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[GUEST POST ] Special Needs in Strange Worlds: Alex Hughes on Writing a Character with an Addiction Problem

NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Alex Hughes! – Sarah Chorn

Alex Hughes has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including scifi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.

On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly. The latest book in Mindspace Investigations, Marked, was released on April 1, 2014.

Writing a Character with an Addiction Problem

By Alex Hughes

When Sarah asked me to write about Adam for the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column, it took me a minute to figure out that she was talking about his addiction. As an addict, Adam has a lot of special needs! And writing him has also had its fair share. It’s a great topic, actually.

As an addict, Adam has a gut-level reaction to overwhelming and stressful situations, and that’s to use his drug. Even though he’s been clean for three years at this point, that reaction is still part of his internal makeup, and a lot of his life has to be built around overcoming and circumventing that reaction. Since the end of Clean, Adam truly wants to be clean. But a large portion of his system is still invested in the running-away concept which used to fuel his drug habit, and every time he faces failure or overwhelm, he finds himself battling the same demons all over again.

Adam has had to learn to deal with his “overwhelm” feeling at work and in life in one of three ways. One, he takes a break, literally locking himself into small closets when necessary to minimize input into his system and make his internal safe feel safe and stable. Two, when he wants to run, he distracts himself through casework and paperwork. Often the craving will just fade given enough time. And three, he actively seeks out the support and company of his sponsor, Swartz, and his fellow addicts through Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Surrounded by people who truly understand and are committed to the same struggle that he is, he doesn’t feel so alone. The goal doesn’t seem so impossible.

Routine is very important to Adam. So, as a writer who wants an interesting story, part of my job is to disrupt his routine enough that Adam truly struggles. I need to put him in situations where he feels overwhelmed—but not too overwhelmed. I want a good story, and I want Adam to grow, to bend but not to break. He needs Swartz’s support. He needs the support of Cherabino and Paulsen and so many others. But Adam is proud. He doesn’t like asking for support. He doesn’t like acknowledging his need, or apologizing. And this makes Adam interesting as a character, because it makes him vulnerable to stress on a level that someone else in this situation might not be. As a writer, I try to take full advantage of his lacks to motivate him in interesting ways. I also try to give him just enough support to make it in the end.

Because, despite all his special needs and struggles, Adam truly does want to do the right thing. And I as a writer want to let him do just that, most of the time.

1 Comment on [GUEST POST ] Special Needs in Strange Worlds: Alex Hughes on Writing a Character with an Addiction Problem

  1. I haven’t read this, but the way you describe it feels real and interesting. I am going to check it out. Thank you. 🙂

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