I am writing a novel about a young man who is grieving the loss of his mother. He's also been diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder in the last two years.

I really want to do his character justice, and I want to properly convey what living with a mental illness might be like so I'm reading memoirs about people who have the illness. I'm reading articles on bipolar 2 disorder and researching what not to do when writing a character with a mental illness.

I'm still not confident that I'll be able to write this character.

I guess my question is, how would you guys go about doing research to write a character with a mental illness? How long do you think one should research before tackling the story?

  • Is this protagonist supposed to be the kind who looks good (because they are an unreliable narrator), or are the flaws and problems very obvious or antagonized?
    – Crafter
    Sep 25, 2022 at 23:33
  • Is this "mother dropped dead of stroke out of the blue" or "mother struggled with an illness for a long time and finally died"? That will be a big influence. If he's known her prognosis for a long time, he's already started grieving.
    – Mary
    Sep 26, 2022 at 0:57
  • @Mary I had planned for the mother to have passed from a heart attack.
    – Taylor
    Sep 26, 2022 at 3:36
  • @Crafter I'd like for his flaws and problems to be very obvious.
    – Taylor
    Sep 26, 2022 at 3:37
  • 1
    writing questions come to my mind that outweigh pure research: what is the narrative purpose of giving your MC this handicap (flaws are something the MC needs to change, handicaps can't be changed), What is the purpose of diagnosing prior to the story. How will the handicap be relatable to the reader, and what is his arc (if any) in accepting it? If you left it unnamed (undiagnosed) does the character still work? Is being specific about the diagnosis intended to inform the reader or the MC? How much does his handicap impact events and plot? Who is the narrator, and what is the story's theme?
    – wetcircuit
    Sep 26, 2022 at 12:40

1 Answer 1


Firstly, why not research on a way the reader will relate with the character despite the disorder. Though I believe as a reader that stories work best when it spuns around a person and relationships rather than the illness. Secondly, it is important to know upfront what relationship your character has with his or her illness, how that affects the interplay of external and internal worlds and the access others have to the character’s problems. It can be as complicated as you wish,but don’t leave the readers behind. Thirdly, as a writer, you should try to pinpoint the disorder, even if your character is never properly diagnosed because Disorders are defined by specific behaviors and cognitive flaws, so the more you narrow down the diagnosis, the more you know about how your character might behave, feel and think

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.