Saturday, April 2, 2011

How do our Protagonists resist the effects of PTSD?

Protagonists are an interesting group of people. They generally have some superhuman ability and are thrown into some horrible situations. This makes me think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an interesting thing that happens to some people but not to others. The question is, since we are talking about protagonists, why do some people not get PTSD.

When I got into a car accident a couple of years ago I was deathly afraid to drive for fear of getting into another accident. I had run into the back of another person when they had stopped suddenly. My brakes were especially squishy that day and so I was unable to stop in time. I felt like I had little control over the situation. Discussing PTSD with my supervisor we both came up with one of the factors, probably the largest part, control. If a person feels like they have control over a situation they are much less likely to have PTSD following the situation. The key word is feel. Think about soldiers who go into combat situations and are on high alert for extended time. The majority of them come home relatively okay. But me in my car crash feared driving. (I can drive just fine and it wasn’t true PTSD just an example BTW).

SO this brings us back to our Protagonist who gets shot at, thrown into dungeons, faces aliens and dragons, is raped, sees loved ones killed before them and many other horrible situations. What makes our protagonist special? Why is she/he able to withstand these situations with little to no adverse effect? One of my favorite protagonists is Frodo from Lord of The Rings. Talk about change and the effect the war had on him. In the end he was not the same, he had to leave because there was no possible way he could overcome the effects of PTSD in his world.


  1. It's true that most characters go on to live "happily ever after" so I think it's important to have the character be realistic and have that growth and change, maybe not be unable to function, but to grow.

  2. Kind of going off of what April has said, to me the most important part of the story is the "happily ever after." I love seeing characters who go through horrible situations, come through it, and make a life for themselves afterward. I love the LOTR, especially Frodo, but the character I really bond with is Samwise. He goes through many of the same situations, though not quite as bad, and is able to make a life for himself after all is said and done.

    PTSD is a frightening condition. I can't even image what I would do if I was thrown into those kind of situations. It's as Josh says, there are some people who can come out of it just fine and others who don't. Our characters need to show that same mix. Frodo doesn't come out of the situation the same and has to move on. Sam does.

    Once again thanks for the great information. Time to go see which of the soldiers in my latest novel need to be diagnosed with this. I didn't even think about it and I'm writing a book about a war.

  3. I've recently read some books that had a modified HEA ending. The authors actually showed the effects of PTSD had a lasting mark on their characters lives. There was the story book finishing but they left them with the sense that they still had growth and real life obstacles to overcome. I guess I may be a dark person but sometimes I like the twist on the HEA and PTSD is a great vehicle to accomplish that.

  4. In my book, Bum's Rush there is a lot to get PTSD about. I've got four characters go through enough to put them in mental institutions for a long time. I guess it's a choice you make in the end. I thought it was more important to tie up loose ends than to elaborate on PTSD. My WIP, however, will have the character taking a little break to pull himself back together, then he'll come back and have a happy ever after.

    The thing is, most character in fiction go through more in a couple hundred pages than anyone in real life. But you are right. In real life, it would take a lot to get over some of what we put them through.

    I enjoyed your post and your perspective.

  5. Thanks for the great comments I have enjoyed reading them. PTSD is a scary thing to have to go through and I agree with your posts and views.

  6. Josh, I must thank you for this remarkable post on PTSD. It is traumatic to experience horrible situations and especially from a childhood innocence. What has occurred in the lives of some will effect those of whom have faced that trauma head on, in my case, over 50 years and on into my teens and early adult life. With PTSD, as a survivor, one identifies very well with the melancholic episodes that may drag on day after day and night after night for many, many years.

    The anxiety does in fact "feverishly kill," ones' own self-esteem, confidence, and potentially their emotional, mental and even physical health. It can take years of expensive counseling and some rather modified medications that also are quite expensive to heal the 'nastiness,' of PTSD.

    It raises its ugly head during your worst of times and bends and shapes you at times into a monster of irritability, panic, depressive, delusional, hallucinatory, and progressively worsens over time if not treated properly.

    My worst case scenario, coming home from the military, (I will not indulge the branch, just yet), had been assaulted and was forced to relive childhood trauma of an equitable nature. Not to my liking either way and not with my say so. Instinctively, it was, "a forceful violation of," MY "sexual intimacy," that had occurred and left me dangling and walking not once but many, many times a "walk of shame," all the while believing it to be my fault.

    If you need a research partner, I can help on this particular subject matter having been the victim though have thus recovered via medications and a loving family and wise yet Christian wife, whom I love with all my heart.

    I hope this helps you and if you like I will talk more of my 50 year sojourn that left me defenseless against an enemy I have faced many, many times in my delusions.

    Josh, have a delightful night and thank you very kindly for following, and posting, and, just being a friend.


  7. PS...It was writing about it all that saved me, via, the poetry!! Peace, Josh.


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