EelKat's Guide to Character Creation:
Using a Character with a Mental Illness

/ /

"Will you be writing a mental-illness-themed novel for NaNoWriMo again this year? I know you usually  have a MC or another important character who suffers from a mental illness. How do you pick what mental illness to write about?

How do you choose what to write, is it either an aspect of the plot or an aspect of the character's inner conflict?

What inspired you to use a mentally ill person as your main character? What challenges do you expect you'll face? How do you make sure you get your character accurate or true to life when dealing with mental illnesses?

I am working on a novel that has a protagonist who suffers from a severe disorder (and a few comorbid secondary disorders), and a large part of the novel revolves around his struggles and attempts to recover. That project is my "baby" and I'm always interested in hearing from others who are undertaking similar stories!"

I write a long running series (30+ books since 1978) in which the main character has "an unidentified/undiagnosed" mental illness. This series is the only thing I write. I write it every NaNo since 2004 and I will write it this NaNo. At no point in the series does it ever say what is wrong with him, however, when readers ask me (and they often do)

"What's wrong with Roderic, anyways? Does he like have a real mental illness? Are there really people like him out there? You know with all the weird quirks and speech issues and stuff you always having him do?"

My answer to them is this:

Yes, Sir Roderic Lincandonia Swanzen, Lord of The Twighlight Manor, does in fact have a very real mental health issue, which real people suffer from. He has multiple issues actually:

He was born with Autism, that is why he is quiet and why he has trouble speaking and why he refuses to make eye contact and why he'll freak out over loud sounds, bright lights, or being touched. He grew up in a very traumatic, high stress, and abusive home life, which caused him to shut down and move inward into his own little world that existed only inside his head. When stressed out he "shuts down", sits on the floor, and starts drawing (on the floor, walls, his car, his clothes, his skin, whatever is there to draw on.)

Roderic, at the beginning of Friends Are Forever (Vol1 in The Twighlight Manor series), was more or less a normal person, shy, quiet, virginal youth, who wouldn’t hurt a fly and probably would have remained in this state his entire life had it not been for his father and two uncles, who should have been in prison, but they ran the empire so they weren't.

Roderic was born in the late 1500s, a majority of the series takes place between 1644 and 1673. Obviously he is never diagnosed in the series as Autistic or Special Needs or an other such modern term. The correct "Dark Age/Medieval/Renaissance" term for an Autistic person was "A Simpleton" or "the Village Idiot". Autistic children were thought of as "changelings", parents believed these children to be the offspring of Faeries and that the real baby had been stolen from the crib and this imposter left in it's place. As such Autistic child of this time period were often put in a flour sack that was tied shut and dropped in the river/lake/ocean to drown them and be rid of the "demonic beast". Catholic nuns, believing Autistic children to real humans, but demon possessed, opened institutions for simpletons and idiots as a way to take them off the parents hands and give them a chance at life. (These places were the forerunners of mental health asylums, which were the forerunners of hospitals). In many regions, government officials passed laws requiring all "idiots" to be rounded up and sent to these nun run places. The result was from the 1400s through the 1700s it was very rare to encounter an Autistic, Downs Syndrome, Schizophrenic, or any other Special Needs child or adult living at home, and most families were glad to be rid of them and pretend they were never born.

This is the time period Roderic was born into. The only reason he was not sent away to live in an institution for "simpletons and idiots", as would have been historically accurate for the time period, was because his mother died when he was born and his father could not bear to be parted from the only child of his beloved wife. Fortunately for Roderic, his father was the younger brother of the King, who in order to give Roderic something to do and keep him out from under foot, built a 500 room fortress like manor house (The Twighlight Manor) and gave it to "the idiot child". The manor was basically built as a child's play house, built on the theory that Roderic was a curious child always wandering off and getting lost, so let's give him a 500 room mansion with steel doors and iron bars on the windows, than he can explore to his heart's content and never get lost.

Unfortunately it must be remembered that Roderic's father is also the cannibalistic serial killer, Melaca, and while he does love his son, Melaca has little use for outward affection. Or that Vielder built a vast torture chamber in the lower levels of the Manor, which he and Melaca used to slaughter their human victims. Or worse that their other brother Dr Vangoneese, who was also Roderic's caretaker, took Roderic with him on his house calls where he often raped female patients and used those too sick to protest as guinea pigs for his medical experiments.

In short, young, shy, quiet Roderic grew up watching many bloodily horrific acts being carried out by his father and two uncles, and this did not go with out side effects.

In his teens Roderic began retreating more and more into the far reaches of the Manor as a way to avoid his father and uncles. Roderic's only companion was a cousin who was fast becoming obsessed with dissecting everything (and over time, everyone, living or dead). Terrified of everyone, Roderic began talking to the only things around him to talk to: the vast stone walls of the house, and it's carved wooden furniture. Over time Roderic began to claim they talked back to him.

By the time he was a young adult Roderic had developed Schizophrenia and lost the ability to know what was real and what was fantasy. He hears things that other people don’t hear. Sees things that other people don’t see. Because no one else sees or hears them, Roderic believes he is haunted by ghosts.

This belief that the things he sees and hears are real, is "proved" to him when one day he finds a wounded mermaid hiding in his bedroom. This event he passes off as any other that no one else can see, until he realizes unlike other things, everyone else does see her.

 His father or uncle (they are twins and no one is quite sure which one did it) kidnaped and raped the mermaid, she escapes and thus how she inadvertently ends up hiding out in Roderic’s bedroom. At first he’s this nice sweet guy who takes care of her, originally he fully intends to take her back to the ocean and release once her wounds are healed. But as time goes by he becomes obsessed with her and keeps her longer than he should.

In eventually taking her back he is careless and, the father or uncle follows them bashed Roderic’s head in, rapes the girl again. The mermaid escapes the father or uncle again, and now tables turned she takes care of Roderic, but Roderic recovers a changed man violently wielding a shovel of death. Roderic who is crippled for months simply stops talking and starts brooding over the mermaid.

Remember where I just said Roderic hit his head (or rather was beaten up and hit in the head with a large rock, repeatedly, several times, and almost died), he suffered brain damage from this event and that's when the "more terrifying" hallucinations started haunting him, resulting in his retreating more and more often to his room, leaving the house less and less.

Roderic becomes stranger and stranger, doing and saying progressively more bizarre things after hitting his head. It is after this that we see several changes in Roderic including that he suddenly begins to believe himself a vampire and takes up the habit of drinking human blood, and than smashes every mirror and glass window pane in the Manor, except for the stained glass peacock window. In a strange twist of fate, one of his most trusted and beloved companions was a shovel - a shovel Roderic claimed had a demon living in it, a demon with a taste for human blood.

Through out much of the series Roderic is seen carrying this blood thirsty shovel no matter where he goes. Roderic is often found aimlessly wandering the halls of the Manor dragging the shovel, leaving a trail of blood behind him.  When questions of the bloody shovel, he will tell a nightmarish story of it's lust for brains and his needs to keep the shovel with him to prevent it from killing again. In spite of the bloody shovel no evidence exists of Roderic having any connection to the many murders which also begin to take place through the Manor.

Obsessive, possessive, jealous, vengeful, and now dangerously violent Roderic becomes the most feared man in the known universe, takes over the planet, takes over all 3 of the solar system in the Triple Empire and keeps the mermaid locked away in his vast fortress-like mansion (The Twighlight Manor).

They are happy more or less for a few years, she bears him 4 sons, than all hell breaks loose on the night of the 4th son’s birth, when the mermaid is raped by 3 different men, Roderic flips out, there’s a bloodbath in just about every room of the 500 room Manor, the mermaid ends up dead and no one knows who the heck killed who.

In the early stories, Roderic is tempered and kept sane by his bewitchingly beautiful mermaid wife.

When his wife was murdered (an event he witnessed, yet is unable to identify the murder, leading to the suspicion that he himself killed her) Roderic developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which triggered the anxiety attacks of his Autism and the paranoia/hallucinations of his Schizophrenia to grow worse.

When Roderic is unable to remember who killed his wife, and everyone starts pointing the finger at him, his paranoia spirals out of control with him believing everyone worked together to kill his wife and the house helped them.

Roderic has his wife stuffed, put on display and pretends she still alive, suddenly every room in the house becomes a taxidermist's worst nightmare as every servant is preserved forever at their stations, every human to enter the house from that day onward is skinned and stuffed their flesh served for dinner, and Roderic sits on a gold plated throne, in an oblivious stupor, clutching a bloody shovel for a septor, whenever anyone tells him “Sir, there's another body...”

His only response being “Yes, I know, she eats everyone who comes here. She’ll kill us all.”

Roderic believes the spirit of his dead wife to have possessed the house, and that the house has come to life to eat everyone and punish him for not letting her go back to the ocean.

From September 23, 1664 the day of his wife's death, until the current era (2013) and beyond (till it's 2525 END date at the death of Roderic), Roderic sits, terrified to move, terrified the house possessed by his dead wife will slaughter him the way it slaughters everyone else, if dares take his eyes off the preserved body of the dead mermaid.

That is the first volume in the series. Each of the 200 stories after it follows in the same vein: someone living in the Manor kidnaps and rapes girl, other men at the Manor join in gang rape. Roderic stands by oblivious to what is going on, speaking utter nonsense about his dead wife and his sentient house. Girl dies. No one cares. Girl gets raped again. Lots of people show up dead. Roderic accuses house of murder. More rape. More death. at one point Roderic adds a second wife, later a third. Remix and repeat.

Roderic’s favorite son (the baby born on it’s mother’s death) grows up a transvestite, opens a nightclub that is a front for a whore house. In comes a series of side stories that are sex, sex, sex, sex, and nothing else, no horror, no plot, not even Roderic or The Manor, just every day in the life of a male prostitute, who turned to prostitution as a way to block out the fact that his father was a psychic human eating murderer.

Jump ahead to the 20th century, Roderic is now pushing 500 years old, same old same old is going down inside The Twighlight Manor, in steps a team of human psychiatrists and White Rock Mental Health Institute for the Criminally Insane and a series of side stories, each one a different rapist/murder retelling and glorifying their conquests in graphic detail in interviews with the doctors - two of these patients are Roderic’s sons, another is his father. Through the stories told by them, we see the original Friends Are Forever story retold, from a vastly different perspective.

As his fears escalate Roderic collapses into an Agoraphobic state locking himself in his bedroom and not leaving (at times so scared that he even feared to let his feet touch the floor and refused to get off the bed) for several years.

In later years as an elderly man (1983 - 2525END), he required a servant to feed him, but then was terrorized that his servants were trying to poison him and refused to eat nearly starving himself to death at one point.

The series follows Roderic's life, as told through more than 200 short stories. Because we see the world of the series, through Roderic's eyes, the reader doesn't know if the house really is alive and eating people or if this horrendous nightmare Roderic lives through every day is all in his head. Does the furniture come alive and attack people? Are the people who live in the mansion with him really vampires, mermaids, phookas, and aliens? The reader has no way of knowing if the events of the story are hallucinations in a very real world or if this is a sci-fi series that takes place in an alternate earth where houses and furniture do come alive and eat people and vampires and mermaid walk among us. The stories never dispute the events and treat the flesh eating house as though it is a flesh eating house.

In short, Roderic, the main character of the Twighlight Manor series, has Autism, Schizophrenia, PTSD, and Agoraphobia

I have had many readers contact me asking:

"So is this really happening or is Roderic just crazy and none of it's real?"

I tell the readers:

"I leave that to the readers to decide. The readers do not know if it's real or not because Roderic does not himself know what is real and what is not real, and the not knowing is the thing that terrifies him most of all. If you think Roderic is insane and none of this is really happening to him, than you are correct. If you think this is some alternate world and these things are actually happening to him, than you are correct.

But from the perspective of the author: yes this is an alternate world, yes the races are what they say they are, no the house is not alive it never was. Yes Roderic's wife really was a mermaid, he did not imagine that, no his house and furniture are not hell bent on trying to kill him, that is a hallucination.

And the shovel? Well, let's just say that Roderic has never killed anyone, he wouldn't, he couldn't, he doesn't have it in him...The shovel really does have a curse on it."

And then there are readers who ask me:

"So, how do you research for Roderic? You must be a psychology major or something right? I know somebody with these mental illnesses and you are right on with a lot of the stuff Roderic does. People with Autism really do ____. People with Schizophrenia really do ______.  I'm amazed you get this stuff so accurate. So are you like a psychologist or something? What do you write about your patients? ha ha!"


I'm not a psychologist. In fact I never went to school.

My inspiration and research for Roderic? I was removed from school at age 8, I was told I would never be able to live on my own, get a job, drive a car, attend college, or function as a meaningful member of society.

"What inspired you to use a mentally ill person as your main character?"

I write what I know.

I have both Autism and Schizophrenia; later hit my head and developed new issues from that; and then later was the witness to an event that left my 5 best friends in a pile of body parts, which resulted in my having PTSD. And I had Agoraphobia for nearly 10 years.

Speech is very difficult for me. My verbal words are desperately slurred and stuttered and go from either way too fast or way too slow. Most times I know what I want to say, but the words that come out of my mouth are mixed up and in the wrong order so sound like nonsense. Folks often consider me "dumb" due to my being near-mute and desperate lack of getting words out in the correct order. I write 7k words a day just as part of my daily non-verbal speech. That is how I am able to pound out 15k a day during NaNoWriMo every year.

It is very frustrating when I want to talk to someone and they pat me on the head and say something like: "It's okay, here have a candy. Poor thing she can't understand us at all."

Roderic speaks in the same quasi-non-verbal muddled up speech I do. Roderic's dialouge is a blundered mes because my verbally spoken dialouge is an embarrassingly blundered mess.

Roderic is very shy and self conscious and terrified of how others will respond to his lack of ability to speak verbally in any real coherent manner, because I am very shy and self conscious and terrified of how others will respond to my lack of ability to speak verbally in any real coherent manner.

Roderic AND his flamboyant drag queen son, Etiole, wear long flowing, bright colored, gaudy, heavily beaded and embroidered silk robes, because wear long flowing, bright colored, gaudy, heavily beaded and embroidered silk robes.

Etiole drive a great big orange 1964 Dodge 330, because I drive a great big orange 1964 Dodge 330. Etiole was born September 23, 1664, because I bought my 1964 Dodge on September 23, 1975.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

I write what I know.

"How do you pick what mental illness to write about?"

I write what I know. And I know Autism, Schizophrenia, PTSD, and Agoraphobia very well.

The world as the reader sees it through Roderic's eyes...that is the world as seen through my eyes. Roderic is an accurate portrayal of someone with Autism, Schizophrenia, PTSD, and Agoraphobia, because he is written by someone with Autism, Schizophrenia, PTSD, and Agoraphobia. I know how Roderic would react to things, because it is how I react to things.

The Dazzling Razzberry? Roderic's son's car in the book, the one covered in quotes and beads and rhinestones? guess what, it's a real car and I own it. It's my daily driver, and here's a picture of what a car with 2.5million beads, buttons, marbles, and rhinestones glued to it looks like.

The nightmare world that Roderic lives in every story, is the nightmare world I live in, every day. I don't do any research into anything to write Roderic, I just write the world the way I see it.

I Love Roderic!
A List of Every Page on this Site
Where I Talk More About Roderic

It is no secret that Sir Roderic Lincandonia Swanzen, owner of The Twighlight Manor, is my favorite character, and you don't have to read very many blog posts, articles, site pages, etc to realize, I talk about him A LOT. While you see him mentioned in passing on just about every page on this site, there are some pages where I go into vast detail about his life. I am going to make a list of them all and tack it to the end of each of those pages, to make it easier for readers to find them all. And here they are:

Roderic Swanzen

Developing Character Backgrounds

Using a Character with a Mental Illness

But Is It Erotica?

Toilets in Fiction

Twighlight NOT Twilight!

Mental Illness in Fiction

Incest In Fiction

Mute Characters

Characters With Disabilities

NaNoWriMo: How Do You Pick Which Story to Write?

Enhance Your Creativity To Become a Better Writer

Fantasy World Building

Ads by Amazon