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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Character Stereotypes: The Victim

Main Entry: vic•tim
Pronunciation: \ˈvik-təm\
Function: noun

1 : one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent: as a (1) : one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions (2) : one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment b : one that is tricked or duped
Think about everything that commonly finds a way into our fiction that falls under that definition: rape, molestation, neglect, robbery, mugging, kidnapping, being taken hostage, terrorist attack, torture, military combat, incarceration as a prisoner of war or in a concentration camp, natural/manmade disasters, severe automobile accidents, carjacking, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, or seeing a dead body/body parts. All of these events can be learned about, directly experienced, or indirectly witnessed.

I lifted the above list right out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual under the description for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not all “victims” have PTSD, but it’s a good disorder to know about in order to inflict our victimized characters with realistic, varying emotional hurdles.

Based on the four most descriptive clinical symptoms for PTSD, I’ll offer a couple overdone and underused scenarios for you to consider for your protagonists.

1) The character has to go through something awful—see above—and respond with intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

Clichéd: Usually fictional victims directly experience a horrible past event; they react with screaming, panic attacks, or “freezing” in place.

Creative: A person can have PTSD simply by seeing something happen to someone else. They can also learn about something awful over the phone and still experience PTSD. Not everyone experiences fear or horror the same way. What if your character laughed nervously when afraid or vomited when horrified?

Click here to read the rest of my article.

Wordle: signature

4 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great article. I used the cliches in my wip but put a different spin on them (my wip is a YA thriller), plus I combined them with the non cliched reactions (yay for research). Mostly I found when I didn't use the cliches, CP and beta readers were confused. When the mc quits swimming, they didn't get why. It was logical to the story, but they wanted me to spell it out.

Jennifer Lane said...

Very interesting blog. As a psychologist, I tend to use the word "survivor" more than "victim" with my clients. I like how you gave some examples of a creative spin on PTSD symptoms. There was a West Wing TV episode exploring PTSD in a clever way, I thought. One of the staffers Josh had been shot in an assassination attempt of the president's daughter, and later he was triggered by the sound of Christmas singers and bells, sounds which indirectly related to the trauma. It was a masterful episode.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks stina. :)

jennifer - i always welcome other professionals with similar or dissenting opinions! more than one way to peel a potato. in therapy, i'm more apt to call them survivors, as it loses the negative connotation, but for the article, i chose victim b/c it's the more stereotypical word.

and i actually SAW that episode of west wing! it was a great depiction of PTSD. (i miss west wing!)

Miss Sharp said...
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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.