Answer all these questions and you should have a fully-developed character for your audience to connect with.
A strong character can carry a weak plot; but a strong plot can’t carry weak characters
I didn’t know I needed this.
*Rubbing this all over my face*
When Utah residents saw 22-year-old Darrien Hunt carrying a toy sword, they called police who shot and killed him. But when 22-year-old Joseph Kelley carried an assault rifle to a JC Penney store in Utah, he walked out without a scratch on his body. They were both the same age. Both in the same state. But only one was considered “suspicious.” And you still believe America is color blind?
The guy had a blunt sword, part of a costume. Was leaving a cos-play event.
Utah is horrible.
America is horrible.
I will never let this die.
starlightprism asked: Got any tips on how to write characters that have been living alone for a long time? Both solitary confinement and alone in the wilderness types of stuff will suffice.
Hello, I do have tips, but I also have questions about your question.
Characters, how old are they? how old were when they started to live alone in the wilderness or in solitary confinement?
Time, what does long time means for you? months? years?
I ask those questions because we, humans, are social animals. We need others not only to get basics needs, but also to keep our personal identity. Since our birth we are in contact with other people from different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, personalities, age, cultures, among others. Sociology and psychology have theorized about this, since we grow and live in societies in two different ways, social and personal (not mutually exclusive), as a result we develop a social identity and an individual identity.
This is a lot of information, I’ll try to be as clear and organized as possible.
Stages of Socialization
Here is a paper to help you understand this better: Socialization
Theory of Psychosocial Development
- Stage 1: Trust vs Mistrust
- Stage 2: Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt
- Stage 3: Initiative vs Guilt
- Stage 4: Industry vs Inferiority
- Stage 5: Identity vs Confusion
- Stage 6: Intimacy vs Isolation
- Stage 7: Generativity vs Stagnation
- Stage 8: Integrity vs Despair
This theory is from Erik Erikson, here’s a link: Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
- Sensorimotor Stage
- Preoperational Stage
- Concrete Operational Stage
- Formal Operational Stage
This is from Jean Piaget: Piaget’s Stages
Theory of Moral Development
- Level 1 Preconventional Morality: Stage 1 - Obedience and Punishment. Stage 2 - Individualism and Exchange
- Level 2 Conventional Morality: Stage 3 - Interpersonal Relationships. Stage 4 - Maintaining Social Order
- Level 3 Postconventional Morality: Stage 5 - Contract and Individual Rights. Stage 6 - Universal Principles
This theory is from Lawrence Kohlberg: Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
Why do you need to know this? Because if your characters are alone in the wilderness or in solitary confinement since a young age and for a long time, all those stages will be affected.
Here are some examples
Living in the Wilderness
After you’ve got the age of your characters, you need a purpose, especially if they’re teenagers or adults. Sometimes it can be discomfort with society, sometimes because they want to live alone, sometimes for spiritual fulfillment, sometimes because circumstances made it possible. You have to consider their resources and what they know about nature, if they carry something with them or have to figure it out how to live with things nature provides. And the place where they want to live is important as well, are your characters prepared for the wheater? are they going to live in a rainforest, somewhere near a beach, near a river, a mountain, desert? Something else, can they live there? who owns the land they want to live in, the government, is it a national park, native land? What happens with their houses, family, taxes, etc?
Is it Legal to Live in the Wilderness (doesn’t give any answer to the question but there are a lot of experiences)
The Walden Effect: Tracing the Myth of the Man Alone in the Wilderness (this one brings the question of why there are more men than women willing to live in the wilderness, the answer is very vague, if you can bring up an answer or some hit in your story give it a try)
Realities of Going Primitive (careful with the terms primitive, native, “Indian”, and civilization)
Unlike living alone in the wilderness, solitary confinement goes against the person’s will. This is related to imprisonment, kidnapping and war crimes, is also meant to inflict some kind of damage in the person’s mental and physical health.
Taking the Solitary Confinement Debate Out of Isolation (this one is about prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement)
The following links are about children and youth in solitary confinement
As said before, humans are social animals, our identity is made, among other things, by our experiences, memories, and our surroundings. I’m not this, I am that, I like this, I dislike that. The way we see ourselves is part conditioned by our relationships with our environment. So, what happens when there’s no one around to valide us, to makes us believe that we are what we think we are or what we aren’t?
Solitary Confinement doesn’t involve just your interactions with other people, but also involves your brain and external stimulus. As long as there are things for your brain to keep it working it will work.
Always remember context, especially for solitary confinement. Why there are people being imprisoned? And why solitary confinement is being used.
The age of your character is one of the most important things when they were imprisoned or decided to live in the wilderness, or were left abandoned, or escaped, or got lost.
If they were imprisoned, what was the reason? why are they still in solitary confinement? Show us the process they’ve been through (you will need more research), are they still the same? if they are free now, how do they live? where do they live? how do they react to sensory stimulus? Is it a prison or another
If they’ve been living in the wilderness, how do they live? why they left their homes? is someone looking for them? Do they still have some kind of contact with people?
There’s still the debate about nature/nurture. Are we a product of our genes and our environment or does one of them has more impact in our life? The way we are is because the way we were raised or because we have that written in our genes? When writing characters living in the wilderness for a long time and since their youngest youth you can explore this in your story.
I think I forgot Freud and his theory of development. But I think you got the general idea of the things you have to keep in mind.
Hope this can help you.
This is actually a really great response that touches on a lot of issues most people don’t consider about “living in the wild”. And like L. says, it is crucial to answer those first questions about age/length of time spent in isolation, especially because of the aforementioned socialisation and psychological issues. L. has done a wonderful job of summing up a bunch of really key points.
What I need to mention is that it takes a VERY specific sort of person to be able to psychologically handle that level of social isolation that living in the wilderness requires. A modern person would obviously have a significantly harder time adapting to life in that sort of environment far more than, let’s say, the first European explorers of North America, and especially harder time than an Aboriginal person on any continent (again, centuries back). If you notice, a lot of these famous men who took off, never came back and there is a lot of contention about their states of mind even prior to setting off. (I think we’ve all seen Into The Wild…) And what’s more, you have to seriously consider if these people are able to cope with the severe psychological strain of such isolation. It’s no easy task and it’s why often you hear of these solo escapists “going crazy”. (Malnourishment/diet can also impact this significantly.) So, if your character(s) have just been thrust into an unforgiving wilderness (and ALL wilderness is unforgiving, especially to the unprepared) from relative socialisation and comfort, they will suffer. Even if they have chosen to leave society. [Ofc, there are a handful of extraordinarily rare exceptions.]
A quick way to see this in action is Ed Wardle. He aimed to spend just 90 days alone in the Canadian wilderness and film it all for NatGeo/Channel4. Much like Survivorman, Les Stroud — but with none of the expertise. He lasted 50 days before calling for help. The show is called “Alone In The Wild” and you can watch the whole series on Youtube. This is an “average Joe”, not one of these survivalist experts (Les Stroud, Bear Gryllis, etc. Who, btw, all have TV shows that can give you a good indication of all the challenges faced by someone in the wilderness). I’d say he’s a bit more than average as he’s scaled Everest… But it’s an example of a “normal” person being dropped into nowhere (in the summer thankfully) and having to survive completely alone. The reason I suggest this series is because of the exploration it does on how extreme isolation and survival stress break a person psychologically. By the concluding episode you see first hand what it looks like — and this was a man who chose to go into the woods. They key here is “alone”. If you are with even one other person, it can mitigate this substantially. But most people do not understand how devastating social isolation actually is (especially when coupled with malnutrition, fear/stress (prolonged high cortisol levels can be incredibly damaging physically and emotionally), exhaustion, etc.) [I tried to find a few easy-to-read layman’s articles for you. I generally would have directed people towards peer-reviewed scientific journals. If you’re into thesis papers (and are aware of the caveats of using such) here is one regarding high cortisol/stress.] Things such as hearing a human voice, piece of rubbish, or seeing a photograph become incredibly devastating/desirable.
So whether you character has grown up “feral” or has been dropped into the environment by force or by choice as an adult (or teenager even), will make a HUGE difference on their coping mechanisms and psychological/social development. To see how a grown man could react to the “by force or by choice” option of wilderness isolation, Ed Wardle can give you a glimpse — with side effects being depression, paranoia, scattered thinking, hallucinations, etc. exacerbated by harsh living conditions and malnourishment. Importantly, he had an escape plan. He could radio for help and it would be there. I would guess your characters don’t have this luxury. It’s a very affecting episode if you understand the psychology going on. And there used to be additional videos available that detailed his psychological issues. I mean, you do have to take anything on TV with a grain of salt, but it’s an okay starting point. If you combine it with research into other wilderness survival/Walden-esque stories, you can get a decent idea. (Don’t pay attention to Thoreau, lol. It’s a beautiful book and definitely good for appreciating nature, but it’s fiction.)
So, basically, my long belaboured point is that in addition to all the developmental aspects of social isolation, there are the near-immediate psychological consequences also that can start to come up as early as one week, and most likely will begin to manifest after a month. Stress levels and food can impact it significantly. So, you need a very special person (of this modern age) to be able to have survived for a significant time alone in the wild not only for the highly-developed expertise required (what food to eat, how to hunt, how to build shelter, how to deal with health issues, SO MANY other issues that we think are “easy” or take for granted), but for the psychological aspect as well. Not just anyone could have survive for a long period of time. And someone who has now adjusted to a solitary life in the wilderness over a significant period of time (years) will likely no longer be socialised the same way as a “regular” member of society, regardless of whether they have been in the past or not.
There are many legal issues to worry about as well, especially if you are not a member of an indigenous group. (ie. relating to trespass, land use, hunting/poaching, etc.) All land is “owned” by someone now.
I knew I was forgetting something when I answered this!!!
Thank you for pointing this out, it’s actually very important.
Guys, check what avialaeandapidae has said.