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Creator Breakdown: Literature

  • In J. D. Salinger's "The Laughing Man" (part of 9 Stories), a bus driver who regularly tells children a story about a Robin Hood like character known as "The Laughing Man" goes through serious relationship problems and responds by killing off all the main characters of his story prompting many of the children to break down and cry.
  • Louisa May Alcott broke down while writing the sequels to Little Women with the death of her mother and sister and broke the Fourth Wall in the last paragraph of the last sequel:
    "It is a strong temptation to the weary historian to close the present tale with an earthquake which should engulf Plumfield and its environs so deeply in the bowels of the earth that no youthful Schliemann could ever find a vestige of it. But as that somewhat melodramatic conclusion might shock my gentle readers, I will refrain."
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her famous short story The Yellow Wallpaper, which is the first-person account of a woman whose "rest cure"note  causes her postpartum depression to escalate into schizophrenia, around the same time Gilman underwent a nearly identical experience herself.
  • Douglas Adams himself admitted that he let his own mood affect the fifth Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book. While the fourth (So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish ) had been a giddily happy entry in which Adams brought back Earth and let Arthur Dent fall in love and have a lot of sex, the fifth (Mostly Harmless) was a dark and morbid affair where Adams destroyed Earth again, made Arthur's girlfriend disappear from the universe in a bizarre misunderstanding of the nature of space-time, devised two different realities in which Trillian is a miserable cynic, and eventually killed all the main characters in every possible universe. Adams later regretted this book and was thinking of fixing everything in a sixth, but his death prevented this.
  • The character of Claudia the vampire child in Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles was originally written as a response to Rice's young daughter's death from leukemia. Rice explained in an interview that she had not realized she was doing that. She did not notice the connection between the character and her daughter until someone else pointed it out to her.
  • Rice very vocally disowned the Vampire Chronicles after a (re-)conversion to Roman Catholicism. She shocked pretty much everyone with her next series of novels: Christ the Lord. Yes, from the author of Interview with the Vampire.
    • That didn't hold long, now she's off religion again.
  • Stephen King
    • He states (in On Writing) that his novel Misery was the direct result of his battle with drugs and alcohol; Annie Wilkes, the killer nurse, was a metaphor for his ongoing substance abuse.
    • King also has characters in The Shining, The Tommyknockers, and The Dark Tower going through such believable agonies as alcoholics (all three) and drug addicts (the latter) that it's surprising King didn't figure out what his subconscious was trying to tell him until Misery.
    • In King's later books, his characters have gone through horrible accidents and have suffered a long and painful recovery process, which are described in vivid detail. Might have had something to do with Stephen King having been run over by a Dodge Caravan in the summer of 1999. Which he recounted in the final Dark Tower book, staging it so the characters saved his life. And one died in the process, which King states he didn't intend to happen. It's a little confusing.
  • The increasing cynicism and gloominess in Sylvia Plath's writings were the result of her marriage to Ted Hughes crumbling. One of her final poems, "Edge," a creepy poem about death, was dated one week before her suicide.
  • Steven Brust's Dragaera novels, especially the Vlad series, are rife with this.
    • What happens when the author's wife leaves him? We get treated to two really depressing books where the main character and his wife slowly grow apart and finally separate, after which we get treated to a really weird book where Vlad is Walking the Earth trying to find his place in the world.
    • After the author's friend gets killed by the Real Life mafia, the fantasy mafia the main character belongs to stops being an amusing platform for Vlad to display his heroic sociopathy and becomes a dangerous and evil organization that Vlad must get out of.
  • Edgar Allan Poe married his 13-year-old-second-cousin at age 26. Her death greatly affected him, and the premature death of a beautiful woman was the basis for quite a few of his stories. He even stated that it is the most poetical topic in the world. However, the trope was pretty common for his day. Poe was certainly not a very stable person.
  • Famous Danish playwright and writer Hans Christian Andersen led a depressing life (father dead, having to support himself and his mother, bullied by teachers and students alike in school, being dyslexic, probably gay, his early works failing to sell...), and that's likely the reason why some of his literary works ("The Little Mermaid", "The Ugly Duckling", "The Story of a Mother", "The Little Match Girl", "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"...) are so, so depressing.
    • Certainly bisexual. When he wrote "The Little Mermaid" a man he loved was getting married, and Andersen was writing desperate letters that he didn't dare send, saying "I want to tell my love, but I cannot speak." Sound familiar?
    • He also slept every night with a sign reading "I only seem dead" because he was so afraid of being buried alive...
    • Groovelily has an entire song about this (and, really, the entire trope, but special emphasis on Hans) in their musical Striking 12. The song is called "Screwed-Up People Make Great Art," and in it they detail all the things messing with his mind and why it made his stories great. It ends with, "Screwed-up people make great art, but Yanni is completely well-adjusted."
  • Randy Shilts averted Creator Breakdown in the process of penning And The Band Played On, his infamous chronicle on the history of the AIDS virus. Shilts was aware that he probably received the virus and went to his doctor for a test. He told his doctor not to notify him of the results before his book was complete because he was fearful that an HIV+ diagnosis would affect his then-ongoing writing process. In 1987, after he completed and submitted his book, he learned that he was indeed HIV+ . Shilts died six years after the book was published (and a year after an HBO TV adaptation of his book aired).
  • Bram Stoker. This civil-servant-turned-horror-novelist was obsessed with dualities; Dracula contains themes of good vs. evil, beauty vs. ugliness, east vs. west, old vs. young, and technology vs. mysticism. This seems inconsequential until you learn that his first book was The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, published 1879, and that his night-life of boozing and whoring reputedly killed him through syphilis, although this is unconfirmed. See also The Lair of the White Worm for his obsession with pairing beauty with ugliness and other opposites.
  • Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby was written to help Palahniuk cope with the murder of his father and the decision of having his killer get the death sentence.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was composed shortly after the death of his mother, whose family had been accused of incest in much the same way as Hester was accused of adultery. Hence the slew of mother-imagery associated with Hester, especially of Hester when with Dimmesdale.
    • Hawthorne's ancestor had been a magistrate who sentenced many alleged witches to death during the Salem Witch Trials. Wishing to disassociate himself, he added a w to his name.
      • Although Hawthorne didn't entirely do the research concerning the judge before doing so. Judge John Hathorne lived before the days of fully standardized spelling of names, and official records and documents of the time refer to him as both Hathorne and Hawthorne. Still, the attempt is telling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's opinion on his ancestor.
  • H.P. Lovecraft lived in a time when scientific advances were overturning previous worldviews and the British empire was going into decline. This resulted in stories about horrors that defy our sense of reality and outside forces threatening a helpless humanity.
  • Reportedly, this is behind the derailment of the Anita Blake character and series from the sarcastic, flippant and chaste heroine and detective noir mystery novels of the first few books to the Horny Devils and, as Publishers Weekly put it, "a case to solve between wild orgies with wereanimals" of recent books: the writer, Laurell K. Hamillton, was going through a bad divorce at the time of the initial breakdown.
    • More specifically, the character of Richard is said to be loosely based on Hamilton's now ex husband. The character goes off the rails very abruptly in the book being written right around the time of the divorce. It's only after another half-dozen entries that he's begun to shift back even slightly. Conversely, the character of Micah is allegedly a stand-in for her new boyfriend.
    • There's also the rumour that the change in narration has more to do with a secret change of writer than with a change in the writer's life.
  • Many literary historians consider the monster's creation scene in Frankenstein to be an allegory on childbirth. Months before writing the book, Mary Shelley had given birth to a 2-months premature baby daughter who lived only two weeks. Victor Frankenstein's misshapen, partly-formed 'monster' is created in 'filth' and when first brought to life is jaundiced, as most premature newborns are. This allegory may be less obvious to us because most movie adaptations don't follow Shelley's text that closely and turn the creation of the monster into a more scientific and less earthy event than Shelley imagined.
    • There's also a theory that she may have been sexually abused by her father, which fits really well with her book Matilda, in which the eponymous protagonist has an incestuous relationship with her father.
    • The Last Man was written after she lost most or all of her friends and family, and consists of her proceeding to Kill 'em All, quite literally, to the point that her narrator was the only person alive on the entire planet Earth. If that's not an example of this trope, I don't know what is.
  • The entire career of James Ellroy could be considered an example of the trope. The unsolved murder of his mother when he was ten launched a lifelong obsession with violent crime, particularly that of a sexual nature, which largely centered on the also unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, the infamous "Black Dahlia" case. As well, after the death of his father seven years later he spiraled down into a drug-addicted street thief before turning his life around by pouring his inner demons into novels. In particular, The Black Dahlia is a fictionalized version of the investigation of the Elizabeth Short murder which ends with the killer being found.
    • Stieg Larsson's career went in a similar direction; the reason the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy deals so much with sexual violence was because Larsson felt lingering guilt for failing to stop his friends from committing a gang rape when he was young.
  • Several novels of Philip K. Dick deal, more or less explicitly, with his own experiences of drug use and mental breakdown. VALIS deals with this directly (almost autobiographically) and many of his other novels contain references to the subjects of drug use, mental instability and the questioning of reality.
    • Let's not forget The Man in the High Castle, where an author uses the I-Ching to help guide his book...in a book Dick wrote with the help of the I-Ching. It's that kind of novel.
    • A Scanner Darkly so closely parallels Dick's own experiences living among the drug culture of the 60s that he ends the book by listing everyone he personally knew (himself included) who died or suffered permanent damage due to drug abuse.
  • William S. Burroughs allegedly wrote Naked Lunch during a drug binge. The text deals with both drug use and homosexuality, neither of which Burroughs was unfamiliar with.
    • Burroughs' whole life was pretty much a drug binge. However, he did credit his accidentally shooting and killing his wife with pushing him towards a serious writing career.
    • On a day Burroughs had been drinking heavily (which suggests he'd been unable to obtain a fix), he attempted a kind of "William Tell" performance: aiming at a shot glass balanced on the top of her head. Burroughs—charged with murder—spent a few days in a Mexican prison until his affluent family bailed him out.
    • Burroughs cited Jack Kerouac's repetitive nagging as another reason he chose to write.
  • Will Elliott, the author of The Pilo Family Circus, is a sufferer of schizophrenia. The result? A story about a circus built within a pocket dimension, managed by two feuding mutant brothers in the pay of a race of godlike reptiles that consider humans to be little more than a delicacy and were imprisoned beneath the circus by unknown forces. Oh yeah, and the Circus's latest inhabitant is a young member of the Clown Division, who is steadily losing a fight for control over his own body. Does This Remind You of Anything??
  • Nosaka Akiyuki wrote Grave of the Fireflies out of guilt he was unable to save his younger sister from malnutrition during World War II. His alter-ego Seita dies in September 1945 as a vagrant teen in a subway.
  • Tad Williams went through a painful divorce during the writing of the third novel of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and noted in his commentary that he was concerned about it affecting the mood of the story. In a possible aversion, he decided to go with a semi-happy ending rather than the Kill 'em All version he had been contemplating.
  • Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease, and then wrote Nation, a book about losing faith and salvaging life in the aftermath of a horrible disaster. From the guy who continues to bring you Discworld, there's quite a lot in this book that just isn't funny.
    • Several of Pratchett's characters in Discworld books after his diagnosis have begun to show signs of aging: memory lapses, decreased physical endurance, etc. They tend to keep forging ahead by sheer willpower for as long as possible. For instance, in Snuff, Sam Vimes' old antagonist Lord Rust is seen as old, worn-out, and confined to a wheelchair, looking nearer to Death than Vimes would have thought possible. Lacking the energy to pursue old arguments, the two men conclude a sort of peace and are actually civil to each other for the first time ever; later on in the book, Rust is recorded as conceding Vimes is a man of great honour and integrity. For the former virile and proud Rust, this would have been unthinkable. Is this sort of thing Terry's way of putting his worldly affairs in order, by having old enemies in his novels conclude truces?
    • In Pratchett's short story "Final Reward" the protagonist, after an argument with his girlfriend, decides to kill off the protagonist of his long-lasting book series, Erdan the Barbarian. Erdan comes to the writer's house as the eponymous final reward. Hilarity Ensues.
  • This trope is Older Than Feudalism: 1st-century-B.C. Roman poet Catullus began his career writing love poems to his girlfriend "Lesbia," and, after she left him for another man, many of his poems had as their subject "Lesbia is a slut."
    • It gets better. Some scholars have theorized that the poems for Lesbia were written by a group of likeminded poets, which would make this a Creator Group Breakdown.
    • Also, Lesbia was a married woman whom he had been having an affair with, and she ditched him for other men. She was cheating on her lover, and her lover (who was still cuckolding her husband) was insanely jealous. "Odi et amo" indeed. Incidentally, Lesbia is usually associated with Clodia, the sister of the Late Republican politician Publius Clodius Pulcher, with whom she is sometimes accused of having an incestuous affair.
  • The great 19th century novelist Thomas Hardy wrote increasingly fatalistic novels, to the point that the last two (Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure) thoroughly burned him out; combined with the scandalous response the novels provoked in the country at large, it was enough to cause him to quit writing novels for the remaining 28 years of his life (turning his hand to plays and poetry instead).
  • Larry Niven explored the pain and difficulty of being a two-pack-a-day smoker by giving several of his characters breathing problems, allergies, and so on.
  • Lurlene McDaniel started writing books about dying children as a way of coping with the pain of her child's death. That was in 1985 and she's still at it, so it doesn't seem to be working.
  • After the death of his wife Louisa in 1906, and the death of his son Kingsley, his brother Innes, his two brothers-in-law (one of whom was E. W. Hornung, the creator of the literary character Raffles), and his two nephews shortly after World War I, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sank into depression. He found solace supporting Spiritualism and its alleged scientific proof of existence beyond the grave. He then wrote The Land of Mist, a novel-length tract justifying the author's conversion to Spiritualism, including having ultra-rationalist Professor Challenger convert to Spiritualism. There is a suggestion in chapter two that the deaths of "ten million young men" in World War I was punishment by the Central Intelligence for humanity's laughing at the alleged evidence for life after death.
  • In the last fifteen years of his life, Mark Twain became increasingly embittered due to the loss of his writing fortune through bad investments and the deaths of two of his daughters and his wife. Consequentially, his works became increasingly bleak and misanthropic, culminating with The Mysterious Stranger.
    • Twain lost faith in organized religion, and in people's expectations of it, but not in God Himself- his last published work, Captain Stormfields Visit To Heaven, while mocking these aspects, showed a generally truly benevolent version of Heaven.
  • Allegedly, Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There emerged after he came out of a massive depression following the death of his father. Not many people know that the sudden disappearance of Carroll from his usual habitat was because he had shut himself off into his home. His reputedly accurate and meticulous diaries contain no reference to this particular period: what is known is that he came out of the depression with the story fully written. Note that it is heavier than the original Alice in Wonderland and is plagued with a general feeling/expression of futility.
  • Coplas por la Muerte de mi Padre, by medieval Spanish author Jorge Manrique, consists of more than 20 poems wrote after Manrique's father's death. It appeals to Christian resignation and understanding of death, and many parts are dedicated to explaining what a great man his father was and why he certainly is in Heaven. However, it also contemplates the futility of life. It is considered his masterpiece, and an example of the best in Spanish poetry of his time.
  • Could be a considering factor in light of the fact that Charlaine Harris' most recent entry in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series has her literally killing off almost half her regular cast. Rest assured, though, the whiny computer nerd Bill and Loveable Rogue Eric are still around.
  • T. S. Eliot started writing The Waste Land while recovering from a nervous breakdown in Switzerland.
  • At first, Cornelia Funke, author of The Inkworld Trilogy, was planning to name the third book "Inkdeath" (for reasons associated with the plot), but she soon changed her mind and decided to name it "Inkdawn" instead. However, she later changed her mind again, and the book's official name turned out to be "Inkdeath" after all. This and the trilogy's tragic ending, despite earlier promises that all ends well can easily be explained if one takes into consideration that Funke's husband, Rolf - also the inspiration for the character Dustfinger - died of cancer in 2006, after the publication of the second volume, Inkspell, but before Inkdeath was released. (This is strongly suggested in the third book's dedications, most of which mention "dark days" and/or Rolf's death.)
  • Charles Bukowski made a career out of this.
  • In her last completed novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson penned two of the most convincing characters in all her books: two sisters, Constance and Merrikat, one who is a recluse, the other a fiery warrior against a world that is hostile to them. Ms. Jackson believed these two characters to be reflective of her own warring personality, and, after completing the novel, had a breakdown resulting in herself becoming a recluse (agoraphobic) until her death a few years later.
  • You'd be hard-pressed to find a full-length novel by Roald Dahl that doesn't contain some element from his childhood. Reading his autobiography "Boy" turns most of his children's novels into romans à clef. The fact that analogues to the Matron and Captain Hardcastle, as well as situations of being accused of cheating and corporal punishment, recur in his fiction, shows that he never quite got over those traumatic experiences. Often times the books seem to be wish fulfillment—in "Danny, the Champion of the World," Danny has a father who reacts with protective rage when he finds out that Danny has suffered corporal punishment (from a Captain Hardcastle avatar); Matilda develops magic powers and manages to best the evil authority figure. Then again, he was also profoundly marked by very good things—he spun a whole magic candy factory out of one tiny sweetshop (although the owner of the sweetshop was horrible, and was the cause of his first caning).
  • One could argue that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's beloved The Little Prince was affected by his turbulent relationship with his wife Consuelo — she is the rose.
  • Charlotte Bronte's Villette which followed on the death of her sisters, Emily and Anne, and brother Branwell, is much more moody and pessimistic than her most popular work Jane Eyre.
  • Charlotte Bronte's Shirley was written during the illnesses and deaths of her sisters. Initially it is thought she meant to kill off the heroine, but due to her grief, couldn't. It also explains why the plot suddenly becomes inconsistent and less coherent. In the novel, the heroine discover's her friend's governess is actually her long-lost mother, and her cousin is her friend's cousin's tutor. This could be a desire to possess close relations.
  • After George R. R. Martin's best friend ran off with his girlfriend, he wrote a number of stories with this theme. One of his stories written during this time, about brainless humans being used for sex, even ends on the line that love is the cruelest lie anyone can be told.
  • Referenced in-universe in Lindsey Davis' Ode to a Banker. Constrictus, the epic poet, has a serious problem: his girlfriend won't dump him. How is a man supposed to produce moving romantic poetry, if his muse refuses to rip out his heart and stomp on it?
  • Anne of Ingleside is noticeably more depressing than the rest of the books in the Anne series — set pre-World War I, but written post-World War I, about children whose lives will be defined (and ended) by the Great War, when the second one was already starting, making it all look especially futile. It was also the last book L.M. Montgomery completed before her death, which many believe to have been a suicide.
  • While Bret Easton Ellis has admitted that his works are sourced from this trope by default, he admitted only recently that American Psycho was never written with the "yuppie serial killer on Wall Street" high concept nor was intentional social criticism. It was sourced from what he described as "my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself."
  • Harmony by Project Itoh is a story about medicine becoming the most basic human right, leading to Japan becoming a dystopia with constant monitoring of physical and mental health via Nanomachines. Over the course of the book, the main character realizes that human consciousness is just a side effect of chemical impulses in the brain and is no longer necessary in society, and helps accomplish the villains' Assimilation Plot by doing nothing to stop them from destroying human consciousness (a process compared to 'going to Heaven'). He wrote it while dying from cancer and edited it in the hospital in the final stages of his illness.
  • The story goes that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after a particularly vivid nightmare that he experienced. Even if this story isn't true, however, then it's themes of a man's character switching between extremes essentially due to a gradually worsening drug addiction probably rang true with the author, since he battled addiction to various drugs administered to him due to his poor health his whole life.
  • Donaya Haymond wrote the Legends of Laconia series during her adolescence, and the third novel, Waking Echoes, during her first year of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and coming to terms with it. It is noticeably darker than the previous ones.
  • Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies begins as a light comedy about young socialites and ends with a bleak depiction of the outbreak of war. The author attributed this to the failure of his marriage during the writing process.
  • J. K. Rowling suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts while writing Harry Potter, resulting in the Dementors, Harry's parental figures dying and Luna's Friendless Background.
    • She also revealed that, due to this depression, she genuinely considered killing off Ron "out of sheer spite". Even though she knew "in her heart of hearts" that she wouldn't actually do it, it just goes to show the sort of mood she was in to even consider it.
    • She's also admitted that in the earliest conceptual stages, Harry's parents were rather callously killed off for the simple reason that a hero without parents is more flexible. However, her own mother passed away before Rowling could tell her about the project, and this transformed the death of Harry's parents from a matter of plot convenience into a central theme of the story, with the loving bravery of Harry's mother being the key reason for his survival.
  • Originally, Dead Souls was supposed to have three parts (like Dante's Divine Comedy, standing for Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise respectively). But then Gogol went through a religious crisis, mixed with paranoid schizophrenia, destroyed the third book and also parts of the second. Until his death, he wouldn't restore them. He also stated that he felt that Villain Protagonist Chichikov and other characters couldn't be redeemed.
  • Happens in universe in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Tiny puts a song involving all of his ex-boyfriends in the musical he writes and puts on.
  • Subverted in Jorge Luis Borges short story "Averroe's Search" : When Borges realizes he has broke the Stable Fictional Loop and incurred in an Ontological Paradox, he forces the story into a No Ending.
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem Christmas Bells (which was later put to music and became the song, "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day") shortly after his wife had died in a freak accident and his son had been seriously wounded while serving in the Civil War, which was still going on at the time the poem was written; all that surrounding tragedy and chaos really puts the third verse in context and arguably makes the 4th verse that much more meaningful and powerful.
  • This trope is inverted with fantasy/horror novelist, Arthur Machen. After his wife died, Machen went through a great deal of personal turmoil and soul searching, which resulted in a conversion to Christianity at the turn of the centurynote , which, in turn, led to him using his newfound sense of inner peace to write two unusually happy and upbeat novels, The Great Return and The Secret Glory.
  • Girlfriend In A Coma, in which the title character and her friends are the sole survivors of a global catastrophe, came about while Douglas Coupland was going through a depressive phase, which he described later as 'one of the darkest periods of my life'. He also stated that this novel was the last 'written as a young person, the last constructed from notebooks full of intricate observations'.
  • George Orwell attributed the utterly bleak atmosphere of 1984 to the misery he experienced as a result of tuberculosis.
  • The fate of Nigel in Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole series (blind, cranky and reclusive) reflects Townsend's own health issues and blindness. Many of her characters have health breakdowns in the later books.
  • Matthew Reilly's wife died at age 37, after which he spent months completely absent from the Internet, and only leaving the house to walk his dog. The next book he released after this is his first in which the villain gets away at the end.
  • Marian Keyes is a well-known Chick Lit author suffered a nearly three year bout of severe depression after her book The Brightest Star in the Sky was published. She eventually recovered with the help of learning how to bake and incorporated her life-long struggle with depression into her novel The Mystery of Mercy Close.

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