Marc McCutcheon’s book Building Believable Characters has a section called PSYCHOLOGICAL/PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS that I’m mining for useful stuff. Today’s psychological problems include manic-depressive, martyrdom, masochism, and megalomania. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
The definition for MANIC-DEPRESSIVE PSYCHOSIS offered by McCutcheon reads like this: “a disease characterized by mood swings, from normal to depressed or from normal to euphoric, or a combination of both.” I’m having a hard time commenting on this one because I don’t know a lot about this condition, and it’s a serious problem with some scary side effects, especially if medication is involved (or missed doses, which is worse). Do your research on this one if you use it, because if portrayed incorrectly, it could be a mess. However, mood swings without the manic diagnosis can be fun to work with, because characters who do unexpected things are interesting.
MARTYRDOM: “‘poor me syndrome,’ a neurotic behavior in which one takes on too much responsibility, or blames oneself for everything negative that happens, in order to elicit sympathy from others.” You’ve heard the saying, “no whining?” It applies nicely here. I can’t think of a way to make martyrdom a trait for a protagonist because you want your hero to be likable and sympathetic. The martyrdom problem could be used quite nicely in a secondary character or the antagonist, though, especially for comedic purposes.
MASOCHISM: I almost skipped this one because of the ick factor, but I’ll include it because sometimes you need the ick factor in your book. McCutcheon offers this definition: “deriving sexual stimulation from being hit, dominated, or mistreated by another.” I can see the antagonist’s side-kick/minion suffering from this problem. Can you think of a way to make this one work for a protagonist? I’ll admit, I’m stumped.
MEGALOMANIA: “Delusions fo grandeur; false belief that one is greater, wealthier, or more powerful than one really is.” Again, I’ll take a serious problem and turn to it for comedic effect by pinning this on the antagonist (pairing it with a mania would be even more fun). I believe Vizzini from Princess Bride may have suffered from a mild form of this, and that just proves my point.
Come back next time for more intriguing psychological problems you could use to create believable characters.