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How to Write a Drunken Character


Creating characters can be an exciting component of writing -- internal conflict or struggles between multiple characters are often a driving force behind a story. Developing a character means delving into that person’s psyche and considering what drives that person to talk and behave in a particular way. Drunken characters especially rely on behavior, and the way the character thinks and acts while drunk could be a very compelling part of the story.

Do the Research

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a story or novel is the research that goes into the process. You can choose to get some hands-on research by going to a bar and observing patrons, or you can play designated driver to your friends and see how different people act while intoxicated. You might notice some people become affectionate and like to hug or express feelings more openly when they drink. Others might become hostile or belligerent after having one too many; Scientific American points out a research study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in which drunken participants were much more aggressive than their sober counterparts. Seek out research studies like these to get a deeper understanding of how people behave while drunk.

Making Decisions

Make a list of the types of drunken people you encountered or read about in your research, and outline characteristics of these individuals. The obnoxious drunk, for instance, is loud and might say things, often inappropriately, without thinking. The sad drunk might lock herself in the bathroom to avoid people, and cry by herself. The fighter drunk will start arguments or fistfights with anyone. Choose one type of drunk, and delve deeper into that character’s persona. Consider if he has underlying mental health issues that drive him to drink. Dick Diver, a main character from F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night," for example, is a control freak, but as he loses control of situations in his life and witnesses the instability of his wife, he becomes even more of a drunkard; his wife also drinks as a coping mechanism for her mental illness. Think about how many drinks it might take for your character to get drunk; the Mental Health Foundation suggests three to four drinks for men or two to three drinks for women is enough to cause intoxication. These details will come in handy when you’re writing your narrative.

Asking Questions

After writing down ideas about the drunken side of your character, ask yourself questions to highlight other aspects of your character’s personality. Fiction writer Sandra Miller suggests pretending this character asks you out to lunch, and you must think about where you both would go, what food you would order or what you’d talk about. This exercise might also give you ideas of how your character will talk. Writer’s Digest suggests thinking about your character’s driving need or goal, if she has a secret, what her internal contradiction or conflict could be, or what vulnerabilities she has. For example, a drunken character might use drinking to hide that she is desperate for love and stability. Consider how your character's drunken behavior is more than just a character trait, and how drinking defines the character's life and actions; in Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," Jake and his friends drink excessively to escape reality and the notion that their lives lack purpose.

Revising Your Work

After writing your work, revise it while thinking critically about your drunken character. Many authors might write a parody of a drunken person who constantly slurs words or can’t sit up straight, which might be overdoing it. Dialogue with slurred speech can be difficult to read. However, if your character does tend to slur his words, check dialogue to ensure that behavior is represented. Don’t forget to add in physical characteristics of an intoxicated person, such as flushed cheeks; these details can flesh out your narrative. If you write in first person and the narrator is the drunken character, consider what aspects of a situation that person would notice; some people fixate on one thing while drunk, so they might miss other details. Also ask yourself if your character feels real -- Writer’s Digest suggests the best characters feel like they could actually exist, yet also can surprise the reader.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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