How to Develop a Character with Psychosis

How to Develop a Character with Psychosis 


There’s no shortage of books featuring characters who suffer from mental illnesses like schizophrenia and psychosis. Fantastic horror novels such as “The Shining” and “Shutter Island” shined much-needed light on mental health in their gripping storylines – both of which brought the characters to life by portraying their moods and behaviors as accurately as possible. 

Fast-forward a few decades and we now know a lot more about mental health disorders. Authors can finally weave more intricate details about their characters into each story they write. So, if you’re an ambitious author, this is the perfect time to pen an updated masterpiece without writing mounds of field notes. Here’s how it’s done. 

The 5 steps of developing a character with psychosis for a horror novel 

According to Steven King – the undisputed master of horror fiction – writing an excellent novel means keen character development and attention to detail. He actually sits and ponders about his people before writing them into the story. Take the star of Misery, for example. King told The Rolling Stone that she was created out of his own battle with substance abuse. 

To make such a bold statement is bravery personified. But how does an author without a substance abuse problem or psychosis accurately and respectfully create a character with those issues? Let these five steps pave the way: 

Step One: Learn what this mental illness is. 

Psychosis is a complex mental health disorder that has many unique aspects to it. It’s officially defined as a cognitive break from reality, wherein the sufferer sees, hears, or senses things that aren’t actually there. The condition generally involves hallucinations, incoherent speech, and restlessness. 

However, some symptoms aren’t always obvious and they can affect each person differently. Thus, learning what it is (and isn’t) can help you better understand your own characters. Meanwhile, Mind Diagnostics has tons of up-to-the-minute information about psychosis for your consideration. 

Step Two: Understand how and why it develops. 

Psychosis is chronic but not all of the symptoms are, which means there’s an eb and flow in the characteristics of someone who suffers with it. Moreover, the illness can develop abruptly or over time depending on the experiences in a person’s life. 

For example, did you know that someone can experience symptoms of psychosis because of medications or substance abuse. Extreme stress and trauma may be causative culprits too. Either way, try to understand how this condition comes into view before adding it into your plot.

Step Three: Consider or observe common behaviors.  

Write your character like you truly understand the disorder by first observing the common behaviors of people with psychosis. You can do this by watching others, reviewing movies, or reading your favorite novels. Meanwhile, here are some of the behaviors to watch for according to the experts: 

  • Melancholy mood 
  • Anxiety or restlessness 
  • Unbalanced sleep patterns 
  • Problems concentrating 
  • Unnatural phobias 
  • Paranoia or suspicion 
  • Withdrawal from interests 
  • Social isolation 
  • Delusions and hallucinations 
  • Erratic speech 
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts 

For more information on how someone with psychosis acts on a daily basis, talk to a licensed clinical therapist. 

Step Four: Imagine how the story would unfold. 

Now that you have a firmer grasp on the realities of psychosis, it should be much easier for you to develop rich, believable characters for your horror novel or scary short story. The next step involves using your imagination to craft fictional scenarios that intermingle with psychotic behavior patterns.

Try to think about how someone with psychosis would react to certain events, dialogues, societies, or eras. Tailor your other characters’ actions and reactions to feed off of those behaviors. Then, make sure all of your facts are straight in terms of medical terminology and procedural availability for your chosen timeline. 

Step Five: Check with mental health experts to respect others. 

One last thing. When discussing the ins and out of psychosis with a mental health professional, be sure to let them know your intentions. Give an effort to respect those who suffer from the condition by asking about triggers and stigmas. Then decide whether to include or exclude certain details from your manuscript. 

Writing a book isn’t easy, but writing horror may be the hardest art. You must simultaneously paint a picture of the plot while getting into the readers’ minds. Thus, understanding your characters’ mental illness is the first step toward penning a masterpiece that’s beloved by all audiences. 

The plot 

As an author in charge of telling a powerful story, it’s your responsibility to make every detail count. Using literature to share ideas, concepts, and fantasies is what drives the human spirit to continue being creative. However, authors that don’t do enough research about their chosen characters often find their books falling flat on store shelves. Thus, you must learn about psychosis and common psychotic behaviors if you want to write those characteristics into your plot.

About the author

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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