A-to-Z Challenge: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Building Characters

For those of you who don’t know, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the most recent version being 5) is the great holy hand grenade of the psi-chiatric profession. In its most recent incarnation, it’s a riot-worthy brick of a book, suitable for hurling through plate glass windows and beating unarmed civilians.

Over the years, the DSM has grown from basically a pamphlet focused on a few major disorders to the fine, equal-opportunity diagnostic tool that it is today. And seriously, folks, with a code for caffeine withdrawl, we have a diagnosis for everybody. Stick around after the show and get yours.

I happen to own a copy of version 4 (left behind by an old friend who was studying social work) and it also has some nifty applications in Character development.

It doesn’t have slots for magical abilities, like a Warcraft character sheet, but it is pretty straight forward, and much more fun in fiction than in real life, where you have to write “Caffeine withdrawl” over and over and over… (I have a cure for that, by the way.)

There are 5 axes in the current version. Number five is level of function, ranging from “Respected psychiatrist” all the way down to “Bit someone’s ear off this morning.” If your character is Hannibal Lecter, this will require advanced math. In fiction, it just doesn’t deserve a square of it’s own.

So, divide a piece of paper into 4 quadrants.

Square number 1–Axis I if you want to get all fancy–is what’s going on, right now that needs (but will not get, because that’s the story problem) immediate attention. The DSM lists several examples, but they’re all relatively boring. This is fiction, so we’ll say “Brain invaded by sentient parasites from Mars.” Much more interesting than the day-to-day stuff, isn’t it?

Square number 2–is all the permanent stuff that’s going to impact the response to square number One. Personality disorders, developmental disorders… Not every character get a square number two. But if your character was a somewhat slow janitor who has parasites that can do theoretical physics, that’s here.

Square Number 3–oh, goody. Medical disorders. So, if the sentient parasites go unnoticed for a while because your character has already been diagnosed with brain cancer, this is the square where they run amuck.

Square Number 4–is all the other stuff that just makes the whole thing more difficult. Wife trying to get pregnant? Right here. Spaceship hurtling toward an exploding red giant? Yup. Crew trying to kill you because you have alien worms in your head? Here. Unless that’s all in your head, too, in which case, back to square #2.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.