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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Character Clinic: Thomas and Personality Disorders 101

Today's character clinic features Thomas, the brainchild of Kathleen and hero (or maybe more appropriately anti-hero) of her philosophical dramatic literary tragedy. (new genre?) He's the Ishmael to his brother's Isaac in his family. Grew up in a Christian home, studied philosophy, but more for the love of the study than out of passionate belief. He became obsessed with Maria, but she wasn't interested in him romantically, and he's not even sure he really loved her, though he strove to do so. She married someone else. In many ways, his pursuit of religious faith parallels his pursuit of Maria. He wants to be a Christian, but he feels he doesn't and can't love God. He's not really sure what his internal goal is--perhaps to escape his rut of despair.

Kathleen wants to know: How do you think readers will respond to Thomas' character? Is he sympathetic, or is he simply tiresome and whiny? He basically does to the reader precisely what he does to Maria--he tries to make himself seem noble by showing you everything wrong with him, even though he does nothing to change or move on. Will readers hate, pity, or relate to him? Or, will they do a combination of these things?

Great questions, Kathleen. I think Thomas suffers from a personality disorder, although I'm not sure he meets the criteria for one in particular (so he'd probably be in the Not Otherwise Specified category). But he exhibits traits of both Schizoid and Schizotypal Personality Disorders.

Here's Schizoid traits:
A. A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following: 
(1) neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family (he seems to desire a relationship with Maria, though he was spurned)
(2) almost always chooses solitary activities (he's a theologian and writer...)
(3) has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person (might not fit)
(4) takes pleasure in few, if any, activities (ditto)
(5) lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives (definitely fits)
(6) appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others (not sure...)
(7) shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity (he can't love the way he wants)

So by my calculations, he fits at least the four criteria needed. But he also exhibits some Schizotypal traits, though perhaps not enough to meet full diagnosis (which would be 5), such as:

(1) odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behavior and is inconsistent with subcultural norms (e.g., superstitiousness, belief in clairvoyance, telepathy, or "sixth sense"; in children and adolescents, bizarre fantasies or preoccupations) (you mentioned that he was superstitious and read a lot into small things)
(2) odd thinking and speech (e.g., vague, circumstantial, metaphorical, overelaborate, or stereotyped) (into poetry, and writing...does this fit?)

(3) inappropriate or constricted affect
(4) behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar (maybe?)
(5) lack of close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives

So, what will this info do for you? It'll let you know that he's a troubled soul. At 33, with no real relationships to speak of, other than this obsession with Maria, it's odd. It's eccentric. And no, probably not many readers will identify with him b/c these personality disorders don't make up much of the population as a whole. (You can read my personality disorder posts for more info or buy my Writer's Guide.)

How the reader will respond to him, though, is all in the writing. I'd be happy to look over your manuscript as part of my therapeutic editing service to help with this regard, but how you write him will tell whether they hate him or pity him. If he's kind of the anti-hero, you want to go the sympathetic route, I think.

As an aside....I think the premise of the book is amazing. I'm really interested in it, Kathleen. It's dark, but then again, it's a tragedy. I appreciated all the detail you gave me in the intake form, and obviously didn't include all the info about Thomas so that readers everywhere will have some surprise when this book gets published. Love the title you've got, love the idea behind it. I wish you the best of luck!


Lucy said...

Even a tragedy can still be redemptive, and I think that may be what you want to strive for here. So many people in this world never quite make it--their lives are one failure after another--and yet one little redemptive spark shines through, and you can see where the grace of God is enough to cover all failures.

If you want a truly beautiful song that applies here, get a copy of The Great Divide by Point of Grace.

It always will be one of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this could be my new favorite blog. They psychology behind our characters and their motivations is so fascinating to me. I love what you've done with your office and will definitely be stopping by for some couch time!

cookies said...

Thanks for reviewing my character! I really appreciate it. Strangely enough, your diagnosis is one that I suspected of one of the people who inspired some aspects of my character, which is an odd coincidence. I'm an overly-creative young author, so I don't know how the publishing process works, but I'll keep you posted if I end up going anywhere with what I've written. Thanks again!

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