1. JadeLiCat
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    JadeLiCat Member

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    Advice on Writing Insanity

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JadeLiCat, Jan 12, 2012.

    Hi Everyone,

    I need some advice for a character in a story I've been working on. The one primary trait for said character is the fact that he's insane. I know there are different types of mental symptoms and what not, but what I have in mind is just true madness. How to convey that madness seems to be my only problem. I have him utter nonsense phrases and what not, but to me, that doesn't seem to be enough. I need something to show that this character has truly lost his mind and odds of him gaining his sanity back seem rather slim.

    Another question I have on the issue is if the madness I have in mind would be enough to warrant violent behavior? In video games and films and such that do portray madness, violent behavior is often a common trait. Does madness always have to equal violent behavior or can it be done with it?
     
  2. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write mad characters with no specified illness. One of the big things is that when the mind begins to disintegrate, common sense and logic are one of the first things that go. It's not so much that violence comes along with madness; it's more that anything that can be perceived as a threat is amplified and without a solid sense of self-preservation, violence is an easily linked reaction. That said, some mad people are extremely paranoid which can be coupled either with a lack of self-preservation, or a very high sense of preservation. Even that can lead to frenzied violence if they think someone is trying to push them into something they don't want to do.

    That's less of a berserk violence and more of a intermittent thing; it'd be a case of hitting the offending person quickly and then very likely regretting it and regressing further into paranoia. Neurosis is good. I'd say that the whole nonsense words thing is a little bit of a cliché. It's a bad stereotype. In cases of madness, the patient is liable to focus on certain things, and they'll mutter little bits and pieces from it, but they're not just going to sit there talking about random crap just because they're mad. There's a sense of logic there, even if it's hard for a normal person to figure out.

    I very highly recommend One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I can never remember the author's name properly. Either way, it was an absolutely spectacular novel and it portrays madness brilliantly. The film adaptation wasn't as good. Jack Nicholson was definitely not made for the role of Randall McMurphy.

    You really just have to think about whether it feels right. Picture your character in your head acting the way you think they should, and if it doesn't feel right, find out why and remove the offending elements. It's about the feel. It's easier if you've experienced a real lack of well-being, but from personal experience I can't say that going through it is worth it, even when it's just small-time.
     
  3. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Determine what your character's actual diagnosis is (even if it is a historical story). From there study it, learn what characteristics someone with that diagnosis would have.

    Does he have Tourettes? If so he would blurt out whatever came time mind. It's a myth that they all shout obscenities. They have vocal tics which could be profanity, but it could be growling, it could be humming, it could be one word or phraise. They also have physical tics ranging from repeated blinking or jerking their head, to actually hitting themselves over and over again.

    Does he has multiple personality disorder? Obviously multiple characters from one character. One personality could be violent. Once be afraid. You would have to show transitions between personalities of course, but they could very well make for madness.

    Are they paranoid schizophrenic? Does he hallucinate? Do voices tell him to do things? Is there a strange deity speaking to him telling him to kill for the salvation of that person's soul? Is he afraid and always extrapolating if "they" are going to get him. For more character details watch the movie "Conspiracy Theory" with Mel Gibson for this diagnosis.

    Is your patient on the Autism Spectrum? Aspergergers? Pervasive Development Disorder? Full blown autism with severe cognitive delays?

    Figure out what's wrong and form the character from there.
     
  4. CidTheKid
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    CidTheKid New Member

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    Think about why you're adding him.

    As a horror element? Write just enough crazy in him to fall into the uncanny valley.
    As comic relief? Just write whatever seems funny.
    As a tragic element? Write the madness to its logical conclusion.

    Then you figure out what disorder or series of disorders fits for what you want, and then you work with that. And no, insanity doesn't equal violent. You can do without it.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, but "insane" and "mad" are archaic and insulting. There's no such thing as "true madness". There are mental illnesses with wide varieties of causes and symptoms. Some include paranoia, many do not. Most do not include violence.

    Hopefully you (and others) will do some research and not write a stereotypical 'madman'. I keep hoping one day we'll be as far past that nonsense as we are other bigotries, but those hopes continually get dashed...
     
  6. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    I highly suggest going mad yourself, then you can write from experience.

    Barring that, it sounds like you're looking for a character with some kind of psychosis. He is generally out of touch with reality and experiences his own. The important thing to remember here is that -- assuming that it's untreated -- his reality is just as valid as your own. The fact that no one else experiences it doesn't matter; it exists to him, and that's enough for anyone.

    Let's say that you have a cat. He's a cute little gray thing, and he likes to lie on your lap and purr. You love this cat, you play with him and talk to him, and he's a great companion where you're feeling a little down. No matter what, he always loves you.
    Now a friend comes to your house. The cat jumps into his lap but he just ignores it. You don't really understand this, because your cat is so lovable. You call the kitty over to you, and he obeys, purring and rubbing on your legs. Your friend seems a little put off, but doesn't really say anything. You snap your fingers and the cat jumps onto your lap, and you pet him and tell him what a good kitty he is.
    Meanwhile, your friend is growing more and more uncomfortable, and eventually he leaves with some kind of excuse. You don't understand his behavior, and the two of you don't really talk much after that day.

    Now let's say that you have a buddy who invites you over. He's always been a little weird, but you like him well enough, so you go over to hang out. He gives you a beer and you chit-chat, ending up in the living room sitting on his sofa. While you're sitting there, enjoying your beer, your friend looks at you strangely, then says "Come here, buddy." He's not really looking at YOU, exactly, just in your direction, so you're not entirely sure what to do.
    Your friend is looking down at his feet. He snaps his fingers a couple of times, then makes some strange hand gestures. He says, "That's a good boy," while staring at his lap. You decide it's time to go.

    Obviously, in the second example you've gone completely mad.

    It's usually a LOT more subtle than that, but this should serve to illustrate the point that objective reality doesn't exist, and a non-shared subjective reality can cause all kinds of social strain. If you are doing what you feel is right, and someone else is perceiving it a different way, you're going to be confused, angry, resentful, hurt, etc. That would be an extreme case, but if you're looking for a hatter, that's where you need to be looking. Your character will have his own reality that intersects with the generally accepted one, and he'll act just like anyone else in that reality would. If it's natural for him to sit at a table all day drinking tea, asking nonsense questions of passers-by, that's what he's going to do. It only seems weird to the outside observer.
     
  7. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    Unless the cat is imaginary, which explains why you don't feel the weight when the imaginary cat jumps on your lap...
     
  8. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    Unless you're completely convinced that there is no cat. It's all about perception.
     
  9. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    Indeed, that's what I mean. In the second scene, someone is behaving like they're petting a cat you can't see. So, who's nuts? The guy petting the invisible cat, or the guy not seeing the cat? People who are nuts, often see things that aren't there, not the other way around. So, as you describe this scene, the guy seeing the cat and petting the cat is the madman, not the one who fails to react when the imaginary cat supposedly jumps in his lap.
     
  10. cari_za
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    cari_za Member

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    You should read "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" by Ken Kesey (don't watch the movie). What was cool with the novel was how it was written from the perspective of one of the patients, and he talks of these really weird things as if they're totally normal. I read it in high school so my memory is a bit fuzzy on the finer details of the book. I just remember thinking at the time how interesting it was to read the story from that perspective because everything the character spoke of seemed real to himself even though it was clearly not normal.

    I watched a movie a while back about patients in a hospital and it felt they were trying too hard to make the patients seem insane. It felt like they were just text book symptoms of mental disorders.

    My one friend is busy studying medicine and she was telling me how when she worked with some of the patients in the psychiatric ward it was a really strange experience for her. She always thought people could just control their thoughts and actions, and that if you can communicate properly with someone they'll snap out of whatever behaviour pattern they're stuck in. She learnt first hand though that some people need medication to behave "normally". Without medication they just act what is dubbed "insane". And they can't do anything about it.

    I think violent behaviour is more a human trait of frustration. I think if you cannot understand what is happening around you and people start forcing you to behave a certain way you'll be frustrated and if no one listens to you, eventually you'll lash out. Of course there are violent people that just are violent. I just doubt every person with a diagnosed mental disorder is going to automatically be violent. Slightly more prone yes, but the two are not necessarily mutually inclusive.

    Fight Club is another great book. I enjoyed how the character slowly morphed.
     
  11. BFGuru
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    "A Beautiful Mind" also comes to mind. Now the character is not violent, but some of what he does may be interpreted as violence to those unaware.

    Another darker portrayal is Natalie Portman's rendition of the "Black Swan". It was slow. The viewer didn't even realize what was going on until you were entirely sucked into her world and couldn't decipher between reality and hallucination yourself.
     
  12. Anarchist_Apple84
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    Anarchist_Apple84 Senior Member

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    It is an excellent book. I wouldn't discount the movie completely, it was quite faithful to the novel (except the ending I believe, it's been a long time too!) and there were strong performances by decent actors (Nicholson, DeVito, Lloyd).
     
  13. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    In order to convey his madness, it is best to know what it is that makes him mad, and in what sense he is mad. Whether or not you decide on a diagnosis, get to know your character and why he does the things he does. Make the reader understand these things, too -- this will make for a sympathetic and maybe even empathetic character even though his thoughts might be illogical or delusional.

    Madness does not equal violent behavior. Of course, 'mad' isn't a psychological diagnosis. There are a wide variety of disorders and only a few of them are related to violent behavior.
     
  14. TheIllustratedMan
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    Honestly, as I was writing it I intended the first scene to be the delusional one, so I wrote that line tongue-in-cheek. However, there's no rule that says that someone can't completely deny the existence of something to the point where he just doesn't experience it. Obviously, if it's a wall or something, he's going to have a very confusing time, but it's possible.
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on your target audience and how much it matters to you to get it right. The thing with "madness" is the constellation of symptoms. For example, a person with bipolar illness, suffering from major manic episode, will present quite differently in speech, thought process, appearance and behaviour than a schizophrenic. But then, within schizophrenia, you have several types - paranoid, hebephrenic, catatonic etc. You could have organic psychosis, which is different.
    There are many misconceptions about madness, and if you are using what you read in books and see in the movies as a guide to writing a mad character, you are likely to make many mistakes.
    My tips would be: never forget that a person is not defined by their madness, they are a person like anyone else, with personal histories, hopes and fears etc. They weren't always mad, they developed the illness, sometimes in response to a severely traumatic event but more likely, it was in their genes. But it might help to look up risk factors for schizophrenia, to get a better idea of what kind of personal history you want them to have. To nail a speech of a crazy person is impossible without having studied examples of speech of people with various types of psychosis. In psychiatry, there are definite terms to describe exact type of thought and speech disorder, and when you get it right, it will have a huge impact, but if you get it wrong, it will come off as weak.
    Most importantly, if you don't know already, there is a big difference between psychosis and psychopathy, but they can co-exist.
    In the end, I think the most important thing is consistency, constellation of symptoms, and if you look up DSM-IV you will find lists of symptoms for every mental illness and that can help a lot in crafting such a character.

    As far as violence is concerned, actually "mad" people have much lower incidence of violence than men between the ages of 18 and 24, who are statistically the most violent demographic. But, when mad people do commit violent acts, as rare as it may be, it tends to be absolutely devastating, out there, exaggerated, gory, senseless. Like Brevik, who recently killed all those kids in Norway, he's been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on your target audience and how much it matters to you to get it right. The thing with "madness" is the constellation of symptoms. For example, a person with bipolar illness, suffering from major manic episode, will present quite differently in speech, thought process, appearance and behaviour than a schizophrenic. But then, within schizophrenia, you have several types - paranoid, hebephrenic, catatonic etc. You could have organic psychosis, which is different.
    There are many misconceptions about madness, and if you are using what you read in books and see in the movies as a guide to writing a mad character, you are likely to make many mistakes.
    My tips would be: never forget that a person is not defined by their madness, they are a person like anyone else, with personal histories, hopes and fears etc. They weren't always mad, they developed the illness, sometimes in response to a severely traumatic event but more likely, it was in their genes. But it might help to look up risk factors for schizophrenia, to get a better idea of what kind of personal history you want them to have. To nail a speech of a crazy person is impossible without having studied examples of speech of people with various types of psychosis. In psychiatry, there are definite terms to describe exact type of thought and speech disorder, and when you get it right, it will have a huge impact, but if you get it wrong, it will come off as weak.
    Most importantly, if you don't know already, there is a big difference between psychosis and psychopathy, but they can co-exist.
    In the end, I think the most important thing is consistency, constellation of symptoms, and if you look up DSM-IV you will find lists of symptoms for every mental illness and that can help a lot in crafting such a character.

    As far as violence is concerned, actually "mad" people have much lower incidence of violence than men between the ages of 18 and 24, who are statistically the most violent demographic. But, when mad people do commit violent acts, as rare as it may be, it tends to be absolutely devastating, out there, exaggerated, gory, senseless. Like Brevik, who recently killed all those kids in Norway, he's been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can we please drop this "madness" terminology? Good lord. Is this still the 18th century? Seriously, it's insulting to a very very large group of people. It's mental illness. m-e-n-t-a-l i-l-l-n-e-s-s
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that there's no such thing as 'just true madness' - I think that you're going to need to do some research into mental illness, and select something.
     
  19. astroannie
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    astroannie Member

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    Were I writing an insane character, I'd either pick a diagnosis and symptomize to match or pick some symptoms and diagnose to match.

    In the past I've worked with mentally-ill people. And, yes, they did and said inappropriate things. But they all stayed internally-consistent to themselves. If you're attempting to come up with an explanation for a character that does not have internal consistency, then it's not "insanity" or mental illness. It's something else.
     
  20. cruciFICTION
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    I don't see the problem. If I see someone on the street talking to themselves, I'm not sure whether they've got schizophrenia, scizophreniform disorder, tourettes syndrome, some variation of multiple personality disorder, or any other mental illness. If they attack someone who walks past them, I can tell they have some kind of psychosis, but it's not like I can walk up and say, "Oh, hello. I don't mean to be rude, but what's wrong with you?"

    To me, they're just mad. They're having a psychotic episode. I can't define it at a glance. And if you're writing a character with a non-specific mental problem, as I have before, there's no point in being specific since the character's illness is not specific. Sure, "just true madness" is incorrect, but there's nothing wrong with defining a character's mental condition as madness. It's broad, it's vague, but it's not inaccurate. And I think we've all read the political correctness discussion enough to tell that the majority of people here think it's a waste of time trying to be politically correct.

    As for it being insulting, maybe it is when it's used in a derogatory manner. The OP isn't being derogatory, though. He's just talking about madness, which is more specific than even mental illness. Someone who hears voices isn't necessarily mad. They're mentally ill. But someone who attacks strangers based on some false logic caused by mental illness is not only mentally ill, but could be described as mad or crazy or insane. They're just words.
     
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know, I feel that the term "madness" is a lay term for a host of different issues, it is a valid word and people use it all the time. It is not a bad word "per se" because it truthfully combines all behaviours which, for one reason or another, manifest themselves in losing touch with reality. People don't have to have mental illness to suffer with "maddness", people go "mad" for many different reasons which are not mental illness related at all, such as dementia, delirium, poisioning, certain medical conditions etc. Also, most people with mental illness are not "mad" because they don't suffer from psychosis or delusions. In fact, most people with mental illness are not suffering from the symptoms of "maddness" at all, or if they do, those periods are short-lasting due to the available treatments. I have worked with mentally ill people for quite a while, and people who are ill use the word "madness" sometimes to describe their mental state, and refer to each other as "mad" sometimes too. It is not the word that they mind, it is the society-wiide discrimination which comes regardless of whether they refer to someone as a "psycho", "madman" or paranoid schizophrenic.
    Just my opinion.
     
  22. JadeLiCat
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    I really love all the feed back I'm getting from everyone. Thank you so much for the help you've been providing so far. It really does mean a great deal to me.

    Oh, and to those of you who upset by my use of the the term insane, part of the reason posted on here was so I could be guided, so I could get the proper advice and help I was seeking. I never meant to to be insulting or derogatory. It's as cruciFICTION said, I meant it as a whole, not an insult. If you want to help me on the issue, please kindly do it without being snarky or overbearing. It will not be appreciated and should it be continued, I have no problem reporting people to to the administrator or at the very least putting you on my ignore list.

    But on a lighter note, would anyone here be offended if I PMed them? Some people gave really great advice and I'd like to contact them just to maybe explain more of the character for this condition, but do it those I feel I can trust not to be sarcastic or cruel. I've been to far too man forums where people like to judge others to quickly and I hope I can at least avoid that here as well for the most part.
     
  23. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't need permission to PM people. If they don't want you to PM them, they'll tell you so when you try.
     
  24. cari_za
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    cari_za Member

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    Yes! I agree. It was an amazing journey. That movie really sucked me into her delirium and made me question what was happening in reality or in her mind. Definitely a very good example to look at.
     
  25. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can PM me if you think I could help, I won't be sarcastic :)
     

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