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I need some help. I am already deep into 2 stories that involve composers and in both stories there is a character based on Ludwig van Beethoven. Here is what I have trouble getting across:

Friendly and stressed at the same time

This is the typical way my Beethoven character feels. He sounds friendly and he is. He would save his best friend from a disaster. At the same time though, he is stressed out like very often. Sometimes it comes out as an angry tone. But often, this comes out as him tearing up letters. Also, people who know him well see him differently than those who have just met him.

People who know Beethoven well:

Beethoven would do anything for me, I just know it. He will understand what I'm saying and won't lash out simply because of what I said.

People who have just met Beethoven:

What the? I asked him politely and what I asked him wasn't even that hard on him, and yet, he is yelling at me and it looks like he might hurt me severely. Why did I even agree to meet this Beethoven guy when he gets so angry at every little thing I say?

As you can probably tell, my Beethoven character has a bipolar personality. But I'm having difficulty making the angry speech and the friendly speech both sound like they are from the same person. Angry Beethoven sounds completely unrelated from friendly Beethoven, yet, it is the same person speaking. I don't want to have to mention Beethoven's name every time he speaks. I already mention things like "Beethoven tore up letters in anger" in the narration, but it doesn't seem to be enough to make the dialogue from this particular character sound like it is coming from the same person regardless of emotion.

If you need to know what triggers him to suddenly lash out in anger at a friendly person, there are 2 known triggers in my stories, acquaintances and letters asking him to write another great symphony. There are probably other anger triggers as well, but these are not known in the stories because they aren't relevant to the stories.

So, how can I make Beethoven's speech more cohesive while also getting across the extreme emotional swings that he experiences, going from calm and friendly one minute to suddenly lashing out in anger the next?

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  • I'm a professional psychotherapist. I don't see any symptoms of a bipolar disorder in your description of Beethoven. Bipolar means that a person switches between depressive and manic phases. Manic doesn't mean "angry and lashing out", but euhporic and driven. Also, in a bipolar disorder moods don't swing from moment to moment as in your example, but are usually stable for days to months. What you describe sounds like a person under stress. – user49579 2 days ago
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My older sister is a bipolar adult - around 35 years old. She's aware of it, she's been medicated for it, and frankly, I think she manages it very well 99% of the time.

While it's true that she has triggers, I think it's probably more relevant to your writing to be aware of how certain situations could be defused or snowball into a complete disaster, so I'm going to tell a quick story.

My sister and I were speaking on the phone. She was already moderately upset because she'd had a fight with her husband. She was not quite on the brink of tears, but you could hear her voice faltering as she told what had happened. It was fairly innocuous - there was a failure in communication, and she had been waiting on him for dinner, while he ate without her.

And then she asked me if she was right to be upset with him. A friend might have sided with her. An acquaintance might have pointed out that she was completely overreacting. I could tell she didn't actually want to be angry with him - so I decided to explain the situation from his perspective, so she could understand why he made the decision to eat without her.

Her voice immediately became aggressive, any hint of sadness completely leeching out of it, and she practically yelled through the phone:

"You think I'm at fault?"

"No, I don't," I respond, back-pedaling to control her outrage.

Immediately, she is calm and rational again. "Oh, okay."

"Neither of you is really 'at fault'. There was a miscommunication..."

I go on to explain again, having reassured her that I'm not attacking her. We talk for a little bit, and then I hear her sort of come to a realization and she says,

"Oh. So we were both at fault."

And that was that. She was happy with the outcome, no disasters or rage-induced problems.

The point I'm trying to make is that this scene could have played out very differently based on who she was talking to. If it was a complete stranger, she might cuss at him and move on. If it was someone she was close to, they might choose to avoid confrontation entirely, because they know she sometimes goes into these rages and they don't want to deal with it. If I had chosen to prevaricate or say "You were both at fault" from the get-go, she would probably have lost it.

Someone bi-polar is completely capable of rational thought and speech. Keep the same general voice and word choices the same even when he starts getting upset. But as soon as the trigger is flipped, remember that he is in motion. He is moving, getting up, standing, clenching his fists, shouting, snarling, ripping his paper. There is no thought process or hesitation, no decision that he's going to rip up his music, he just can't stand it another second. And then as soon as the rage is over, he's completely fine and rational. Calm. Still. All the motion has fled, and he doesn't hold any sort of passive-aggressive feelings towards whoever just triggered him. There is no apology, no acknowledgment that it even happened (at least not until much later).


Disclaimer: I am not bipolar, this is based purely on my observation of a single subject. Your mileage may vary)

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If he’s bi-polar, it’s more likely that he lashes out at those he loves and that he knows love and care for him. It is safe for him to take it out on the people he trusts. I think it’s more likely that he is courteous and charming to strangers.

It’s not going to be what he says but how he say it. Friendly and seemingly gracious to strangers and belligerent and rude to close family and friends.

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