I’m sure you’ve all heard the sad news about actor Robin Williams. At first I was shocked. He was such an engaging man, full of laughter and caring. How could he be depressed enough to take his own life? And then I got to thinking.
We’ve all known a class clown. That kid who never takes anything seriously, the one who acts out, the star of the show. I have a family member like that. And like Robin, he ended up addicted to alcohol. I watched the downward slide, the inability to talk rationally, the justifications and anger. That’s when I saw the person behind the mask, and it wasn’t the clown.
Can you imagine the burden of a man like Williams, always expected to be “on” and happy and entertaining? If you’re suffering from depression or bipolar disorder, like Williams, that has to be a terrible burden. I know when I go through phases of depression, I don’t want to talk–to anyone. I stop answering email, I don’t make phone calls or even want to leave the house. I couldn’t imagine being expected to laugh and make jokes and be the life of the party.
When we write our characters, one thing we have to do is look deep inside. What drives them? What makes them the person that they are? Not all of the answers end up on the page, but it’s only by knowing our characters’ deepest secrets that we can give them depth on the page. We have to know them to know what they will do in each situation, and why. Otherwise, they will only be cardboard cutouts, flat and uninteresting.
I’m currently working on a sequel to Lone Star Justice. This point in writing a book always goes very slowly for me, because I don’t yet know my characters well enough. My heroine is just now beginning to reveal her secrets, her fears and flaws. The hero still refuses to talk to me. He’s still a flat cutout, just waiting for me to figure him out. But I will. I’ll dig and push and search until I know what drives him, what scares him, what excites him. I’ll figure out his past and how it affects his present and future.
And when I do, he will be a whole man, not a stick figure hiding behind a mask. He will love and laugh, and he will hurt and tremble. And in the end, he will overcome it all because he is, after all, a hero.
If only real life were the same. My heart goes out to Robin’s family, because there is never just one victim in a case of suicide. Everyone who loves him is a victim.
Rest in Peace now, Robin.
If you know someone suffering from depression, or anyone who has ever even entertained the idea of suicide, learn what you can about the disease and how to help. Mostly, just always be available to listen to them when they talk. And if you ever find yourself in that downward spiral, reach out for help before it’s too late.