Writing Dark Traits (Alchoholism, Depression, Eating Disorders)

I keep trying to write out character pages about their assigned traits but I can’t seem to write anything that doesn’t sound like a wiki page on the subject. I’d appreciate some random facts or ideas on how to write certain traits in a way that doesn’t sound like every YA novel that took 10 minutes to study a psych page.

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Are we talking about mental illnesses or character flaws here? Because you’ve lost me.


Are you asking for people to do research for you?

And these aren’t traits so maybe do more research before writing these in your books especially since they’re sensitive topics.


I have to address this first, but having a lot of sex is not a character flaw or negative trait. Calling a character that does have a lot of sex a ‘slut’ is absolutely shaming them. There is nothing wrong with being sexually active as long as you are responsible about it by using proper protection and doing your best to choose sexual partners that a) won’t end up dragging you into a toxic relationship and b) respect boundaries and only participate if there is enthusiastic consent from everyone involved. If the character is careless with their sexual life, then it becomes a negative trait. But simply having sex often and/or with multiple partners is not bad, and refering to a character as a slut because of it is just perpetuating that false ideology.

Now that that’s out of the way, the best way to write this topics sensitively and accurately is to research them. Look up sources like psychology studies dealing with substance abuse or eating disorders, ask people who have personal experience with alcoholism or irresponsible sexual habits, etc… There’s no easy trick to get around it. Putting in the work to research things properly is the right way to go about writing these topics.


Oooh, I’m writing an alcoholic right now too! Originally she had an eating disorder, but that didn’t work in the story, so I changed it. My opinion, for what that’s worth, is to simply show the reader that they have a problem by having them reach for a drink at inappropriate times, have other characters say, "You might want to take a breath mint before you go to that job interview / wedding / etc. Stuff like that. Have your character behave inappropriately at critical times. For eating problems, describe how they slice a piece of cheese into slices so thin you can see through them, things like that. No need to infodump–just show your reader your character behaves differently than others. It’s the same for whatever–sex addictions, gambling addictions, drug addictions, etc. Show them making bad choices at inappropriate times and how they do it. Maybe have other characters notice it and comment behind the main character’s back. That’s my take on it, anyhow. (*^-‘) 乃


The biggest issue with researching online (as if you’re looking through Wikipedia or blogs) is that these types of mental illnesses address people differently and the people around them involved (such as friends and family) will address it differently as well. That’s also why it’s good to ask others for their personal experiences with it, whether from themselves or as an outsider view if they knew someone close to them with these kinds of problems.

I’ve dealt with all three of those issues: knew a few people with alcoholism and I do have depression and an eating disorder (binge eating). My experiences are different to others, which is also why I don’t always see eye to eye with some people who either haven’t experienced it that way or haven’t experienced it at all. A common example is with the representation of Thirteen Reasons Why on the side of depression. The majority of people, along with professionals in the field, believe it did a terrible job of representing Hannah having depression… simply because they didn’t show it nor did they explicitly say it. Many of the people on this side of the argument believe you have to show it or say you have it in order for it to be true, and as someone with depression who has done neither… I can say that the fact that Hannah didn’t explicitly look like she had symptoms of depression doesn’t mean she didn’t have it. You can fake smile and look happy to everyone around you. You can be a very good liar and tell everyone you’re doing great. You can make jokes, make people laugh, make it seem you’re genuinely okay. You can tell no one how you’re truly feeling and not want a single soul to know you’re suffering. You can feel as if you don’t want help because you think you’ll “pull through” or that you’ll just survive until the next day. All of these are true and can happen for people who suffer with depression. Especially since there have been many cases where “genuinely happy” people commit suicide because they actually weren’t happy, but no one knew about it because the signs weren’t obvious.

But yes, you then have professionals in the field saying differently. And that’s where my blood boils as well. Just because you’re a professional in a field doesn’t mean you’re always right. You’re human after all, meaning that you make mistakes and you have your own opinions. I’ve heard horror stories where therapists were rude to their clients and made their depression even worse. I’ve had doctors not prescribe me medication because it “doesn’t work” even though it worked for me. I’ve even had one male doctor who tried to convince me that I was pregnant because I hadn’t had a period in months simply because I have irregular periods due to being overweight… and I’m a virgin. So unless I was accidentally inseminated somehow, raped without knowing at all, or I was going to give birth to Jesus’s brother, that guy had it all wrong. There’s also fatphobic doctors who don’t properly diagnose patients who are overweight. And my sister has a heart condition where for a whole year, she couldn’t walk at all or stand, threw up every five minutes, and fainted a lot… and was seen by at least ten different doctors of various specialists, taken every kind of test imaginable, and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. They all thought she was stressed out and just sent her home, prescribing aspirin and rest at the end of the day. It wasn’t until a year later when she moved away to a whole other state and went to a new hospital where they instantly found out what was wrong with her. So with stories like this, I don’t give a crap about what a therapist has to say about what is and isn’t mental illnesses because it isn’t what the majority experience or what, in their “professional opinion,” is supposed to be like. :woman_shrugging:

This is also why it’s good to talk about your experiences with whatever it is so it’s easy to compare and contrast, see what the differences and similarities are from other perspectives. In most cases, there isn’t one answer to… honestly, anything. Each action, interaction, experience… it’s all put under an umbrella of symptoms and circumstances. That’s what makes your thought process so unique because it creates a butterfly effect. If you grew up around parents with alcoholism, you could become an alcoholic yourself especially since part of it (the addiction part) comes from genetics. But your sibling could grow up hating alcohol and not have a single sip in their life. Your other sibling may drink, but only a cup at a time for moderation so they never get drunk. You all grew up in the same household, but your perspectives on it are different which makes your outcomes differ from each other.

This can be the same with just about any topic: bullying, abuse, mental illness, money (wealth and poverty), etc. Personally, I find observing people and their environments and how they grew up and where they are now very intriguing, especially since it helps with writing characters of various backgrounds.

If you’d like to know more about my experiences with these three topics, don’t hesitate to ask me anything. :wink: I can probably go on forever talking about them. Haha


I don’t always use these rules.

  1. Bad things are best told as tersely a confession as possible, often. If it’s raw to the character, let them be blunt. Now, you can use soft words, but not at the expense of brevity. Drawing out scenes is hard on the sensitive.

  2. Use the same rule of thumb for bad scenes as you use for sex scenes: if it is gratuitous, and does not serve the plot, you do not write it.

  3. Express it in a way that would go over a 13 year old’s head. Yes, underage kids get on adult sites.

  4. Be vauge.

  5. If there is more than one trait, use the milder one gratuitously, and let the McAssClown threaten with the worse traits, pretending like they are a saint to only be using the milder trait.

  6. If they have a very redeeming trait, focus on forcing that thing to do vile things.

  7. When there is a triat seen as bad, find the redeeming uses.

(Really, these last two are more of using traits as a tool, not assigning them good or bad.)


This is one of my resources for writing things like this:
The Emotional Wound Thesuarus


I have the emotion thesaurus, and find it pretty useful. I didn’t know they had one now about trauma.


Yeah it goes pretty deep and addresses addiction behaviors and such as well as how to convey them appropriately


I wrote binge eating disorder for my LI in Winers Don’t Have Bad Days by showing a lot of his experiences through that lens (for example how he thinks about food every time he sees a different food—and that’s always a food that goes with a scene or he dreams about during a scene to release the stress he is feeling), showing how he knows he has a problem, but justifies it away. How he lies to cover it up. How he watch different foods in the scenes, depending on y the type of food. Showed his low moments with food, as he eventually grows bulimic. At the same time I gave him mechanisms to cope and by the end of the book—understanding of what he will be doing for the rest of his life, acceptance of living with a disorder.

I will be writing a mental disorder for my next book, so I will be showing how the vulnerability originated, how it took hold and disfigured the view of the world.

I think it’s important to use it as a lens throughout the story vs infodump. You have to be consistent and remember that it is always present in the character. That they don’t set aside when they go to work or on a date or just relaxing. It is always there, colouring their experiences, particularly in a book.


✧・゚: * ✧・゚:* Your words matter. Your contributions matter. Your voice matters. Your creativity matters. You are SO important.✧・゚: *✧・゚: *


Thanks, Wisp!

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This might be a long one.

I’ve written a few books now with different mental disorders.

The only one I’ve written with something I don’t have personally is OCD in a book I’m editing right now. I did a ton of research around it, looked up some facts and read a few personal stories. I made it more about the invading thoughts than something like cleaning or something. One of my commenters on a different book of mine on WP gave me the idea. I had a character recite bible quotes because she was brought up in religion, and the commenter is a psychologist and we got discussing it. I put the idea away for editing, and kept all the facts she gave me. I then adapted it for the story it’s now in.
I found it (or find as I will get to that part in the story soon) pretty hard going because I don’t know much about it before research. But I found the way to deal with it as a writer is to sort of use facts, use character personality and adapt it. The important thing is to explain why or at least show why. The character might not know how it happened, but the reader should I think - mainly if this is happening in the book. The thing I sort of failed on in the book is keeping it going through the end and showing how the character deals with it in the end. I plan now I’ve worked with MH issues in other books since, working on that with editing, but luckily no readers have seen that or at least told me about it.

A book I recently completed I wrote PTSD and depression. I have both of these so I found it pretty easy to deal with the symptoms/feelings and getting them across. I was developing another bout of depression at the time of writing so I used ti as a therapeutic thing as well.
But it was a learning process as well, because I found I had to be consistent because the character was ex-military, so naturally, he wouldn’t just get over it (like most illnesses you can’t anyway but you know what I mean)

My main take away from writing things like this is: consistency. MH illnesses, most of the time lie dormant. You can treat them, but they will probably come back in some form later on. (this is a very sweeping generalisation right now, but for comments sake go with me here)
Illnesses (whatever type) as well affect people differently. Science might mean they are the same illnesses/biology but people react differently to everything. Pain, MH illnesses, that kind of thing. So another major thing to do is read real life stories. Like for MH illnesses, check out a charity page and they’ll give you different aspects of life with something. Then you can adapt them to your character.

Science is obviously important in doing illnesses on the why or the how, but the psychology and sociology of illnesses like addiction/mental health etc is probably the most important thing.


Nothing is worse than claiming a trait for
a character then abruptly ignoring it, just after you established it. infodumps cheat consistency.


That’s a no man’s land thing. There’s not always a coping mechanism, and when one is found, it’s often a “bad trait”.

The hyperfixation in ADD is a coping mechanism that is inherent to the trait. ADD is a lack of focus due to big distractions. Hyperfixation is where the person with ADD learns to distance themselves from their distractions. The problem is a healthy way of dealing with it is filtering out unwarranted distractions, not all, which neither extreme does. We learn hyperfixations very early, before we understand ourselves, to the point where it becomes a symptom.

So, for someone who does have OCD tendencies, an early-learned fix when fighting themselves is to do nothing, and that’s where OCD can spiral into hoarding, so that you have 2 problems to fight instead of 1.

After having been things like this (the ADD) and family traits of hoarding, I find the idea that successful coping must be shown tickles me. But that’s the nature of writing, trying to show progress in characters.


This is innacurate and based on an outdated understanding of the diagnosis. Lack of focus is a symptom, not a cause of ADD or ADHD. What ADD and ADHD really are, as experts understand them now, are neurodivergent disorders where either a lack of stimulation (sensory or mental) or an abundance of stimultion, cause the person to be unable to process information and they become intollerant of the experience, either seeking more or less stimulation to balance their brain’s needs. If that balance isn’t met, it can make it increasingly difficult to function. Sometimes that includes a lack of focus, but that is not the only symptom, and not the cause or definition of the disorder.

A hyperfixation is a coping mechanism, but it’s not to distance us from distractions. It’s to give us something to stim with that fits well in the balance that we need. Unfortunately, that balance is always shifting, so hyperfixations can change often to compensate.


I’m 40, of course they change definitions on me.

What doesn’t change is my mind wanders and sounds really jar me out of stuff so focusing is nearly impossible unless I tune both completely out, and I called that hyperfixation–and it was a learned trait from a very young age, while the other two were innate. As it is, I’ve allowed hyperfixation from autocorrect instead of hyperfocusing, which is what I grew up hearing it called.

What the definitions and understanding does not change is the fact that if I fixate on something, I can miss my kids getting into trouble, just like a wandering mind and distractions do. So, I don’t find such things a fix, although I’m certainly functional.


Yeah, it can be hard to keep up with all the updates, but I am glad they are coming to understand it better and offer more help with managing the symptoms.
I’m also glad to hear you have gotten to a point where you can function well. I’m still trying to figure that out with my own ADHD.

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this is very true. :thinking:

this really helps actually. During my edit I added little obsessive traits where before the plot she had the trait but now it’s sort of coming-to. I’m glad I did that now :rofl:

Thats what I hate with fiction. Like in my military-romance I gave him a chance to “cope” with meds and therapy, but he never gets over it, he’s just dealing because personally, I’ve never really gotten over my issues, I just deal if that makes sense.
But then I’ve given that growth of being so dark, and then building/growing to a functional point, which I think is realistic for most. (total generalisation but you know what I mean) XD