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Today, I’m sharing a guest post! 🙂 Bill Weiss uses his website– unitingrecovery.com —to sheds light on addiction, offering people the resources to learn more about the disease of addiction. I asked him to write an informative post about how we, as fiction writers, might correctly write about characters battling with addiction, so he did! Take it away, Bill!
Writing takes a lot of time and dedication as it is, so writing about a touchy subject is especially difficult. Though addiction is a common theme in many storylines, it is not uncommon for authors to make a few mistakes when tackling this sensitive subject. Read on for tips about writing addiction in fiction.
1. Avoid Clichés
The very idea of an addict conjures up images of a person down on their luck, struggling to stay alive and maybe even stealing from family and friends. Though these things may be true for many addicts, they are often overplayed in movies and fiction novels. They are also incredibly misinformed about the other side of addiction that quietly hides in suburbia.
In order to avoid clichés, consider what details make up an addict. Understand how a person might ask himself, “Am I an addict?” even though he or she might be living an otherwise successful life. Don’t focus on the dirtiest details of addiction at the expense of connecting with a wider audience.
Instead, focus on some aspect of addiction that you haven’t read about. What does the addicted person do for money if they don’t decide to steal and sell valuables? Does the addicted person ever have sobering moments when he or she feels ashamed of the addictive behaviors? Imagine such moments and write about them.
2. Make the Character Sympathetic
Creating a character who battle addiction might mean daring to write hairy details about someone with an obvious flaw. However, one tricky thing about writing addiction is that some readers might carry judgements regarding addiction that can get in the way of them truly bonding with the character. You want to give your characters flaws but also make them seem like real human beings.
Balance their flaws by giving them some good qualities, too. Is your addicted character riotously funny? Does he or she have a past to overcome? These details are crucially important to understand addiction as most recovering addicts focus on past trauma and improving self-esteem during recovery. The more human characteristics that you can assign to your character, the more sympathetic the character will become to your reader. Sympathetic characters are the ones we remember best and they are the ones that keep us turning the pages.
3. Reveal the Addiction Through the Character’s Actions
Telling the reader that your character is an addict is not nearly as convincing as showing them. For instance, if you state that your character has a meth addiction, but this addiction never causes any problems or consequences for your character, then you haven’t painted a very clear picture of what being an addict truly means.
A better way to tell your character’s story would be to allow her to suffer. Show the reader the painful reality of struggling with addiction. Does she struggle to complete simple, everyday tasks? How does this make her feel? Where does the reader see her behaving differently than someone without an addiction
You also lose credibility if you make life too easy for your addicted characters. Sending your character to therapy and curing her from her addiction without illustrating that addiction is a lifelong struggle robs your reader of taking the journey with her. Because addiction creates problems that last a lifetime, it’s okay to make her fail at her first attempts to get help. Maybe she is not even on the path to recovery by the end of your story.
Telling a story without adding details about the addiction will also make the story bland and less memorable. Think about the everyday tasks you perform–going to work, cooking dinner and spending time with family. How might these tasks be different for an addict? For instance, an addict might worry about keeping secrets from her family, or she might have a strong urge to satisfy her addiction while in a public place.
4. Do Your Research
While many authors do well by writing from personal experience, you do not need to be an addict to write about one. First, you must understand the basic disease model of addiction. Understand the way it touches every aspect of life and the way addiction locks the addict into a never-ending circle of cravings and relapse.
Next, take the time to understand the differences between substances and their effects. For instance, a methamphetamine addict might have a noticeably different appearance than that of a cocaine addict. Meth addicts sometimes suffer from hallucinations that cause them to feel critters crawling on their skin. The imagined presence of these critters causes meth addicts to scratch their skin, which creates scabs and blisters. Adding little details, such as this one, to your story can make the character come alive. It will also add credibility to your story.
Writing a good fiction story about addiction may feel like a daunting task. However, you can do it. Consider the above tips. Research the addiction you’re writing about and add details about the addiction in your story. Be sure that your character is sympathetic by giving them both flaws and strengths, and make an effort to avoid common clichés concerning addiction. Following these tips will help you make your fiction story believable, credible and interesting.