Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Writing About: A Character Going Crazy

I had the unique opportunity to let the heroine in my (unpublished) supernatural-thriller series go crazy. It wasn’t easy because she’s such a strong character, but I had a lot of fun doing it. She even stayed in a psychiatric ward, which is where she actually became crazy.

Exploring a character with a different mindset is a neat experience. If you ever have the opportunity to do this, embrace it and keep these tips in mind:

1.    Let your character gradually lose his/her sanity. People in real life don’t go in sane suddenly, with the snap of a finger. It happens overtime, so don’t rush this process. Ease your character into the depth of insanity as if you’re dipping into a cold pool.

2.    Reveal what causes your character to go insane. You can do this by showing glimpses of your character’s past, a sequence of events, or a medical diagnosis.

If you character is diagnosed with a disorder, please see this post: Writing About: A Character with a Personality or Psychological Disorder

3.    Show the moment your character has his/her psychotic break, pushing him/her into full insanity. In my book, my heroine’s evolution is slow, but the moment she breaks is monumental. Your character’s break can happen due to rejection, heartbreak, or anger (a fight).

4.    When your character is in this state of insanity, his/her thoughts are important because they reveal mental disorders. Give your character strange thoughts by letting your own thoughts get a little twisted.
TIP: Watch movies with these subject matters and read books to help you get into this frame of mind.
5.    Body language and how your character moves is also a great tool to express a character’s sanity. Once, when I was trying to get into my heroine’s shoes, I started to rock back and forth and tap my feet while repeating, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” It felt so brilliant that I wrote exactly what I did and said into my book. So, let your character fidget, chew his/her lip, or pull his/her hair.


6.    What a character says is as important as what he/she thinks. Let him/her randomly recite poems, babble, and repeat words/phrases over and over.

7.    Emotions are everything! And when you have a mental disorder, they are heightened. Show your character’s emotions whenever you can, such as anger, depression, sadness, but make them extreme to fit his/her sanity.

8.    Someone’s appearance can explain a lot about them. For this unique role, you can give your character long, uncut fingernails; oily, knotted hair; dark under eye circles with red eyes; and mismatched or dirty clothing

9.    Eyes can be very expressive. Along with under eye circles and red eyes, look for moments when you can describe your character’s eyes as wild or blank. Wild eyes are wide and are perfect for when a character is having a psychotic episode. Blank eyes appear devoid of expression, emotion and life, and works best for when a character is feeling lost or in the clutches of major depression.

10.    People with disorders have outbursts, so you can’t write a story about a character going crazy and not have them go through outbursts of hysterical laughter, screaming, or crying.

TIP: Make sure that what your character does and how he/she acts fits with your story line and genre. For horror, your character could have frightening hallucinations or become murderous. For romance, love could pull your character back to sanity.

QUESTIONS: Have you written about a character who could be defined as insane? Do you have a favorite book or movie on this subject?

Two of my all-time favorite movies are Girl, Interrupted and Gothika.


54 comments:

  1. I don't know if the last comment was submitted and just went into moderation or not. If so, please just delete this one.

    My husband says I have too many insane character. I might be a bit fascinated by them. The one most off the deep end is Cera's dad in book 3 of the Ninier series. Then again, he is my favorite...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. huh, guess the last one just didn't submit.

      Delete
    2. I guess not, so thank you for submitting it again. :)

      I am fascinated by insane characters, too. I actually have two in my series (my heroine, but only for a short while and a character she meets in the psych ward). I loved the second character so much that she stuck around for the rest of the series. :)

      Delete
  2. Great tips, Chrys. Thank you! My character goes crazy from abuse in an institution. I'm having a hard time writing about the abuse though, as I want to make it graphic. One of my favorite films for this example is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Frances (starring Jessica Lange). p.s. I voted for your book cover :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for voting for my book cover, Lisa! Those a great films. I hope you can get the abuse right, something like that needs the right amount of care and detail.

      Delete
  3. Trying again to leave a comment.

    One of my secondary characters is a midwife who goes insane in the camps, between the time the reader has last seen her and when she's next seen again, after the liberation. She was forced to do the worst thing a midwife could do, over and over again, and refuses to listen to everyone who tells her she saved those women's lives and gave them the chance to someday have other babies in freedom. Eventually she's committed to an insane asylum, though I won't give away what might or might not happen with her in the second book (slated for release next year).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're the second person to have trouble posting a comment today and I have no idea why. Darn, Blogger! :P

      Your book and your characters sounds sooo good. I want to read that book now!

      Delete
  4. I haven't written about insanity, exactly, but I do like to write about mental illness. There are plenty of different routes you can take and different disorders to explore, which can make characters more complex and interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I absolutely agree! I blogged about how to write about characters with mental illness. The ideas and things you can do are limitless!

      Delete
  5. If I were to continue in the series I'm working on now, I'd have to explore that, because there is a good chance the character could go nuts later on.
    First movie that comes to mind is the Abyss.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be good, Alex. Well, not for your character... haha

      Oh, yes, The Abyss...

      Delete
  6. Hi Chrys!! From a reader's perspective, I think my favorite example of a character going crazy is Jack's character in The Shining.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I voted your cover. I saw that you are now on second place, so I was thinking to vote again tomorrow. Speaking about this, something funny happened.
    I am doing daily my "To Do" list. It includes at least 5 actions and for tomorrow I just finished to do it... I had only 4 actions and in my mind couldn't find any other thing to do.
    After voting earlier the book cover I had that kind of "wow" moment... this is my 5th thing to do.
    So, Chrys... count on me :)
    By the way... I really like your cover!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL! Aww! Thank you so much, M.C.! I am honored that voting for my cover is your 5th thing on your TO Do list. :D

      Delete
  8. I have written about characters who go insane and also a character who is (wrongly) put into a mental institution. And I definitely have to agree with Optimistic Existentialist: Jack from The Shining is one of my favorite examples of a character going crazy. It's so well done! I especially love the part where we find out what Jack has been writing. That really gives you insight into his state of mind!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with both you and Keith. Jack from The Shining is an epic example. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy..." ;)

      Delete
  9. The Shining sure does stick out for me too. Voted away for you. I've had some go insane due to other worldly things, but not actual real life nuts.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Congrats on the poll! Great info again, Chrys. Your blog is a great resource for writers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kelly! And coming from you that is a great compliment. :)

      Delete
  11. Hi, Chrys,
    I haven't had a character lose their mind as yes, but your tips sound very handy.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Not sure if any of my characters would qualify as insane, but many of them are definitely on the far side beyond "normal".

    This collection of points sounds like good advice for writing about any mental state beyond your normal experience, e.g. psychopathic, autistic, obsessive... You've covered a lot of ground around evolution and expression in terms of internal and external cues that would make an invaluable checklist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Having characters on the far side of normal is fun. ;)

      Wow! That's awesome! I love to hear that my tips could work in other cases than what I initially created them for.

      Delete
  13. Great tips! I can't say any of my characters went/were insane, per se. Of course, if we're to believe Catch-22, only people who think they are sane are the true crazy ones.

    ReplyDelete
  14. ooo, what a cool idea. I've never driven one of my characters crazy, no, but I just might now, LOL!! These tips are great :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Liz! I'm so happy you might drive one of your characters crazy now. I'm thrilled that one of my posts can do that. :)

      Delete
  15. I've never actually driven a character insane, but I've forced them to change over time. I guess that's pretty much the same thing, except you slant it in such a way that they take a different turn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that is pretty much the same thing. Thanks for commenting! :)

      Delete
  16. I voted for your cover. I've never had to write a story with an insane character, but these are good tips for writers who do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sherry! I had dropped down to third place, but hopefully I'll be able to get back up. :)

      I'm glad you liked my tips. :)

      Delete
  17. #5 is how I tend to write most of my characters. If I'm stuck, I'll often strike the pose and write what I'm doing. All these points are really interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you think my tips are interesting. :)

      Delete
  18. Oh yes, yes, I WAS thinking of Girl, Interrupted throughout this post! Love your tips here, especially the example of rocking back and forth and repeating "I don't know. I don't know." That was brilliant. (Heading to the site to vote on your cover now. Good luck with the contest!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for voting for my cover, Claudine! And I'm so gald you liked the example that I wrote into my book. :D

      Delete
  19. I actually have the bipolar disorder with psychotic features so I write from firsthand experience. Even though these are great ideas, and are in fact some signs of having a mental illness. Sometimes, unfortunately there is no clear reason of going manic, or having depression. And someone can snap at any moment. Yes, there is a build up from within. But with some people, they can be perfectly normal from the outside, then snap instantly. So the mental and physical won't always match up. Interesting post though. I enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely understand, and appreciate your comment, Lisa. I know that in some cases there is no clear cause for disorders/depression/mania and a writer can certainly use that in their story for their character.

      Delete
  20. We all have a touch of madness we can draw from. Getting it down on the page is still a challenge. Interesting ideas you've presented here today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We certainly do, C. Lee. Thank you for commenting! :)

      Delete
  21. An interesting idea. And all around good basic writing tips. Off to go check out your cover at the contest! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  22. great tips. but it's hard to write from the first person perspective of a crazy person, because it wouldn't make sense. They would have incoherent disconnected and darting thoughts that are intelligible. They would say nonsensical meanderings then pop up with maniacal epiphanies like "time to take a bath, pelicans toe nails soup! I knew the wind was broken when I accepted squirrel nuts! that's how time travel is done! Oh my garden hose!" How do you write from first person insanity and communicate with clarity? Without going crazy yourself?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good point, Bo, which is why I didn't say to write in first person. I did say to share his/her thoughts though, which you can do from third person, even if it is the kind of maniacal meanderings you mentioned. Adding that to your writing every once in a while would show your readers just how crazy your character really is.

      Delete
  23. The main character of one of my books is rather obsessive and at one point becomes very unstable. It was a weird experience getting inside her head at that moment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a weird experience, I have to agree with you, but I also thought it was a little fun... Hmm... lol

      Delete
  24. That would take some planning before trying to write. I like how you let the persons actions dictate the illness though--the reciting poems or a disheveled appearance is what I would expect to see as a reader.

    Congrats on the cover--off to vote now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does take a lot of planning. You're right about that. And it take a lot to get it right.

      Thanks for voting for my cover! :D

      Delete
  25. Excellent tips! I think body language is so important as many writers tend to leave that out. I also voted for your cover. :) Have a terrific week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Body language is extremely important, especially for something like this.

      Thank you for voting for my cover!! :D

      Delete
  26. Obviously REALLY late to this party. While you deftly advocate for a careful consideration with with the topic, I still think it is very easy to drift into camp--or worse, offensive stereotype when writing a mentally ill character. There are myriad varieties of clinical classifications--each with distinctive behavioral traits. On this topic, like the subject of substance abuse, I prefer to reference "real" life: Robert Lowell and John Nash. Both men's tragic illnesses reflect the toll madness takes on the individual--and if you get beyond the spin of "A Beautiful Mind" on their loved ones as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Better late than...you know. ;) It can be hard not to drift into a stereotype while writing about a character with a disorder. It's important to stay aware through the whole process. But a simple sentence or phrase can be seen as offensive to others but not to the author, so it truly is impossible to write a story under this subject that everyone will be happy with.

      Delete

Please tell me what you think. I love to chat! :)

Popular Posts!