Writing About Trauma

Many of the characters we read and get to know within the pages of a book deal with trauma. Many characters are children still and many are adults who dealt with trauma as children.

Trauma can be the conflict your character is dealing with.

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As an educator, I attended a training where we learned about Adverse Childhood Effects or Experiences – ACEs for short. I learned about this several years ago and discuss this idea with teachers in my reading endorsement courses that I teach. Just a few months ago, in a course that I teach called Children’s and Young Adult Literature, we read Alan Gratz’s novel Refugee. While discussing this book, we talked about ACEs and how the characters in the book dealt with a lot of trauma. The teachers were surprised to learn about ACEs.

Several years ago, two researchers wanted to learn more about childhood trauma and how it affects people in their later years. They teamed up with Kaiser HMO and all clients of this insurance conglomerate were sent a survey where they had to check yes or no on several categories of childhood trauma. The categories were:

  • Physical, Emotional, or Sexual Abuse
  • Physical or Emotional Neglect
  • Family member with mental illness or depression
  • A family member who was incarcerated
  • Mother who was treated violently
  • A family member who had substance abuse problems
  • Parents divorced or separated.

Over 17,000 clients turned in their surveys.

What they found is that ACE scores were common. They found that if a child had or has experienced at least 4 ACEs, they showed behavioral problems in school. Also, people with 4 or more Aces have 3 times the chance of having lung disease than those with a 0 ACE. They also have 14 times chance of attempting suicide, 4 ½ times chance of developing depression, 11 times chance of using intravenous drugs, and 2 times developing liver disease. If a person with 8 or more ACEs, who do not smoke, drink, or do drugs still have a 360 percent chance of dying from ischemic heart disease – the leading cause of death.

When we write about characters who experience trauma, it would be great to look into Adverse Childhood Experiences to really get a close look at what type of person that character may become. Or, if we are writing about an adult character, this may help you understand why your character is doing the things they are doing. It might even give you more back story for your character – in both instances. Because oftentimes, our writing mirrors real life…and ACEs are real life.



John Scovill is originally from Iowa and has since lived in Arizona, Texas, and now Utah. He is a father, a husband, a teacher – now school administrator, and a writer. He hopes to hear from you at lit360degrees@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnlit360