Learn How to Develop a Fictional Character with Neurological Disorders

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During the sketching your fictional character, you want to consider character types and character elements but what is the thing that can push your fictional character further? I think we agree on the fact that giving a fictional character a certain type and looks might not be enough to hook the reader.

And I’m sure you don’t want your readers to leave your book aside while exploring someone else’s.

This special on neurological disorders will give you a clear image and help you zoom in on one detail that can make your fictional character stand out.

So you’ve established your fictional character’s type and determined his main elements, meaning you have him almost fully created. However, it might seem as something is missing, some aspect of his behavior that will bring him/her to the next level. Have you thought about mental disorders?

Certainly, this is a very extensive topic, that might seem complicated to some, but I will do my best to keep it simple, with definitions as well as descriptions. After all, we don’t want to graduate from medical school, we want to build a fictional character! Again, if your character is a neurology expert or a psychiatrist, you will find this beneficial.

To differentiate what you want your character to have, you first need to know the difference between a neurological disorder and psychiatric disorder.

Simply put, neurological disorder = damage to the brain. Think of Alzheimer. These involve damage to neurons and degeneration of the nervous system. Can be genetic (inherited) or degenerative.

Psychiatric disorder = mental disorder. Think of depression. These can manifest as a consequence of neurological disorders and point to them as the underlying cause.

That is to say, I hope the following quotes will help you determine whether your fictional character can or should have the neurological disease. You will find the sources at the end of the article.


“Dementia is a syndrome caused by disease of the brain, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, in which there is a disturbance of multiple higher cortical functions, including memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. Consciousness is not clouded. Dementia mainly affects older people: only 2% of cases start before the age of 65 years. After this, the prevalence doubles with every five-year increment in age. This is one of the major causes of disability in later life.”


“Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder affecting both sexes and all ages, with worldwide distribution. This term is also applied to a large group of conditions characterized by common symptoms called “epileptic seizures”. It may occur in the context of a brain insult that can be systemic, toxic or metabolic. These events (called provoked or acute symptomatic seizures) are presumed to be an acute manifestation of the insult and may not recur when the underlying cause has been removed or the acute phase has elapsed.”

Headache disorders

“Headache is a painful feature of a relatively small number of primary headache disorders, some of which are widespread and are often life-long conditions. It also occurs as a characteristic symptom of many other conditions; these are termed secondary headache disorders. Collectively, headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system, causing substantial disability in populations throughout the world.”

Types of headache disorders
  • Migraine – one-sided pulsating of the head and nausea
  • Tension-type headache – usually tense neck muscles are the cause
  • Cluster headache – more painful than migraine, one-sided pain with eyes being irritated
  • Medication-overuse headache – derived from excessive medication use
  • Serious secondary headaches – these signal underlying disorders
  • Over-diagnosed headaches

Multiple sclerosis

“It is one of the most common neurological disorders and cause of disability of young adults.”


“They are often difficult to diagnose, and treatments are inadequate or nonexistent. Not surprisingly, encephalitis has been the subject of several recent movies and fiction and nonfiction books. The outbreaks have received wide attention by the popular media. For example, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) continues to get wide media coverage despite the absence of human cases in the United States.”

Viral diseases

  • Viral encephalitis
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Rabies

Bacterial diseases

  • Tuberculosis
  • Leprosy neuropathy
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Tetanus

Parasitic diseases

  • Neurocysticercosis
  • Cerebral malaria
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • American trypanosomiasis: Chagas disease
  • African trypanosomiasis: sleeping sickness
  • Schistosomiasis
  • Hydatidosis

This is a handful. You might not need all of those but it’s an interesting thing to know and research in case your character is a doctor.

Fun fact – the only ever case of Rabies survival without vaccination is Jeanna Giese. She was put into a comatose state to deal with rabies. Until now, 14 people in total survived it.

Another fun fact – rabies is also my nightmare disease.

Neurological disorders associated with malnutrition

“In low-income countries, inadequate amounts of food (causing conditions such as child malnutrition and retarded growth) and inadequate diversity of food (causing deficiency of vital micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals or trace elements) continue to be priority health problems. Malnutrition in all its forms increases the risk of disease and early death. Nearly 800 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. Malnutrition affects all age groups. It is especially common among poor people and those with inadequate access to health education, clean water, and good sanitation. Most of the malnutrition-related neurological disorders are preventable.”

These are caused by vitamin and mineral deficiency.

Let’s not forget alcohol-related neurological disorders: fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol-related polyneuropathy, Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Parkinson’s disease

“Parkinson’s disease is a chronic progressive neurodegenerative disorder of insidious onset, characterized by the presence of predominantly motor symptomatology (bradykinesia, rest tremor, rigidity, and postural disturbances). It is also associated with a diversity of non-motor symptoms. “


“Stroke is one of the main noncommunicable diseases of public health importance. After coronary heart disease and cancer, stroke is the most common cause of death in most industrialized countries. In general terms, stroke is a sudden neurological deficit owing to localized brain ischemia or hemorrhage.”

Traumatic brain injuries

“Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults around the world and is involved in nearly half of all trauma deaths. Many years of productive life are lost, and many people have to suffer years of disability after brain injury.”

Now that I’ve quoted the basics of neurological, I want to mention psychological disorders. These are not to be confused with psychotic disorders, which fall under the type of psychological disorder.

Psychological disorders = mental illness.

Psychotic disorders = psychoses, a type of psychological disorder.

I must admit, I adore a fictional character with a “flaw” in his mind. These are also my favorite disorders to study about and apply the knowledge to character building. Readers usually like to favor people who “need help”, hoping that at the end they will find their peace.

Side note – I never intended to hurt anyone with what I write about. If it’s hard for you to read about any of these, maybe you can find other ways of upgrading your character by assigning him/her some other characteristic. I’m sorry if you’ve ever had to deal with any of these or know a person who did.

Let’s define psychological disorders. “These illnesses greatly disturb and affect thinking, moods, and/or behavior and seriously increases the risk of disability, pain, death, or loss of freedom.”

New research suggests that there is genetic activity involved:

Common Disorders

Most common disorders are:

Anxiety disorders – panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and general anxiety.

Mood disorders – bipolar disorder, depression.

Eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, restrictive food eating disorder, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, diabulimia, and pica.

Personality disorders – borderline personality, narcissistic personality, paranoia and delusion, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder.

Psychotic disorders – schizophrenia, brief psychotic disorder, delusional disorder, substance-induced psychotic disorder, psychotic disorder due to a medical condition.

Boy, this turned out too long. Meaning, I will have to just briefly mention mental illnesses here, and explain them in detail in another post. Did this help you decide on your fictional character’s flaw? Let me know in the comments if I missed something, I will make sure to come back and update.

BONUS – (quotes are taken from these sources)

Mental health report

NCBI Articles

Psycology disorders

Harvard article



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