, a smell (especially smell). Without knowing the event, it's difficult to know what sort of physical or even mental reminders there would be, but you get the picture. I've had awful events in my life, but I'm not necessarily constantly berated by them; it's only after something reminds me. The reminders can be frequent, perhaps multiple times a day, but it's not often that a memory just sticks with me for a long time unprovoked...or perhaps unevoked (I know it's not a word).


Along with researching survivor's guilt you can also try researching PTSD (and find similarities) and depression.

Chances of your character suffering a form of depression from the experience is likely high and there are a lot or resources relating to depression out there.

That said I have a character going through a form of survivor's guilt (along with regular guilt as well) and I found researching depression and PTSD helpful. Even if the character doesn't ultimately have PTSD or depression, you can find things that may relate to your character and build off it.

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