A character in my story is supposed to be falling apart, for many reasons:

  • He's 16 and is killing people, in a gladiatorial setting, of a similar age.
  • He already died (possibly a few times), but he and everyone he fought come back to life through cloning and memory transfer.

I tried many things, from him not taking care of himself, up until drug use, but I don't think that's the best way to go about it.

How can I subtly imply that one of my main character's life is falling into a tailspin?

  • Sounds similar to Rei Ayanami, from Neon Genesis Evangelion. She had a similar problem, which made her feel replaceable, but reactions to multiplicative immortality (that's a term I made up) vary a lot. – Mephistopheles Jul 2 '18 at 19:55
  • Well, that's pretty rad and I feel like the replaceability thing would be a good motif to play around with. Also, I love the term! – weenmachine Jul 2 '18 at 20:09
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    A sole motif? C'mon there are many other reactions! Why not use all of them!? You can start with the replaceability, then progress to the hero who throws himself in the way of danger to save his friends (if he has any), it might get to a point where the problem becomes the fact that the main character gets distanced from others, and has to learn social interaction again and find the balance. How 'bout that? You don't have to follow this guideline, just remember that people change. – Mephistopheles Jul 2 '18 at 20:25
  • Sorry I didn't see this while I was working on it but he's got a few friends but only one of them is going to join him in the arena at any point. I plan for him to develop a habit of leaping into danger's way and I'm also thinking a distinct difficulty with forming connections with his partner. She's also pretty hapless in the ring. Also if you think this is interesting he's got a huge crush on first kill, who has died a bunch and is having serious identity and pride issues. I just wanna make it a story about a bunch of really traumatized people and their blissfully unaware sponsors and etc – weenmachine Jul 2 '18 at 22:25
  • Is this the viewpoint character, or are we seeing their problems through the eyes of another. – Arcanist Lupus Jul 5 '18 at 0:28

To drive home that a character is not able to hold it together in the wake of repeated trauma, look up the symptoms for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and at risk of suicide and then fling all those things at your character as if he were in a tree and you were throwing rocks at him, and then see what he does.

Here are a few missiles to try out on your character:

Depressed: (source: Symptoms of depression - Mind):

  • Down, upset or tearful
  • restless, agitated or irritable
  • guilty, worthless and down on himself
  • empty and numb
  • isolated and unable to relate to other people
  • finding no pleasure in life or things he usually enjoys
  • having a sense of unreality
  • no self-confidence or self-esteem
  • hopeless and despairing.

PTSD (source: Symptoms of PTSD - ADAA):

  • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
  • recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events
  • flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring
  • intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events
  • persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world
  • persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • irritable or aggressive behaviour
  • reckless or self-destructive behaviour
  • hyper-vigilance
  • exaggerated startle response
  • problems with concentration
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep.

Suicidal (source: Warning Signs of suicide - SAVE):

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • looking for a way to kill oneself
  • talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • talking about being a burden to others
  • increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • displaying extreme mood swings.

Good luck with the writing - sounds like an interesting concept.


I think a reasonable response to this scenario is revolt. He kills himself the second they put a weapon in his hand. He refuses to fight at all, if that means he dies, so be it. He makes repeated attempts to kill his masters. He tries to rally his fellow captives to refuse to fight. If threatened with permanent death for refusing to comply, he accepts that and kills himself the next time they put a weapon in his hands anyway.

To me, "losing it" means losing all care about the consequences of his actions.

Actual revolutions IRL occur when people get so angry or desperate they will risk dying in battle rather than continue in their current state (especially if dying in battle presents a chance of saving children they love).

Slavery, which is what you are describing here, would not work if all the slaves would rather die than serve and thus commit suicide at any opportunity once they have decided they cannot escape servitude. In your scenario, it should be easy to convince his fellow combatants to suicide if death isn't "real" anyway. But if not, if they fear it might be permanent, he can give up and not care if any of his suicides are permanent.

Now you have a problem for how his masters react to this; for some reason or another they do not just let him stay dead (so your story doesn't end with that).

  • He's not exactly enslaved, nor is really anyone else participating. I like the idea of killing himself repeatedly because that would match with the whole setup I've got in which near the end he won't comply at all. Also some background to why they're fighting, it's like a dark sci-fi high school football-y scenario where they're doing it bcs it's really the only chance at a good life. Should've said that earlier but good answer! I don't know how this site works but I'm trying. – weenmachine Jul 2 '18 at 22:28
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    @weenmachine +1 for Amadeus. Be careful of creating characters who respond to difficult circumstances by falling apart. They can quickly come across as depressed, weak and eventually a little pathetic. You want a character your readers can get behind and root for. It's okay for them to show weakness from time to time, that makes them human, and to have to battle through that weakness but in a dark sci-fi you probably want a character that fights back against those difficult circumstances rather than falls apart as a result of them. GOOD LUCK! – GGx Jul 3 '18 at 11:54
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    If the "only chance for a good life" is at stake; that is effectively slavery, it is no more a real choice than a mugger saying "Your money or your life," or a kidnapper saying "I've sent you her finger, now pay the ransom or I will spoon out her eyes and send you those." All slaves also had the "choice" of suicide, but it isn't a real choice, and this doesn't sound like one. If the choice is between being rich or having to work a day job; that is a choice, but not a good story. Embrace the slavery of the situation; there are no easy choices, revolt against the system or die trying. – Amadeus Jul 3 '18 at 12:14

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