All My Favorite Characters are Broken


This week I’ve been encouraged by fellow writers who’ve shared their emotional and mental health struggles, and how it effects their writing process. Jessica Spotswood, Stephanie Perkins, Sara Zarr and many more have blogged about depression and anxiety. Their vulnerability inspires me, and I thought I’d pay it forward.

I experience minor depression and social anxiety, as many writers do, but this particular week my creativity has been upstaged by my penchant for rage.

Confession time:

I sport an old-fashioned Irish anger. The kind where my face goes twitchy and my chest marbles into red and white splotches, and I start spouting incoherent sentences as my mind melts into a lava pit of indiscernibility.

That’s not me all the time.

That’s not me even sometimes.

But every once in a while my anxiety combines with anger to form the perfect storm for an embarrassing, crippling social interaction. We all have our trigger points: I don’t handle condescension, sarcasm, or passive-aggression very well–especially in others. 😉 I feel threatened, or get frustrated, or my pride stands up, and suddenly my flight-or-flight signals get crossed and confrontation approaches. I know it’s going to end badly before it begins, and it does.

I spend the rest of the day, evening, week, replaying the awful scene, rehashing the stupid words and the shame, and leaving no room for healthy creative expression–like writing.

The past few weeks I’ve been caught in a cycle of these interactions, in a work environment that’s not likely to change. So, I have to change instead.

Anger management classes teach the importance of responding versus reacting to a situation—the key element being to create distance from your thoughts and your emotions in order to evaluate truth within context.

It got me thinking. What we demand of humans (and ourselves) differs so greatly from what we want from fiction characters. We don’t want to read about someone who counts to ten before he graciously turns his other cheek to a belittling boss. We want to see him mouth off at the risk of losing his job, with a spouse and baby counting on his paycheck at home.

Reactionary people create wars; reactionary characters create stories. Fascinating ones.

My main character struggles with anger, too. When these bouts of helplessness and frustration overwhelm me, THAT’s the time to channel my character. Instead of letting my anger spin out of control in my brain, it’s time to equip it with a keyboard and let it wreak havoc where it belongs—in my characters, not me.

“All My Favorite People are Broken” by Over the Rhine

7 thoughts on “All My Favorite Characters are Broken

  1. I often tell my children to try to put some deep breaths between what they feel and what they do about it. I used to have a temper like yours – long, slow fuse, but watch out when it finally ignited the fuel! Now, I seldom get angry. Over the last five years or so, I’ve learned enough techniques to defuse that bomb, most of the time, before it gets close to exploding, and my fuse has gotten longer.

    You can do it. One of the most helpful things for me was reading Anger, by Thich NHat Hahn. It allowed me to see my furies in a different way, and learn to accept my emotions without surrendering to them.

    As for characters – maybe I’m odd, but I really don’t like explosive characters. My very favorite characters are Vulcans – people who have learned, for the most part, to master their emotions and behave in a logical and balanced manner. There is still the potential for conflict, the need for compromise, and sometimes collapse. But these things are seldom hostile, and they tend to be more interior. When Vulcans do fall apart, it’s often very quietly, until and unless there is an actual explosion.

    There is something to be said, though, for using your more violent characters to vent your own emotions. Not only is it a safe outlet, but you’ll get words and stories, too!

  2. Pingback: In-Tents Stretch -ROW80 Update, 7/23/14 | shanjeniah

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