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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » suicide

   
Author Topic: suicide
Natosis
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what would drive a character, any character, to commit suicide, or at least give up on life to the point that he's considering going through with it?

[This message has been edited by Natosis (edited November 25, 2005).]


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TruHero
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That is a pretty broad question. It could be just about anything that makes a person snap and take his/her life. Something that builds over time, or even a spur of the moment situation. Suicide can be a big can of worms if it is your main character. If for no other reason then you have to be inside his/her head so much. If it is a secondary or backgorund character, where your not inside the persons head so much it would be easier. Suicide as a theme is always a tough one.

Maybe you could clarify your question a bit, and you would get a more decisive answer?


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sojoyful
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Suicide, it seems to me, is a very person thing. Something that would drive one person to kill themselves might not bother the person next to him at all. It all depends on the character.

Actually, this is a great question for character development. Imagine your character. What is the most important thing to him? What things define his self-identity? What would happen to him if he lost them? What are the things that he lives for, and what would be so bad that it could overrule those things to the point of death?

One example that comes to mind is Anna Karenina (touted as quite possibly the best novel of our times, though I think it's crud). If you can stand to get through the entire thing, you will see how a good person is led down down down until there's no other way (in that character's mind). In fact, that's how Tolstoy got the idea. A well-to-do person had thrown themself under a train near Tolstoy's home, leading him to wonder what events could have led up to that. The result? A really long book. I recommend the book on tape over several months of commuting to work - it's easier to swallow if someone else is reading it instead of you.


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Natosis
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how bout this: kid loses his mother at the age of 5 and his father at the age of 12. he blames himself and feels that whenever he gets close to someone, he loses them. fastforward: the kid is a young man. he's very careful to not fall in love with this particular woman, but she reminds him of his parents, so he can't help but to get close to her. in the end, she dies, and he feels the cycle has repeated just like with his parents. he finds himself trapped in a paradox: he wants more than anything to be close to people because that's when he feels his strongest and the most alive, but at the same time he doesn't want to be close to anyone for fear of losing them. would that drive a character to want to kill himself? because he feels he's a threat to those who he becomes close with?
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Leigh
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Suicide is not an easy thing to write about, unless you have a personal experience about it. I, myself, used to suffer from deep depression and even got to the stage where I didn't care for life, nor those around me. I felt like hell couldn't stop me either, that's because no one cared if i tripped over, hurt myself or did something to someone. No one cared for the new kid at school. Another reason that contributed to it was my home life was dead, my dad had been sent away and my mum paid more attention to my little brother and older sister so the middle child syndrome set in. I grew dark and complex, I spoke in riddles to people who actually did want to talk to me, I would never say no, nor yes.

Depression kills, it makes people do odd things, like suicide. I got depressed enough that I was going to go to the schools toilets and slit my wrists. I felt like hell, I didnt want to be part of a world that didn't know me, I wanted to be alone and ending my life was the one thing that could release me and be alone. Obviously I didn't do it, but i was about a 5 minute walk away from doing it... a person came to me and asked me to come with her. We talked, well she did, and I grunted my disapproval of stuff. She said she liked me, which filled me with warmth, something I didn't know about at that time. Soon she became a friend and I haven't turned back.

Just saying the commiting suicide depends on the individual. For me, it was a multiple of things: starting at a new school, my dad being sent away for the beginning of the Iraq war, me just not caring for life. It feels horrible, but if you can get out of it, then you feel unstoppable and I still do feel like that even 2 years and 11 months later.


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HSO
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I would like to answer the question(s) posed by simply asking another question:

Why is it important [to the story] that the MC wishes to kill himself?

In other words, what does the story gain from it?


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Robert Nowall
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Potential suicides, I've read, often think of the act of suicide as a way to score points against someone or many someones. ("I'll show you! I'll show everybody!" I suppose.) Those that recover often are quite shocked to see the actual reactions of these someones in question.
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wbriggs
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I know of these reasons people attempt suicide:

* "Life is just too awful." This might be from physical pain, or emotional suffering. It might even be brought on by a drug imbalance.

* Shame. Either public shame (as when an imperial Japanese committed seppuku, to take blame), or private shame.

* To avoid some awful inevitability.

* In hopes it will fail and the attempt will change circumstances somehow


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KatFeete
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Depends.

There are four general types of suicide that I can think of. The first, possibly more common, is the scream for attention. Frequently the suicidal person doesn't really want to die; she's just convinced herself that she does, because she secretly feels that it will make people respect her suffering or give her the attention she thinks she needs. Frequently they don't succeed, or don't believe they will succeed, or simply haven't thought it through that far. Very reckless, dramatic behavior - driving too fast, drinking too much, picking fights - is often attached to this style of suicidal; they'll claim they don't care if they die, but it's closer to the truth that they don't believe they can die. Or, possibly, that they're desperate enough for love and understanding that the risk of dying seems an acceptable one.

The second type of suicidal involves a very deep, grinding depression. Large things - the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job - may contribute, but it's usually the simple day-to-day grind that kills. Such people often feel utterly alone and unloved, defeated by their circumstances, shamed, trapped, desperate. They may have made a mistake that looms large in their minds, so large that they simply can't face the consequences: the wake of suicides after Black Friday is a good example here. They may be living a life that grinds on their souls to the point where dying seems simply a release from pain. Usually we're talking about a very deep-rooted pain or fear; either circumstances that have been with them for a long time, or circumstances that they have devoted their whole lives to avoiding (see, again, the Black Friday businessmen.)

The third and fourth are people with terminal diseases or the like and people in a situation where their self-sacrifice will save other people's lives, but I assume that's not what you're aiming for.


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Christine
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Before answering the question, let me caution that suicide stories can be hard sells professionally. I've seen "no suicide" written explicitly in market guidelines before. (Don't have time to look up which ones right now...I've got about two minutes before the baby cries again. )

Anyway, typically when a person commits suicide it's because they've gotten to a point in their mind where whatever awaits them after death cannot possibly be worse than what they perceive their current life to be. That's broad and oversimplified, but if there isn't a sense of that you will probably fail to connect to the reader.

Within that, there are many specifics. wbriggs brought up a few good ones. Keep society in mind too. In Japanese culture, suicide is sometimes a matter of honor, or rather restoring it to the family.

Of course some people are going to be willing to commit suicide for something another person wouldn't be willing to go to that extreme over. I imagine that this is because some people see hope more clearly than others. A sense of hopelessness, of a situation without release or end, is very often a good way to go, but even more than the situation is the person. I've been pretty depressed in my life, especially a few years ago when I found myself unemployed, jilted, and living in a strange city with no friends...but I clung to the hope that things could get better and through that hope I made them better. Others might have just given in and taken the "easy route."

Which brings me to my last point about suicide...it is often difficult to generate sympathy for the character who commits suicide. The character who has a depressing situation but has the strength and courage to survive is usually more compelling.


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Spaceman
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Suicide is generally a useful vehicle in a story only if it's unsuccessful and comes near the flip-over, that is, where the character turns it around and starts to try solving his problems.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited November 26, 2005).]


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Monolith
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What if your character fails in his attempt to end his life? (You could use the cliched, "Let me show you how things would be if you weren't around" type of thing with an escort spirit)

He could then be shown that life does go on and people would miss him in thier own way.

I'm just saying, it's up to you how you work your story, but there are alternatives.

Sorry, but that's one thing that just gets to me.

-Monolith-


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Leigh
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Has anyone actually suffered deep depression that they actually were almost driven to suicide? Ask someone what its like, then try and replicate that experience of theirs into your story.
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Elan
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I had a close friend who nearly committed suicide. It was a horrifying ordeal for me to walk with her on that path. She was dealing with some very horrific memories and couldn't handle the pain any longer. She had convinced herself that suicide was a logical decision, that I was being silly for not seeing how much sense it made. I remember having a conversation with her in my kitchen, and being fully aware that every word I spoke was the difference between life and death. I'm a spiritual person, and I prayed for God to speak through me that night. It was sheer grace that allowed me to say the one thing that stopped her from killing herself. We both knew in the moment that the tide had turned. She was furious with me. But she lived one more day. And another. And another. Eventually, with guidance, she found her way out of the pain.

Be cautious about trying to "pump" people who have experienced deep depression, just to research your story. It's not like describing what it's like to break an arm. Most people who suffer deep depression have suffered through some pretty ugly and agonizing personal experiences... drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse, domestic violence, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It is an incredibly intimate experience, and not one that most people would willingly share with a stranger, particularly for the sake of exploitation into a novel.

I suggest you research the topic by reading books written by survivors of the above experiences instead. And if you are fortunate enough to be graced by a friendship that is close enough to share this level of intimacy, be sure to ask their permission before integrating any of their personal pain into your public story.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 27, 2005).]


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mikemunsil
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people commit suicide when they can see no other way out. writing about suicide is incredibly hard to do, because to legitimately take the reader to that place, you have to take them down the road the MC took, and make every nuance real. it's just hard to do.
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NMgal
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quote:
Which brings me to my last point about suicide...it is often difficult to generate sympathy for the character who commits suicide. The character who has a depressing situation but has the strength and courage to survive is usually more compelling.

Christine has a very good point, I think. There are some exceptions, IMHO. For example, I recently watched the movie The Sea Within. It's about a man who is a quadriplegic and wants help to commit suicide. Through the course of the movie, I felt deeply sympathetic for this character. It's probably the only successful story I've seen/read regarding a main character who commited suicide.



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wbriggs
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I can think of 2 sympathetic (to me) characters who attempt suicide.

One is recently paralyzed. It happened early in the story, and he never tried again; I think it was there to show he was really suffering.

Another, an Agatha Christie. A woman is going to attempt suicide. A gov't agent gives her a proposal. You want to die; we have a suicide mission. You look somewhat like the wife of a missing scientist; she just died in an accident. Be her for us, and you'll probably get caught and killed, but your country needs you.

So it was a plot device. Christie may also have been working out something about her survival of a depression/breakdown.


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hoptoad
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I don't know whether you mean the main character or a supporting character.

if it is a supporting character then maybe the main character will struggle with the same question, especially if they have been through similar experiences.

The following may sound platitudinous, but that's never stopped me before.

Like Christine said, it's when it is more painful to live than to die. Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Social/emotional pain. They can all be excruciating. Sometimes it can be about taking back the dignity that a life of pain has robbed from you.


But also, feeling too much and not feeling anything can be equally distressing. The feel of not feeling.

I knew a mother who had cared for her severly brain-injured son for so long that when he died she attempted suicide by throwing herself under a bus, even though her other kids were still alive. She survived the attempt, but what had happened? She felt inivisible, numb as a ghost, without a self.


Edit: Don't know if that helps.

By the way, when I looked at the forum the first two threads were:

suicide
is it worth it


: :
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[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 27, 2005).]


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Cali
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I lost my elder brother to suicide last May. I didn't see it coming, or at least I didn't right away until I sat and took a look at some events that had effected him and myself.

I also had a MC in one of my novels try to commit suicide, and then I changed my mind about it, because writing about it made me uncomfy.

Her motives were simple, she was a gymnast on the road to discovering her dreams, but the one person she wanted to pay attention to her would not. She was desperate and felt that she was worthless because her mother didn't support her activity in the sport, and it seemed that no matter what the MC did, her mother always had a put down for her.


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sojoyful
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Cali, I'm so sorry about your brother.

I saw this in the news and I thought I'd post it because it's relevant: Heiress to Samsung fortune commits suicide

What was her motivation?

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited November 28, 2005).]


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franc li
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[I have mainly skimmed this thread]Depressed people will commit suicide for any reason or for no reason at all. That is why our society tries to maintain such a maniacally strict line that suicide is never the answer. However, I do think your scenario is consistent with how certain sorts of depressions arise, which is repeated failure or trauma. Then there is the obsessive/compulsive thinking, which comes across in him seeing this woman as being like his parents (both of them?) and having the attraction/repulsion.

And I liked Anna Karenina, by the way. Half of it is from her point of view and the other have from another character who knows all the people she knows, but the two main characters only meet once in the whole book. If you only latch onto her suicide, yeah, it would suck. But his path is a different one.

I guess since I'm under my pen name here, I can say that I was suicidal for much of my teen years. One day I set my VCR wrong and missed a TV show I really wanted to watch and felt like killing myself over that. The reasons got less trivial as I grew older. Right after my first baby died I thought about it quite a bit, most seriously when they put me on some meds and one of them caused me to shake involuntarily. Then a few years later when we were in some financial difficulties. I think I just have an evil spirit that possessed me from time to time, that I couldn't distinguish from my own thought processes, if you want the God's honest truth. Or you could explain it as a biochemical bottleneck between my limbic node and my prefrontal cortex that could only be "broken through" with extreme emotional crisis.

I have improved much through 12 step work improving my emotional processing and spiritual basis.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited November 28, 2005).]


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Elan
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I suspect the crux of suicides take that action because they see it as the only way out. It seems logical to them at the time.
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samhaine3
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ok, this is a very hard subject. one, things happened to me as a child that as i grew older made me contemplate suicide. its a very hard decision and one that i didn't make. i think it's wrong in everyway. being a devout christian made the pain worse at the time because i thought i was doing wrong not only to myself but to God in even thinking about it. and i did, think about it everyday for about 10-15 years. i found my wife and have gotten much better in the last 7-8 years. don't even think about it at all until last year. my best friend, who was also my cousin, hanged himself. he had started to distance himself from me when i had gotten married, but occasionally i saw him. he was an alcoholic, and he knew that i didn't agree. i don't even drink, since i never wanted to lose control. anyway, he had it all planned, even had it circled on the calender. he called all of his friends that day to see what they were doing. ALL of them said they had plans. he didn't call me because he KNEW that i would KNOW something was WRONG. i know this in my heart. he had three wonderful children, and they miss him so much. SUICIDE is a scary subject, and one that must not be taken lightly. it is hard to write about, and most don't want to read about it.
oh, and another common reason for suicide, children of parents who commited suicide tend to believe it is solution to a problem. after all, their parents did it, so it must have been a good reason.

sam...


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Leigh
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My mothers best friends husband committed suicide a few years ago. He hung himself because his two sons, 4 and 2 years old respectively, were raped by a 15 yr teenage boy. I found out about it about it, as i knew the 15 yr old. It was 3 days after the incident. I went to the funeral and the 15 yr old was there. I got him, may of had charges pressed against me, but it was worth it in a moral sense.
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Miriel
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If you want to look at fiction-fantasy for a good handling for this subject...I think the answer is again (as almost always) Tolkien. Firstly, there's Eowyn. Lied to by Wormtounge, she believes if she lives any longer, she will lose her honor and become nothing. Marrying Aragorn would have ensured her honor would stay intact, as she would be Queen, but when that fails, she rides off to battle with hopes of dying. Yet, for all of that suicidal impulse, I love her. Faramir also throws his life to the wind to obey his father's commands (and he's got to be my favorite character, excepting Sam Gamgee). And then there's Denethor himself, who convinced he's going to die anyway, decides he wants to die in a way that seems fitting to him -- with his son. All of these people are suicidal, but the book just doesn't have a dark, gritty, suicide-feel to it. If you just want your character to have a death wish, I think you can manage that without the reader ever thinking, "Oh, it's a dark suicide story." Unless that's what you're going for.
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lehollis
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Understanding what would motivate a character to be suicidal doesn't mean that suicide has to be the subject of the story.

For instance, one story I've been contemplating recently begins with a character undertaking a proceedure that almost requires the person to be suicidal. In fact, it is a form of suicide, but the story is about transitioning to something else. So it isn't about suicide, but it's important to understand what things would cause a character to be in such a state to volunteer for this proceedure.

I'm glad for this thread, because it is of great interest to me in preparing for that story. In a way, it's like the classic idea of creating conflict-- I call it throwing stones at the main character-- only in this case, I have to have thrown as many big ugly stones as I can in the past, as well as throw them in the future. Poor guy.


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franc li
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quote:
I got him, may of had charges pressed against me, but it was worth it in a moral sense.
You killed him? You prevented him from ever doing something like that again? Or did you hit him? Sorry to pry, it just isn't clear.

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Survivor
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It's hard for me to answer a question like that, because I'm incapable of committing suicide in any conventional sense.
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Spaceman
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Survivor said:
quote:
It's hard for me to answer a question like that, because I'm incapable of committing suicide in any conventional sense.

But, if he ever does kill himself, I'm told that he'll document the experience on Hatrack within two weeks of the event.


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Survivor
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Hah. Like I said, though, I can't "kill" myself. I can allow my vital indicators to diminish to zero, but that isn't really the same thing.
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Cali
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quote:
Cali, I'm so sorry about your brother.

Thanks Sojoyful. It's taken a while to accept that I could not have stopped him, and that there is no guilt.

What it has given me is a point of referance for future writings, and if and when I ever have a character face this option then the book will be dedicated to my brother and his family.


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