Writing PTSD

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    Anne of Lothlorien

    Hey y’all. So, cutting to the chase, I have a character that has PTSD. Problem is, is that I don’t technically know how to write PTSD. But this character, a twenty-four year old, lost her parents in a terrorist explosion seven five years ago, so I need to learn how to write it. Basically she was the only one who survived, and she went back into the building to find her family and she saw them all dead. Her mom, father, and younger brother, age 14.

    So… have any of you had experience with PTSD people, family members, anything? Or maybe even you yourself if you’re comfortable talking about that? I know I can google symptoms and everything, but person advice would be the greatest, if you could. Thanks to all who reply!

    @ericawordsmith @eden-anderson @i-david @andrew @evelyn @parker

    I'm short, I like words, and I love people.
    No, I didn't draw my profile pic.


    I’m afraid (well actually glad haha) that I have no experience on this subject beyond second-hand research.

    Sorry I can’t be of help!

    Andrew Schmidt

    I’ve looked up PTSD, but I know no people with it. Sorry if I can’t help. But thanks for tagging me, anyway. 🙂

    "Muhahaha!"- Unknown Villain

    Chelsea R.H.


    I don’t have PTSD, but because a lot of my stories are war stories, I have researched it quite extensively. Most of my research has been in military cases of PTSD/Combat Stress Disorder/Shellshock, but anyone can get PTSD, so I imagine the symptoms and experiences are quite similar.

    There’s a few things I would consider researching. One would be flashbacks/dreams another would be triggers. Triggers can be anything–the obvious ones would be things such as fire, gunshots, mentions of terrorism and terrorists, in the case of your character. But there could be a lot of less obvious triggers as well, such as anything that remotely reminds them of that incident (a big, almost stereotypical, but nonetheless true, one would be fireworks). I personally have a terror of venomous  snakes, due to the fact that I live in Australia and have had a lot of really close calls with them, and know of other people who’ve had their dogs, horses, cats killed by snakes. I can’t walk through long grass without being on hyper-vigilance. And (this is where I was actually going with this paragraph) I also can’t see a lizard, a hose or my dog’s stripy tail when it’s in long grass, without immediately thinking of a snake and having a momentary panic attack, before my brain convinces me that this is a lizard and not a snake (strangely enough, this doesn’t apply to pythons, and snakes I know are non-venomous. I don’t know why. it’s just lizards). So I imagine PTSD triggers are a lot like that, only much worse.

    I’d also research panic attacks and anxiety and all those other things that can come from severe psychological damage.

    Here’s a good interview with a lady with PTSD http://storitorigrace.blogspot.com/2016/09/so-your-character-has-post-traumatic.html

    Here’s some more, particularly from a writer’s point of view (I haven’t read them all, so I can’t comment on how factual they seem to be)

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Writers


    https://www.quora.com/How-would-you-write-a-character-that-has-PTSD-from-something-terrible-that-happened-to-her (Quora also has quite a number of other good questions about PTSD which you could explore if you don’t mind falling down the Quora rabbit hole)

    SO hopefully that made somewhat sense and was somewhat helpful 😀

    Mahalo keia huiʻana

    Buddy J.


    Oooo… that’s an interesting question. And though I’ve never had to deal with PTSD, it’s something I’ve thought about, and I know at least one person who has it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…

    It might help to break down the name, and then apply that to what we understand as what manifests. Post traumatic stress means someone is suffering from something that happened to them in the past. It was so shocking, they’ve been psychologically altered, and it affects them physically (in the mind).

    The person I know who has PTSD is a military veteran who saw combat. He was distant, didn’t often carry on conversation in a way that continued, had short answers, and often stared into space. Not all of these have to do with the PTSD by itself, but have to do with his experience and how it affects him now.

    My main character deals with PTSD, and one of the ways I characterize this is his eyes. He shows a lot of pain… something that seems ages deep. On top of that he clearly can turn into someone NOT to jest with, and is willing to be deadly to people who touch him wrong. He might get lost in thought, or be distracted by his memories. But he also uses the memories and pain to make him more dangerous, a darker character.

    So I’d choose a certain aspect about PTSD that you feel like works with your character. Capitalize on that, and then build around it. The aspects don’t have to be PTSD specific, except for maybe one or two. The others can just be things that feel right, and support it. Things that get the reader to better understand.

    I hope that helps! Feel free to ask more 🙂

    Published author, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    Andrew Schmidt

    @seekjustice: You live in Australia? That’s really cool! But I have to say those snakes seem a little freakish. Xd I’d have nightmares about it. We have a bunch of garter sakes, but those are way far from dangerous. 🙂

    "Muhahaha!"- Unknown Villain

    Daeus Lamb

    @anne-of-lothlorien Have you thought about stalking forums or facebook groups for those with PTSD?

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    Anne of Lothlorien

    @evelyn and @andrew Thanks for coming on and commenting anyways!

    Wow, thank you so much! I was not expecting this! I will definitely look up those articles, thank you.

    Currently planning, she does have dreams, but more abstract dreams, and I focus more on the emotions, the fears that are brought up, not specifically dreams about certain horrible things. I haven’t figured out her triggers yet, if she’s going to have some specific ones… I did read an article by someone who said their sister had PTSD from the military, but they could never figure out what set her off. It was all in her head, and random. There were no connecting factors, or things that set her off that they could influence or keep from happening, so it was all her, her thoughts, that set her off to have panic attacks.

    Thanks for the advice! The angle I’m trying to go for is that she is alone. Her family was taken from her, and to her, they were the only people she could depend upon, they were the only people that made her feel like she was worth something. So, besides the fact that there is trauma from seeing your family dead, she’s struggling with feeling a worth or purpose anymore. Which is why, further on in the story, she rashly starts dating this guy who is not a Christian, or a ‘good guy’ in general, because she just needs to feel ‘loved’ somehow. He ends up dumping her and she realizes that finding the happiness and fulfillment in life is not going to come from people, but from God. Anyways, so there’s that double aspect I’m trying to get, the horror from what happened, and now the affect that she is lonely and depressed because of the results of what happened.

    Also, does anyone have any thoughts on how… well, how large of a traumatic experience something has to be for someone to have PTSD? I mean… how far back can you take it? One of the most difficult nights of my life was when I was in the hospital waiting room by myself and was told that my mom had almost died and my sister was born with DS and couldn’t breathe properly… can you have PTSD from something that… not monumentally dramatic? I mean, I didn’t hear about it until it was over. Can you have PTSD from… seeing your brother drown? Can you have PTSD from being at the hospital with your grandfather when he dies? Can you have PTSD from breaking a leg? What qualifies as ‘traumatic stress’? Does having a nightmare about falling out of a tree after you fell out of a tree and broke your arm qualify as PTSD? (I’d say no, but I can’t spell out the boundaries of what counts) Thoughts?

    I'm short, I like words, and I love people.
    No, I didn't draw my profile pic.


    @daeus-lamb That might work. 🙄😂

    Anne of Lothlorien

    @daeus-lamb Not until now. It could be a good idea, but I can’t look at Facebook, cause I don’t have it, and I’d rather read open articles, or get advice from people I know, like you guys. Good idea though… I’ll think about it.

    (BTW, I love your signature)

    I'm short, I like words, and I love people.
    No, I didn't draw my profile pic.

    Ariel Ashira

    @anne-of-lothlorien I have a friend who has PTSD.  She has been pretty open about it, so I emailed her and so if she responds and tells me something about it that might help you, I will let you know.


    "No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets, or how hard you fall, you are never out of the fight."

    Anne of Lothlorien

    @ashira – Thank you! And if your friend replies, tell her many thanks from me!

    I'm short, I like words, and I love people.
    No, I didn't draw my profile pic.

    Eden Anderson

    @anne-of-lothlorien I’ve never had PTSD or ever interacted with someone who had it. So, sorry, can’t help you. (Looks like the others got you covered though.)

    "But how could you live and have no story to tell?" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    Veraza Winterknight


    I feel as if you’d know something about this…

    "You can dance with my henchman."

    Sarah Inkdragon


    Though I’ve never had PTSD, or at least what can classify medically as PTSD, I’ve lost a brother under traumatic circumstances when I was younger and been with my father and my younger sister, alone, while he was having a major heart-attack, so I can say that I know somewhat about the shock factor and the anxieties that come with traumatic events, plus I’ve done quite a bit of research on PTSD since most of my novels deal with at least one character with some form of PTSD–so I’m going to jump in and ad my two cents. (And no, my life is not as depressing as you’re thinking it is right now, both of those previously mentioned events are still a bit of a sore spot but they were both quite a while ago, so I’m not to sensitive about sharing them anymore.)

    Anyhow, to add on top of what @seekjustice and @wordsmith said, PTSD deals a lot with anxiety and the natural human nature of trying to get away from what causes pain. It’s completely and utterly normal to avoid pain, but PTSD seems to turn that up to a couple levels and make the bearer directly and knowingly try to avoid anything that is correlated to their PTSD. For your character, like mentioned above, that could be smoke, fire, firecrackers, loud noises, popping sounds, guns, screeching tires, the feel of suffocation, being attached to people, dark stains, etc. There’s hundreds of things that may seem utterly normal to us but if in the right context or moment, could set her off. (By setting off, I mean anywhere from slight anxiety to a full blown panic attack. This is one thing I see a lot of people getting wrong when they try to write a character with PTSD–every time the character sees anything related to the event that caused the PTSD, they instantly just go into a panic attack or anxiety attack. Which isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just no correct. It’s not going to happen every time–if the character has the ability to run away instead of face the fear, they’re going to do that. And that sometimes averts full-blown attacks.)

    There’s a couple things I like to do when writing a character with an event-specific based PTSD(meaning one or two related events caused the PTSD, not say, a long drawn out trauma like war). One is to pick pressure points. Maybe this character cannot stand people touching his neck or back, because a villain once stuck up on him and kidnapped him from behind. Maybe this character doesn’t like wearing shoes they can’t run in, because they once got trapped somewhere and almost didn’t make it out because they were wearing dress shoes or flip flops or something. Whatever it is, pick a pressure point and exploit it. Show the character’s growth by emphasizing how naturally or unconsciously that person protects this point–and then show how they eventually over come it. Show the one character not flinching or moving away from a friendly slap on the back, and the other finally tossing the running shoes and dressing up fancy for a night out with some buddies.

    Another thing is to be careful with triggers. Your character doesn’t need a mental breakdown every chapter for angst. PTSD isn’t healthy, but breaking down constantly means your character needs some serious professional help, not just some good friends. So use the triggers wisely–use the character’s personality to determine when they’ll blow. One of my characters is a naturally quiet and slightly anxious person, a perfectionist who’s always planning his next move. A trigger for him might be an unexpected action from one of his friends, or someone who’s overly excitable and loud suddenly joining their little group. But that doesn’t mean he’s likely to go and have a full-blown attack. Because he’s quiet and prefers to keep to himself, he’s not just going to show that he’s nervous or frightened around everyone. He’ll be quieter than usual, and maybe more jumpy, and avoid whatever is causing him trouble like the plague, even if it means changing his usual routine and friendships. As long as he doesn’t have to face it. And eventually, if he lets it go on long enough, everything will start building up and then he’ll blow.

    So use those triggers wisely–the more build up, the more stakes and the more affect it’ll have on all the characters in your story. When my brother died, it was while we were watching a movie late one night. It’s a movie that I now love, but for years and years afterward I couldn’t even think of movie or the events of it. I wouldn’t speak of it or my brother, and eventually the pent-up feelings went south and I became pretty seriously depressed. Eventually I got out of that, but like I said, it left lasting effects. Use that to your advantage when you’re writing this girl’s story.

    As for what qualifies as PTSD–well, PTSD is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Generally we think of it as a long term thing, but I’d say there’s short term PTSD as well, though it’s no where near as severe. I’d say your brother drowning is definitely cause you to have a water phobia and some nightmares, and maybe avoiding swimming, but falling out a tree and breaking your arm probably not.

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis

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