Trauma can provoke great internal, external and interpersonal conflicts, but readers are not interested in clinical definitions or objective recitations of symptoms. Trauma has to be more than an emotional theatre. It should complicate your character’s journey and be specific to the journey ahead.

If you can take out the backstory and flashbacks, and the character remains unchanged, you may not need to use trauma in your story. Stephen King wrote that fiction is the truth in a lie.

Be honest when it comes to living with trauma. Entertain yourself with your fiction, but be honest about the lived experience of trauma.

What is trauma?

We constantly mis-word the term “trauma” in regular conversation. When many people say that they are struggling with “trauma”, they mean that they were betrayed, disappointed, embarrassed, ashamed, hurt, sad, grieving – whatever. These are legitimate emotional injuries that can feel traumatic, but this is not what is meant by mental health professionals when they talk about trauma.

Trauma is omnipresent, but it is also specific. Trauma is any event or situation in which a person feels overwhelmed, helpless (loss of ability to act, voice, autonomy, mobility, hope), horrified, suffers a serious health-issue or perceives the browbeat of serious health-issue or Pass away. Trauma is a visceral experience.

Trauma is a failure of recovery.

Everyone experiences things that are disturbing or hurtful and that haunt him. Each. But not everyone struggles with get-down, anxiety, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder (BPD), PTSD, C-PTSD, bipolar disorder, dissociation, panic disorder, agoraphobia, suicidal thoughts, self-isolation, etc.

These are the real consequences of trauma. There is an escalation of damage, health-issue, a feeling of being “stuck” or “broken” inherent in the struggle with and coping with trauma. an inability to “just get over it.” Be honest!

The lived experience of trauma

Most people will do almost anything to avoid being reminded of the worst moment of their life. These are not the things that people look the navel over. You don’t remember the time when you almost died. They don’t share the nightmares or night terrors they experience with friends every night. Instead, they avoid falling asleep, they take medication to sleep, they sleep poorly, because their brain does not allow them to achieve a deep restful sleep.

Follow this thread.

What other consequences would one have if one were chronically exhausted? There are diseases, attention and focus problems. You probably tend to overreact. They can be forgetful, prone to accidents and / or make many mistakes. You can treat yourself to alleviate these problems by chugging cups and cups of coffee and then drinking yourself to sleep, for example, at night.

Show the reaction to the emotions that the memory evokes, rather than your character thinking about the emotions that he feels.

Writing Tips for Trauma

Instead of your character spending time thinking about his trauma; instead of writing down all those backstories or flashbacks, show what you are avoiding.

Where do you not feel safe? What efforts are you making to feel safe? Some people have to stand with their backs to the wall so that no one can sneak up on them. What clothes do you wear so as not to feel in a certain way, so as not to attract certain looks or certain types of attention? Perhaps it’s the opposite, and you wear certain clothes to attract attention. Do you react to a busy day by meeting with the first available prospect without paying attention to your personal safety – compulsively?

The reader will pick up how this behavior is about something else that happened in the past.

Studies have been conducted on young men who were mis-word as boys by priests. Those who struggle with anxiety (of any kind) often become gym rats because they never want to be overwhelmed again. This passion need to be strong is the reaction, but you can deny what happened, avoid everything that reminds you of what happened, and many will not talk about what happened.

We FEEL a trauma, we do not linger on memories

Our brain does not record memories, like a director filming a movie. Our brain craves context, continuity and closure. Therefore, trauma memories seem unreliable, since events are recorded with jumps and gaps. Details that are too overwhelming can not be remembered at the moment, but come back after days or months. Things that are too overwhelming might be recorded at first, but then forgotten over time.

You can use the unreliable and erroneous function of memory to show a character with past traumas. You may think that you are crazy or have difficulty trusting your own memory of what happened and questioning everything. You can passion try to create a narrative about what happened, or use other sources to fill in what you can not remember or what is not supposed to be true.

For those who have had disturbing experiences, these emotions and memories will often fade over time. But those who are struggling with trauma will involuntarily experience these trauma emotions over and over again. Many trauma survivors describe it as a movie in their brain that they can’t stop playing.

For example, if the character feels vulnerable, instead of THINKING about how vulnerable he feels or how this moment feels very much like this trauma moment, show the reaction instead.

  • Do you immediately reach for alcohol?
  • Are you punishing yourself (because in some way you blame yourself for what happened) by doing three extra laps around the block while jogging?
  • Do you go abruptly or do you constantly cancel?


When writing memories like this for your character, instead of trying to capture the complete horror of an event, try to focus narrowly on what would be most annoying for him. Be visceral with the sensory details. Sound and smell are two senses that are very closely related to memory. This is specific to your character, unique to his experiences and browbeat levels.

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