Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Chaos Inside

One of the biggest reasons I write, apart from the fact that I honestly enjoy it and have a passion for it, is that it’s therapeutic. It is so rewarding to put my emotions and confusion into a character and have them work it out. I know I'm not alone in this. It’s quick. Usually nothing even comes of the temporary release character. It’s got a benefit. But what about when just doing that doesn’t work? When it’s constant and it seems like nothing will get me out of it? Face it, everyone hits points of depression now and then. That’s accepted, and it’s okay. But beyond that, when it hits into clinical and actual mental illness? How often is that talked about? Despite the media frenzy over bullying, suicides, and the like, metal health is still such a taboo.

That is, until you put it in a book. I read mostly YA, but I can give you a long list of books that hit on depression alone. It’s got such a range, and it extends to far more than just cutting and being emo. It has so many ways that it comes out, so many causes and effects and lasting impressions. The ways it even affects others is endless. So maybe writing about a depressed character is cliché. Maybe suicide is overdone. But is it really, when it’s still so prevalent? When not every case is the same?

The issues books will always resonate with me. They make me really feel something, make me think, tear my heart out and rip me to pieces. Why? Because when done right (or, my kind of right), it is so realistic, and because it’s talked about so rarely. Authors haven’t been scared to include these things in their books for a long time now. From depression to bipolar to schizophrenia and more, even in YA, there is at least one book that covers many of the bigger mental health disorders. Sure, they may get bad reviews here and there, but their messages and points are always strong. There’s a purpose and lasting impression.

What I really want to know is why this is all so ignored. Why is it so horrible to have anxiety? To be depressed? To need some kind of help? Because I can tell you from experience, it is even worse having the added burden of keeping silent. Of being scared to tell someone for fear of how they’ll react. How many times has someone told you they’re depressed, and you just brush it off with an ‘everyone feels like that sometimes’? Or you distance yourself from them because you don’t want to deal with their funk? It happens in the real world. And it happens in books. But the kicker? When it happens in the books, that distancing character is the one everyone sees as being in the wrong.

Now take that, and you’ll get the best part of these books. The thing that doesn’t make them cliché. It’s that the chances of them touching at least one person are huge. Whether it’s the person who has their eyes opened in a new way and sees something different than what they already thought, or the person suffering in silence because in the real world, it seems so taboo to be mentally ill, who can realize they aren’t alone, someone is going to feel something more than just entertainment. Someone is going to realize that maybe the next time a friend who struggles says, in not so many words, that they need help, they’ll offer it. And that goes such a long way, and I don’t think anyone who’s ever been in that position will disagree.

So the point of this post? Don’t be afraid to put something in your book, just because it’s ignored in the media. Don’t let the hivemind type thoughts deter you. Don’t put the stereotypes and play into them. Put the real stuff. The raw stuff. The things that will affect your readers, and most likely you as well.

Kari is a querying YA writer and book blogger who currently works a day job with a radiologist group and lives in Dallas. She enjoys badgering her dog Toby, meandering around the internet, and reading lots and lots of books. Currently juggling three manuscripts, she’s dreaming for the day she can stay at home and write full time, preferably with a charming boy to cook and clean. You can find her at http://agoodaddiction.blogspot.com/.


  1. Nice post, Kari, and I agree. There's enough room in publishing for books of all kinds, with characters of all kinds. Everyone is dealing with something; we all have issues in varying degrees, so it seems natural that characters in books will also have issues they're working out. It makes them more real. But you're right, most of the time books don't have severely damaged main characters. I think that's a challenge to write, but when done well, it's a powerful story to read. I come away feeling grateful I read it.

  2. Fantastic post, Kari! I know I like to read about all kinds of different characters. In fact, some that I've loved the best have been the damaged ones.

  3. Great post, Kari. Mental health is an important thing to talk about, and books are such a good medium for spreading the message.

  4. Thanks you guys! As someone who tends to write the damaged characters, this topic means a lot to me. =)

  5. Wonderful post, Kari. I love reading about damaged characters who find their way to some sort of peace and acceptance.

  6. I particularly liked the title of the post, since we all have chaos inside of us. Some are just loathe to admit it, thinking others won't understand. And yet, it's only when we share that we can truly connect.

    Thankfully, we can do that through books, through flawed characters who bear a remarkable resemblance to the selves we seek to keep from view.

    Writing (and reading about) characters who struggle with depression can be cathartic.