Trauma as a Plot Developer | Teen Ink

Trauma as a Plot Developer

September 26, 2022
By CelesteDodd BRONZE, Carefree, Arizona
CelesteDodd BRONZE, Carefree, Arizona
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Bibliotherapy refers to the use of literature to help heal and promote good mental health. Therapist often use writing as a tool to work through trauma, giving the client a space to talk about an experience while also gaining an added perspective. Artist and writers have the incredible capability to take trauma and use it as a form of expression, transforming it into a touching piece. However, the more successful and popular this gets the further the meaning can get from its intended use. Now the use of trauma in a plot has sparked the debate of whether or not trauma has become a cheap plot developer.

Writing and reading about trauma can help to ease the emotional pain connected to a negative experience. It is also a great tool to learn from. When looking at past historical events, understanding the whole subject matter is imperative to fully comprehend the weight of an event and to grow from it. This includes the knowing the depth of the traumatic experiences. Knowledge is one of the greatest tools that we can possess and reading and writing about traumatic experiences can deepen one’s understanding of the extensivity of the human mind on a personal and a general level.

Not only have works of trauma helped to progress the innovation of therapy they have also become one of the foremost themes in contemporary literature alongside the art of testimony. As said by Elie Wiesel, “The Greeks invented tragedy, the Romans epistle, and the Renaissance the sonnet, our generation invented a new literature, that of testimony”. Contemporary literature refers to writing after World War II that follows reality-based stories featuring strong characters and a realistic plot. The popularity of this theme has aided in the destigmatizing of trauma and therapy. Where it was once taboo to talk about mental health and trauma you can now find that most books available to you are centered on these topics. However, the more popular and successful trauma plots become, the farther they stray from their intended usage.

The use of traumatic experiences in works started as something unconventional and innovative, but now that the novelty has started to wear, the debate on whether trauma has become a cheap plot developer has been opened. If you look at popular books of the last few years, more and more of them have been centered around trauma. While these books have been great tools in starting conversations regarding mental health and healing, the line between destigmatizing and desensitizing has become less and less apparent.

A great way to create a successful book is to look at what characteristics popular books have in common, and most recently it has all been a trauma. The beauty of the trauma plot was that it was original and works of that subject matter were few and far between. It gave the floor to representation and showcased healthy ways of healing.  However, as more and more works detailed the same events, the weight of them gets lost and overlooked. There becomes a point, when as a victim of a traumatic experience, seeing yourself in everything you read can become overwhelming. The beauty of literature is its ability to gift a reader the escape from one reality and the transformation into another, and when the heaviest parts of your reality follow you into your escape it can become more oppressive than freeing.

From a personal perspective, as a queer woman, seeing either or both core parts of my identity in a work is one of the most liberating and empowering feelings I can get while reading. I think opening the space to talk about the realities that face myself and others because of our identities is an incredibly important matter to be focusing on. In my opinion, this does not transfer to when an author uses the traumas specific to a community to develop their plot when it does not apply to themselves. The act of capitalizing from the experiences and traumas of others has been disguised as being fresh and avant-garde, taking the floor away from those who are sharing personal traumas. When I read a book that details a heartbreaking story of two men finding the space to love one another in the 1960’s only to find that is has been written by a straight woman (somebody who will not have to face the effects of homophobia and will never fully understand its ramifications), or I read the point of view of an indigenous woman as she tries to recover her heritage and discover that it was written by someone with no indigenous heritage it dampens the effect of the subject matter and begs the question, “Why can they be successful with these stories when marginalized authors are not?”. I feel that we have crossed the line from “What trauma can we share?” to “What trauma can be monetized?”, and while we should not be putting up boundaries and restrictions on who may write about what, understanding the space that your work will occupy is a vital key when writing.

The awareness of subject matter should not only be kept in mind when not speaking over marginalized voices, but also when understanding the age of your target audience. This does not mean that we should be censoring the knowledge that we give to young readers, but that the formability of minds is a variable that is often forgotten. Trauma as a plot device must stick to its core purpose of healing over scarring. When a young reader understands the depth of a traumatic event a sense of fear can accompany their knowledge if not presented correctly. Personally, as a young mind, when the popular and accessible books that provide me with representation all detail the anxiety and trepidation around homophobia, some even detailing intense hate crimes, it does not make me hopeful for my future and the possible situations I could face.

Writing is an incredibly freeing form of expression that bibliotherapy shows us can be incredible healing as well and I think the beauty of art and writing in general is its ability to adapt, expand, and express. This however does not mean that there are not factors to always consider such as, whether it is your place to expand on a topic, how much trauma is too much for a plot (A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihar is one book that sits on my to be read shelf, waiting for me to be ready to dip my toe into the plot), and remembering that trauma is not the only tool that can give your writing depth. Cheery writing has often been overlooked for not being thought provoking enough or cliché, however, now I am able to see the value in its jovial nature and the way it can provide a safe place to simply be at peace. When factors like these are considered, literature can flourish.















· › ... › Types of Therapy

· › Magazine › Books


· › what-is-contemp...

The author's comments:

This editorial is inspired by my own experiences as a reader on the topic of identity specific traumas being used to further plots and the platform it gives. 

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.