By Peter H. Green
Among many outstanding features of Missouri Writers Guild’s 2013 conference in St. Louis was a Master Class presented by Sarah Fine, PhD, a child psychologist and author, who works with troubled teens.
My first clue that this session would be extraordinary came when its leader warned, “This is going to be pretty intense, and I want to conduct the three-hour session without a break. If you need to get out of here, just leave for a few minutes until you feel you can handle it.”
Sarah Fine told us that 60 percent of the population experiences traumatic stress at one time or another in our lives. Some recover quickly, through working it out with family, friends or therapists. But for about 8 percent, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has chronic effects that become part of their lives. It can be especially severe when a child deprived of a parent’s love at an early age experiences a traumatic event in later life. In this case the effects are amplified and harder to treat and cure..
As a writer, Dr. Fine communicated to us how to bring such a character to life, not by telling the reader the person has PTSD, but by reproducing the scenes as they occurred—in intimate personal settings, in a natural disaster or a man-made horror such as a battle. These are the memories that come back to haunt trauma victims, in flashbacks, nightmares and hallucinations.She suggests we recreate experiences creating trauma for the individual—their visual effects, physical character, sounds, scents and the infliction of physical damage or injury—in vivid, concrete detail.
While I knew this instinctively when I wrote such experiences for two characters
in my current Patrick MacKenna mystery, Fatal Designs, this class was a revelation. I was able to add authentic detail to my scenes and give my characters appropriate reactions, based on the symptoms described by Dr. Fine in to further bring my characters with traumatic stress to life. In the class we worked through development of such a character. Key steps included recording the nature of the person’s experience: the age when it first occurred, the type of trauma, severity, and duration. Whether it was a single event, episodic, as with regular physical abuse of a child, or chronic, as occurs with war zone refugees or neglected, deprived children..
This news came naturally to me, since I had experienced a few traumatic events of my own—my doting father’s departure for World War II when I was only four years old, losing him a second time when he died at 68, when I was 36, and experiencing the trauma of the war itself though radio. Since then we endure traumatic stress and tragedy in Marshall McLuhan’s global village daily on live television. We relive its gruesome scenes though repeated broadcasts—the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the 9/11/2001 attack on the World Trade Center towers, natural disasters, freak weather due to global warming (or not), school shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing. Read more about Sarah Fine’s books or her series on trauma.
It’s no wonder we fear our neighbors, foreigners, different ethnic groups, opposing political parties, contamination of our food, guns, gun control and the government itself. We’re collectively reliving the nightmare of self-inflicted Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anybody know a good book I can read, with the TV off?
.Till next time, good words to you,