The curtains are blue. It's raining outside. My character's heart feels heavy with an indescribable something that apparently isn't too indescribable because I'll spend about a page talking about it. Everything appears in dull greys and heavy blacks. There are violins playing sorrowfully in the background.
Get it? Do you get it, guys? What, you didn't catch on? My character has depression. I guess I was being too subtle.
That's a problem most writers have when writing about depression. They're too subtle. It's not as if they're whacking their readers over the head with a 10 pound sack of sad. They probably should give it a shot. Maybe that would help clear books up of all of the terribly written depressed characters.
I'd give you advice, but you wouldn't listen. Nobody ever does.
Oh, who am I kidding? I'll give it anyway. Here we go:
2. You're being too subtle. You need to paint it on thick. You're writing a depressed character, so why not make them super depressed all of the time? Depression is startlingly obvious and always recognizable, so reflect this in your books. It's very realistic and I'm sure it won't annoy your readers at all. It's not as if depression can be a subtle thing that lurks in the background. So why portray it as such? After all, that takes too much time and skill. So don't do it.
3. You think depressed characters need to be part of a depressing storyline. When people ask you how your books with depressed character are going, you shouldn't answer: "Well, they're just fine. You know, a little dark, a little gloomy. And, as always, hey, full of dead people." No. NO. A depressed character doesn't need to be in the middle of a storyline where people are dying left and right or where the whole world is burning. I mean, if that's the plot line of your story, that's fine. But depressed characters are not exclusive to dark storylines or hard lives.
4. All of your depressed characters are introverts. I've noticed this a lot in both books and film. Depression is almost always portrayed as a disease that extroverts are somehow immune to. Extroverts can be depressed, it just may be less obvious. After all, extroverts are out and about, having to wear a mask to cover up the fact that they have a dementor following them around. So, if you are tackling depression in your novel, don't be afraid to give it to an extroverted character. It's a problem that needs to be written about.
5. You are romanticizing suicide. Really? How long have you been training to be a prat? There are so many books out there that make depression look...alluring? Special. Pretty. It's not. Don't write a book that makes depression out to look like some poetic journey about becoming one with the darkness. And do NOT romanticize depressed characters who considering committing...or do commit...suicide. There are no words to describe how damaging this is.
6. You forget that depressed people have interests and personalities. No, sitting around and thinking about death does not count as an interest or personality. Depressed people like things just like anybody else: They like to bake, play the violin, go hunting, paint a picture, build a hot rod, read a novel. Some depressed people are logical, some are sarcastic, some are sweet, some are gruff. Flesh out your character as a person first, then give them depression. Not only is this more realistic, but it will keep your depressed character from falling into the shallow, nobody-likes-you character zone populated by Bella Swan.
7. Your writing style is overly flowery. When writing from a depressed point of view, many writers have the tendency to wax poetic. Stop being so dramatic. Find the style that you are good at and use it. Don't feel the need to contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
8. You didn't read up on other depressed characters. Books are full of amazingly written characters suffering from depression. They come in all genres with all different personalities and manifestations. Some of my favorite: Frodo from Lord of the Rings (read this great post on the topic), Arima Kousei from Your Lie in April, Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlie Brown, Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Conor from A Monster Calls, Celia Foote from The Help, Gwystyl from The Prydain Chronicles. Read them. Study them. Learn from them.
9. You're using depression as an excuse. I get it. Depression is a very good excuse for a character who is constantly throwing a pity-party and being annoying. But it's not a good enough one. Everybody has problems. Get over it. Depression is not a free pass to allow your character to be mean, lazy, or generally annoying. Either show your character struggling to change or make it clear that their lack of change isn't healthy. Don't just excuse them with the, "Oh, depression" excuse. After all, their problems can't be as bad as Marvin's.
a type of strength that fiction can use more of.
Honestly, writing characters with depression isn't that difficult. And no, you don't have to have depression yourself in order to write on this topic. You just have to take the time to get to know your character and what their particular brand of depression is. It takes time, but any character worth writing takes time.
Do you have any tips for writing characters with depression? If you're writing a depressed character or have a favorite fictional depressed character, please tell me about them in the comment section below!
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