Crash Course in Being Multiple for Authors and the Media
Put the pen down and walk away for a moment. It's time for you to get some genuine materials and understanding of what it's like both being in a multiple system and actually observing multiples in action. Here's some tips and the articles you should read on this site that will help give you a crash course in how to create more realistic multiples for books, TV and film.
It's up to you to create some "logic" behind what's happening with the character, and not make it totally random.
Note this article primarily covers multiples or DID systems. We would be happy to include notes from other authors, writers, etc. on how to create other types of plural characters.
Starter Tips and Ground Rules
We had posted starter tips on this from another system, but unfortunately they may have bad influence on the plural community for reasons as yet unknown, and we've chosen to distance ourselves from them for our and others' safety.
Developing Multiple Characters
Insiders in a multiple system are the results of a variety of panic reactions New and other internal processes such as self-nurturing in the absence of good caregivers, self-defense, etc. Everything in your multiple's system should have a back-story that builds the logic as to why things in their system exist. If there's a "bad guy" in a multiple system — where did they come from? Why did they develop? So essentially, your character's "alters" are all individual characters and need to have an interwoven back-story. The DID character overall can forget why — it would have to be worth the trouble of burying it and you shouldn't use this as a copout for not developing the back-story — but you should leave some clues here and there such as triggers and reactions that belie a tad of what happened that was forgotten. Example: our mother was a manipulator and emotional blackmailer. She brewed coffee every day. The smell of coffee is a trigger that puts us on edge. Could not list everything she'd done to us, but smelling coffee makes us emotionally defensive. Get it?
What's "traumatic enough" to create DID?
Note, we didn't say "abusive enough" — and people with DID don't hold penis contests measuring one person's trauma against another's. But we understand that you're trying to "create" a back story with "believable" circumstances.
Ongoing, repetitive trauma that a child has no subjective respite or escape from. Generally something "worth dying over" — so it's not about what was done or what happened. It's about how it is taken by the child. Even "invisible" abuse like neglect by the people who are supposed to feed you and care for you is easily "sufficient" trauma. How long should it be going on? Years. How young? Very. Definitely before ages 6-9, but even better if it's all before the age of 5, and possibly continues after age 5.
No attentive loving caregivers or confidants. Before age 5 a child would have trouble telling someone anyway, but give them a family like the Durdsleys in Harry Potter, or at least a traumatized parent, or such. They can't grow up in a completely normal loving household with the Beavers and come out with DID.
Threats, whether direct or implied, around secrecy and silence are also common. So a family that has a culture of keeping everything from the neighbors, threatens disownment ("No child of mine would....") etc. An abuser who directly threatens to hurt, maim or kill things the child cares about. The whole "children are to be seen not heard" culture. Parents in denial when a child tries to talk about a problem. Or worse, the parents are (part of?) the problem, and there's no one to turn to.
The child of a DID person's past is a prisoner in their circumstances, no matter how painful they are. There's no escape except their own inner world or detaching themselves from what's real and what's going on. Chronic or ongoing physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual/religious torment.
What's not enough? An accident or an incident. This is not about one easily defined event with a clear start and end — this is about ongoing baffling conflicting messages and torment. So the people who love you one moment are hurting you the next. Or the people who are supposed to care for you aren't. And it's not for a few days. Think more in terms of months and years. From the child's point of view, it has to seem like an eternity.
Hopefully that helps.
How Multiples "Operate"
So now you have some background built for your character — but how do they live in the day-to-day? Anywhere from constant PTSD intrusions to living a pretty darn normal life with maybe a lot more varied clothes in their wardrobe than the average person. Level of switchiness, what circumstances (based on their background!) would create more switchiness, or appearing pretty darned consistent from the outside. Systems operate on a wide range of parameters from tightly controlled, masked in public (trying to seem like 1 person), and highly "functional" to uncontrolled switching, even in public, and not able to function even in tasks of daily living like eating, sleeping, hygiene, etc.
So the section on "Experiences Common to Multiples" can be helpful in the Explaining the Experience of Being or Meeting Multiples section of The Missing Manual.
Not all triggers trigger switches. We have PTSD or more precisely C-PTSD. Look it up, it's a long list of issues of distrust, and reality testing, etc. Not everyone in the system will have every C-PTSD symptom but sprinkling a little C-PTSD into the character would be very realistic. All people with DID that I know of have C-PTSD. So it's not just about a body with a bunch of people inside it. It's about a body with a bunch of scared, triggery, frightened, reactive people inside of it — or who have recovered from some of their PTSD, but it would be in their back-story.
So don't make every trigger a switch. It's not realistic. We have every bit of "Fire in the hole!" of anyone with PTSD. Smelling coffee doesn't make the Crisses switch, it makes us hyper-vigilant. That's straight out of C-PTSD symptoms.
That said, some triggers WILL trigger switches. There's so many ways this can happen — but there should be a reason. A direct threat to the system will probably trigger a protector to front. Ice cream is sometimes a trigger for littles to front. A more adventurous internal may show up on the day they're going on a trip to the amusement park and have a blast, but then someone scared of heights might get so agitated inside that they accidentally front just before getting on the Free Fall ride, stopping the system in its tracks or creating a melt-down in public. A switch like that may not have a lot of "Tells" (see the link below) — it might be a blink between one and the other.
The External Observations of DID
Again, there's a wide variety here. If a system had no reason to interact with each other, they may never have done so. Or if they had reason to be highly distrustful of each other, they may have blocked communication with each other.
On the other hand, there are systems that grew up being their own "best friends" and playing with each other, even though they may not have explicitly understood that's what they were doing (this is the case for us, The Crisses). We used to sing and dance together pretending to be a bunch of people in a Broadway show, singing show tunes, and taking on different roles in the production — but didn't realize it. Or play Monopoly together and both sides would be sincerely trying to actually win the game.
What does it look like inside? For some systems, there's no palpable "internal landscape" for interactions. Others have very rich elaborate inner worlds, and interact with each other in this "other world" as though they're all physical beings in a very real place.
Sometimes everyone interacts in a building or structure and very rarely outside of it. Other systems have fields, distances, towns or cities, even entire planets as their internal landscape. Fronting is usually seen as a portal, control center with a viewscreen, or a window to the external world. As usual, there would be some "logic" to the decor of the internal landscape and how it's set up. A fan of Star Trek may have something very like the Enterprise Bridge as their main headspace operations area where most internal interactions take place. But a more magic- or medieval-inspired internal landscape may use a magic mirror or a magical portal to interact with the external world.
Usually how closed off the headmates are from each other in interacting externally is represented in their internal landscape, so they may be walled off from each other, or never meet each other. The entire landscape could lack lighting, if it even exists at all. Often disagreements can cause internal landscape consequences such as jailing a headmate for what is perceived as bad behavior.
To complicate things, the principle of As Inside, So Outside applies to nearly all internal-external interactions. So to rearrange our internal landscape, we put everyone's names on index cards and spread them out and rearranged them. The act of drawing one's internal landscape can change it. So this is the flip side of switching as an example of a change on the inside being represented on the outside by changes in expression, manners, tics, vocalizations, skills, or the desire to wear different clothes.
If your DID character is a major player in your story, these can become interesting plot points — much more interesting than having yet-another-killer-alter. What changes did an external crisis create in their internal reality, or how did a change inside create changes in their external relationships or life?
Life in Metaphors
Get creative with this. It will be worth it.
When your protector is a dragon, it may or may not be obvious that there's some parts of DID that are a possible life of living metaphors. Littles probably represent the quintessential "inner child", the internal landscape may be a recreation of their personal hell/torment, but it is usually a magical or fortress-like safe space. There are introjects who may be similar to a perpetrator, but perhaps there's some misdirection and they're a different gender than the perp. Things read in a story, seen in a magazine or on TV or in a movie can be incorporated and their origins forgotten. We pulled in a boy we liked in grade school and he's been in our system as an internalized "best friend" ever since — even though we weren't really that close in external life. Any factor can be magnified or downplayed as it suits the system and the trauma involved — dissociation allows one to cast off factors that are troubling or painful and ignore they exist, while PTSD may cause little things that are normally insignificant to become a very big unescapable deal.
The more you find out about DID, the more clear it becomes that DID is a brilliant and creative solution to an intractable and unbelievable situation — it's not the DID that is unbelievable at all.
So while you're working on this, try to have some fun and be creative with it. There's so much possible ground you can cover within very few constraints — and that's almost a bad thing. You may "get it wrong", but there's plenty of multiples out there who are willing to listen and help sniff out what doesn't work, so be open to feedback and get feedback early and often. We think we can speak on behalf of the entire multiple community when we say we look forward to richly drawn, kindly portrayed and more accurate representations of ourselves out there.