Waiting out Hurricane Irma with no power, and no phone service got me thinking about isolation. Humans are inherently social creatures. We seek the company of others. I was fortunate to have my husband with me so there was plenty of conversation, but also time to contemplate. We as humans need conversation, we want to be included in groups, whether it’s a sports team or a religious group or even a fabulous critique group. I thought about the long term effects of isolation to a person and how it could affect one’s character.
Psychologists say that socialization is critical for the mental health of children and seniors. There are two types of isolation: social and physical. Social isolation occurs when someone feels they don’t fit in. Bullying is a prime example as is the archaic practice of shunning. Physical isolation occurs if someone is tangibly prevented from interacting with others like in a kidnapping. People can both mentally and physically isolate themselves from intense fear like a survivalist who lives in the woods.
Social isolation has been used as a tool in many thrillers. Children who are bullied can become serial killers as in The Wilderness of Ruin, a true crime novel about Jesse Pomeroy, a boy who at the age of fourteen became a serial killer. Adults can be bullied at work, leading someone to ‘go postal’. The Shunning by B. Lewis is a story about a bride shunned by the Amish.
Think about how isolation would affect you. If you suddenly ended up alone in a desperate situation would you shrivel up and cry or organize your thoughts to figure out a necessary strategy? Would you become increasingly depressed until you couldn’t function, or would you be so anxious you’d have a heart attack?
Studying how isolation affects human nature can be useful in plotting or as backstory for one of your characters. The effects of isolation can enhance your characters actions and motivations. Use isolation to increase tension, and heighten suspense to keep your readers turning the pages as fast as a hurricane.