How do you experience depression and anxiety? Many people think depression is sadness, like being upset over a breakup or a bad grade. But it’s not! Depression can be linked to feelings of sadness or guilt. Often there’s no explanation for it. You’re feeling this way for no apparent reason.
Not all sad endings describe the depressed character. Some books have death in them, but they still end up on a happy note or at least a hopeful tone. Some books show the depressed character losing all the people around them, but they still live in the end and are better for the experiences they’ve gone through. So although we might cry out those stories, they are not always in depression. If you want to write a depressed character, stay with me till last.
How to write a depressed character?
Writing a depressed character is difficult and sometimes makes the story very complex. If your depressed character lives in the end, your story is probably not emotional. That’s unless your character lives but would be better off dead.
If you live, you do not have a mental illness but lose someone else. At least not unless the depressed character is worse off than when the story began. If the character is succeeding in their mission halfway through the story, then you don’t have a breakpoint.
Usually, by the midpoint in a story, your character is at their lowest point. However, keep in mind that that is not a hard rule. There have been many instances where this general rule was broken, and writers make things too perfect for their depressed characters, only to pull the rug out from underneath their characters. Now, I will discuss 7 tips to write a depressed character perfectly. Let’s do it!
1. Find the breaking point
The breaking point is the point in your novel where your character breaks down. The characters are delivered a hard blow, usually with the goal they’re trying to achieve, and they are depressed. A good breaking point is designed to upset the reader. They’re either devastated by the character or angry for giving up on their goal.
If you’ve studied story structure, you probably have heard of the breaking point but don’t know it because it’s not always referred to as ‘the breaking point.’ Sometimes it’s called ‘the crisis,’ ‘the black moment,’ ‘all is lost,’ and so on.
Many assume breaking points are specific to adventure novels, especially if a hero is involved, but breaking points are utilized across all fictional genres.
- In romance novels, the breaking point usually involves a breakup, fight, or estrangement.
- In crime fiction, the breaking point is usually when the lead detective is suspended or removed from a case.
Remember, this is the lowest point for your depressed character in that story. It doesn’t have to be life or death if the stakes aren’t that high. If your book is fiction, it should feature a breaking point.
2. Add twisting climax
The depression almost always occurs toward the end of the book before the climax. If you’re using the three-act structure, the depression is often referred to as ‘the break into Act III.’ The climax is usually the most adrenalized moment in the book. So having your character transition from completely hopeless to achieving their goal is very appealing to the reader.
Your character is at rock bottom and has to climb their way to the peak of that climax. You’re taking in all the information to write your book! What’s it going to be about? Find your destination.
3. Don’t make any easy goal
Depression is often cited as one of the essential plot points because all that drama and emotion will make the character’s inevitable triumph (climax and resolution). As the story progresses, your character gets closer and closer to achieving their goal. If all they experience are wins along the way, it’s neither emotionally impactful nor relatable.
The depression gives your character a massive fail right before they go up against their goal, in theory, for the last time. It ups your stakes to the highest level, which is what you want right before the climax. Additionally, if your character succeeds during the climax and achieves their goal, it will feel much more deserved.
We don’t enjoy media where things come from because we can’t relate. Struggle, effort, and tenacity makes a character’s triumph feel earned. The depression does double duty for the author because it’s emotionally devastating for the reader and planting seeds toward an epic climax.
4. Define the reason for depression
The depression is your character’s lowest point in the story. So given everything you know about the plot and the character. Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen to them? It is why romances often feature a breakup or estrangement as depression. The story revolves around a relationship, so taking that away is devastating.
Looking at crime novels, if a detective is passionate about a case and so close to solving it and then is suddenly kicked off the case and fired. That will be a huge blow, not only to their career but also emotionally. Death is also a breaking point.
For example, the main character’s friend or family member dies, especially if it’s partly their fault. Ultimately, the reason for depression you choose is going to depend on the character in question, the plot you’re writing, and the trajectory of your story.
5. Show the depressed character’s reactions
The reader needs to see the character in the story at a new emotional low. It could be sadness, anger, depression, or even rage. How they initially react depends on the context, but the depressed character reacts poorly. For example, in hero stories, especially the depressed character often quits. So, they lose hope and thus don’t believe in the cause anymore or don’t believe that their goal is achievable.
However, after a bit of time in their funk, another plot point reminds them why they joined this cause in the first place or reignites their desire to achieve their goal. Using the hero example, it could be an attack from the enemy or seeing more innocent lives lost. They realize they can’t abandon their goal and suit up yet again.
6. Create a guilt
Usually, a good depression is linked to the plot or goal of the story. If your depressed character is trying to solve a murder case and their breaking point is the death of their father from cancer, that’s hard and sad, but it has nothing to do with the plot.
However, if the murderer in question kills their father, that’s a lot more effective because it’s directly related to the plot. Plus, it’ll evoke a lot of guilt in the characters. They took the case, and thus they put their father at risk.
- The depressed character needs to have some emotional reaction that’s both relevant to the situation and keeping within their character.
That means if your character has been nothing but a soft, spongy cinnamon roll throughout the entire story and their depression throws them into a violent rage, that’s going to be a hard sell. But anger, tears, or angry tears could work depending on the context.
7. Do research
The easiest way to understand how to write a depressed character is to research the depression. It means you must read some books and watch movies with a writer’s eye. If you need baby steps, start with Disney movies. There is a depressed character in every single Disney movie that I’ve seen because they’re very effective.
In Aladdin, the depression is when Jafar exposes Aladdin as a liar and shoots him off into the desert. So, Ali turns out to be merely Aladdin! In Beauty and the Beast, when Belle leaves the castle, the Beast falls into a depression. Watch these movies, work your way up to more complex content and search for the breaking points. How are they written? How are the characters reacting?
Storytelling expectations change over the years. It’s never a good idea to compare yourself to an author from a hundred years ago. I can’t think of a fictional novel that didn’t have a depressed character. I’m sure they exist somewhere.
A hopeful ending needs the character not to have a tragic fate. So there you have it. I’d love to know, have you ever written a depressed character? Let me know in the comments.
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