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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Plot Helps

This week’s character assessment comes from Kacey. She’s writing a YA novel about two friends, Eric and Lane.*

Eric is a 17-year-old who lives with his aunt’s family because seven years ago, he and his mother were attacked by a meth-addicted intruder in their L.A. apartment. His mother didn’t survive the attack.

Eric’s story begins with him and his friends driving at night when his friend hits a man on a bicycle. They stop to see if the man is okay but flee the scene when he starts to regain consciousness. This triggers Eric to remember how he felt after his attack, lying alone, injured, waiting for someone to find him.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Kasey wants to know several things:
  1. Would it make sense for Eric to blame himself for not being able to help his mother in some way and prevent her death? Or would he be more inclined to blame her for the attack somehow (i.e., she should have kept the windows locked so the intruder couldn't get in)?
  2. Would the attack affect how he feels about women in general?
  3. Would it make sense for him to blame his friend Lane for leaving the man in the street even though Eric was there, too? Would he be more likely to blame himself?
  4. After years of therapy, after everything seemed to be going okay, would it make sense for his PTSD to be triggered?
  5. Eventually, after Eric and Lane go their separate ways, Eric chooses to turn in Lane to the police. If Eric is experiencing PTSD, would this require too much cognitive functioning to do? Or would someone else need to prompt him to do this?

These are some great questions, and very specific, which helps me narrow my psychological focus.

Since Eric lost his mother in such a traumatic accident, it is not at all unrealistic to think that he had post-traumatic reactions to the attack. Your suggestion of putting him through a few years of therapy would also be realistic, as 10-year-olds who are victim to an attack should get counseling, even more so if they lose a parent.

As far as your first question, a young child almost always would blame him or herself for the death. But since Eric is 17, almost of age to be counted as an adult, this rule isn’t as hard and fast. Your decision would need to factor in Eric’s personality. Does he usually blame others, even for his own mistakes? Or does he typically shoulder all responsibility, even when it’s not his due?

Because an adolescent doesn’t have the problem solving and interpretive skills that an adult has, that leads me to think the twist about blaming his mom might make for a more gripping plot rather than the old tried-but-true self-blame. Ultimately your call, of course.

As for your second question, I tried to see how the connection would be made between women in general and his mother, who was the victim of the meth addict’s attack. Maybe you are asking if he would assume all women are helpless or weak? All women would eventually endanger him in some way? Feel free to email me with additional info, as I’m afraid I don’t really have an answer for this one.

Your third question can piggyback off the first. If Eric is going to blame his mother for the attack, then it makes sense that he might blame Lane for leaving the hit-and-run scene, as well. However, a lot would ride on how the scene played out. Did Lane make Eric leave the scene? Had Eric wanted to stay and try to offer help, as he remembered his own attack situation? Had Eric felt a familiar sense of dread at the helplessness of his previous situation and wanted to get out of dodge? How you write that particular scene will play a large role in how his guilt or anger comes to the fore later.

And for the last question, it would absolutely be feasible for PTSD symptoms to return after a period of latency where everything seemed fine. Trauma is a funny thing, and people react differently to it. I’m actually just finishing a book about a woman with PTSD who goes symptom-free for over a year and thinks its okay to get back into her former job. But, of course, she encounters a situation that provokes a panic attack associated with a flashback. Totally within reason.

You mentioned that Lane is going to experiment with meth, which you want to feel like a gigantic betrayal, since Eric’s mother’s murderer was a meth-addict. Then you mentioned, “especially coupled with the fact that Lane left a man [run over on his bicycle] in the street at the beginning of the story.” I’m not seeing how the second factor is a betrayal in the traditional sense. Granted, the meth experimentation is understandable. Lane would surely know how this would really tear Eric up. But I just didn’t see the connection with leaving the man in the streets…UNLESS you have written that scene in such a way that Lane forces Eric to leave the man against Eric’s will (see earlier comment above about this crucial scene) or you have some plot twist about the guy on the bike being the meth addict and if they had stopped, they might could have seen the intruder and Eric’s mom’s murdered brought to justice. Hmm…just a thought, though. ☺

Hopefully this has helped with some of these questions. As with any of my assessments, please feel free to email with further questions.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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Katie said...

Jeannie - you were made for this stuff. How long until you figure out if you get your stories back? I checked my comp - I didn't save your chapters to my hardrive. :(

Ralene said...

This is so fascinating! I agree with you that it would make for a more interesting plot to have the 17-yr-old blame his mom for the attack. I've read a few books with this motivation and it always makes me feel so bad for the character. To add a little twist of the two, just for curiosity's sake, would it make sense for him to blame his mom to help repress his own guilt?

Jeannie Campbell said...

thanks, katie. always appreciate your sweet compliments.

interesting, ralene! that would make for a much more layered character, i'd think. lots more to work through by the end of the novel, so more work for kacey! :)

kacey...hope this helped!

ofmakingmanybooks said...

Fascinating!!! I've read Kasey's ms, so this assessment is doubly fascinating. Kasey should take this as proof that she's created fab plot/characters that are psychologically feasible! (You hear that, Kasey?)

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