1. ktgrace
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    ktgrace New Member

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    Character who goes insane

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ktgrace, Jan 19, 2013.

    My character isn't ever mentally stable at any point in the story, but over time and because of the influence of other's manipulation, he becomes much, much worse. At the end of the story, he believes himself to be God. My dilemma is that I don't know how exactly to write a character who slips into madness. He starts out feeling out of place, distant from others, like an outsider, and has some violent tendencies, very little compassion, and is a control freak. Very shy as well. The throughout the story he is manipulated by others who notice these qualities and use him like a puppet so they can achieve an end to their means. I just am unsure of how to write it so that he is noticeably getting worse and worse and so it doesn't just seem like one day he went completely batshit crazy and was like "LOL I'M GOD NOW".

    Any advice on how to write someone with a gradual descent into madness or anything I could read, such as a novel about a character who has done so, would be appreciated. :)
     
  2. Ubrechor
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    Ubrechor Active Member

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    It seems the issue is not with descent into madness per se, but the whole concept of gradient. If you want an easy-access novel that portrays this beautifully, try The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde). Dorian's corruption and descent into decadence is gradual and arguably also a descent into insanity. Also, I believe it's free as an e-book in several places (if you have an e-reader).

    In terms of suggestins on how to achieve this, I would say you have most of what you need already in terms of the plot - you've a rough idea of the stages of madness that develop within your character. I would find this much easier with the suitable tense and narrator... Either first-person or omniscient third-person; whatever gives us a good insight into the mind and thought processes of the character. It's all shown through their personal reactions, thoughts and opinions on external stimuli. Read up typical signs and traits of madness. Also take a while to think: what kind of madness is this? It's rather a blanket term, because there are many different kinds of madness in the world.

    Whatever the case, you should approach it with the clear intention of keeping the reader in the dark for the most part about the end result. Try and be subtle about the gradual process - don't ever explicitly suggest that your character is insane - at least, not until the process is almost complete, to the extent that he himself is realising that he is insane. You might not want him to think this, but just keep it gradual. Go in baby steps. One day it can be a glare, the next it can be a private thought. Gradually build up all the evidence that suggests he is losing his mind.
     
  3. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    To pull this off successfully, I think you will need to do a lot of research on mental illness. Don't rely on fiction for knowledge into this subject - 'the blind leading the blind' comes to mind.

    One in ten people will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime, anything from mild depression to more serious mental disorders; one in a hundred people will suffer, at some point, a serious mental illness.

    This is a serious subject and a lot of damage could be done to the mentally ill, if this subject is not fully understood by the author.

    The mentally ill suffer from a lot of unrealistic, negative and spiteful stigma. Get to know the subject and most important - treat it with respect and from an educated view.
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Outside of syphilis I've never heard of someone going 'gradually insane' in the way you've described it. A lot of people are just totally ignorant of mental health and what mental illnesses are really like so these stigmas survive. You will really need to do your research.
     
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  5. ktgrace
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    ktgrace New Member

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    Thank you all for the advice. I will definitely be doing a lot of research. He is very much a human being, so I in no way want to make him appear to be a monster or unrealistic, or portray him in any way that could stigmatize or harm the mentally ill. I suppose what I should do now is figure out what exactly it is that is wrong with him initially.

    Anyway, thanks for the help. :)
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your description made me think he was gullible, slow, slightly low IQ type person. I am saying this without any intention to offend whatsoever. I mean this in a medical sense. One of the conditions that would generate a character capable of all that you specified would be a person who developed bipolar I disorder as a teenager, and has a difficult version of the illness with frequent relapses and manic episodes. This can result in almost child-like personality, very optimistic and gullible and very sweet but ultimately vulnerable. Or it could result in paranoid-type character, especially if the character uses drugs like cannabis to self-medicate. But that person would be irritable and grumpy rather than sweet and a bit "with the fairies". But if you decide to give your character a mental disorder, Make sure you are consistent and that you know all the symptoms so that you can understand your character better. With some intelligent and informed tweaking it could work. This person wouldn't "gradually descent into madness" you would just follow them from being rather recovered, through a period of time resulting in a relapse.

    Otherwise, lots of people with various psychiatric conditions or peculiarities are vulnerable to being heavily influenced in a way you describe. The easiest way is to give him a drug addiction because many drugs (solvents, acid, mushrooms) can cause psychosis and you can have him graduate from light drugs such as cannabis, to something that will mess him up. But God delusion is a delusion of grandeur, that is he believes it beyond the shadow of doubt. If he only wants to believe it, and says it because he is encouraged to do so, then the delusion wouldn't be necessary.

    I hope it helps!
     
  7. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Sounds like a really cool character.
    I'm writing a novel, and one of the main characters is a misanthropic wizard with something akin to a god complex, so maybe I can help.
    First off, I think subtlety is key, at least in the beginning, during his descent into madness. Start off with little things. For instance, maybe he sees some people walking by, and he smirks and sniggers, thinking of how pathetic and weak they are. When his complex has mushroomed, perhaps talk about how everyone is just like a scuttling ant to him, tiny, insignificant little things in contrast to his greatness and potency.
    Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, but experiment with showing his thought process (I usually differentiate narrative from thought by putting thought in italics). Make it fragmentary, disjointed, veering off on random meanders, etc. That would really help, I think.
     
  8. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    This is bad advice. Especially the bit about sniggering about others - they are much more likely to believe others are sniggering at them.

    Have you ever thought how scary and alone it must feel to have a mental illness? Put yourself in the head of someone, often (in the case of schizophrenia) in their teenage years, who has started to hear voices, or think that people are talking about them, or thinks that the TV or radio is talking about them, or that they are being poisoned by their parents, or they start to believe that someone has implanted something into their legs. How scared would you be?

    Think about what it would be like to have these symptoms but not to share them, because everyone will laugh at you, or think you are mad.
     
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  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have said already - do your homework! Read up on symptoms (bearing in mind that very few MIs have all the symptoms, or to the same degree). Check the website for the NIMH - excellent resources there. And give your local mental health association (NAMI is all over) a call, or a mental health clinic and ask to talk to one of the doctors.

    Nowadays, authors are finally realizing that writing about mental health (not 'insanity') is much more complicated than writing about some 'crazy guy'. I'm so very glad to see writers asking questions about it first, trying to get it right.
     
  10. Salamander
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    http://community.eveonline.com/background/potw/default.asp?cid=13-02-07a

    Here is an excellent example of an author writing insanity. The disjointed nature of thought, the whiplash between memory and reality, it's really well done. The reader feels lost, adrift with all these thoughts that he/she cannot put into context or any kind of chronological order.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    First, as several others have said, do your research so that you are conversant in mental illness. Your focus should be on scientific rather than popular literature. Newspapers, periodicals and web sites freely banter about unscientific, misleading and grossly prejudicial terms like "psycho", "madman" and "lunatic" as well as misuse legitimate terms, especially schizophrenia. You might start by consulting a medical dictionary to learn the definitions of real disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, dementia and bipolar disorder.

    Secondly, it is highly unlikely that someone could become more severely mentally ill from the "influence of others' manipulation" except possibly if that manipulation was pharmceutical. Most (maybe all) mental illnesses have physical causes, either in brain structure or in chemical imbalances within the brain. That doesn't mean the causes have been identified or the antidotes developed. Many mentally ill people face lifelong struggles because the drugs available don't necessarily match the exact physical problem, or because the side effects from those drugs are so severe that the affected person can't stand to stay on them. This was the premise behind the film "A Beautiful Mind".

    As Lemex posted, the notion of "a gradual descent into insanity" is probably not realistic (and certainly not caused by others) but mental illnesses can worsen over time because the body's physiology changes over time. Again, research is the key.

    Good luck with a very challenging project.
     
  12. ktgrace
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    ktgrace New Member

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    Nah, he was already fairly unstable. I just needed to know how to make the progression into an even worse state not seem really strange. There will be plenty of factors for why he is the way he is and why he becomes worse. Him becoming less sane isn't solely because of others, but the manipulation will just nudge him in a particular direction, more or less. (He's vulnerable and easy to mold, I suppose, is one way I could put it. He's a tool to these people and is yes, a bit childlike, so he doesn't realize. I don't want to go into too many details) I have plenty to research and think about now, so thank you all so much for the advice.

    I think all my questions are pretty much answered. Thanks!
     
  13. neuropsychopharm
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    neuropsychopharm Active Member

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    Definitely do your homework. I'm working on a bipolar character right now, but I'm also bipolar myself. Yet, it's still difficult to write it in a way that will make others believe in it. As for suggestions, I've read the book Madness by Marya Hornbacher a billion times. It give good insight into the worsening of pre-existing mental illness (bipolar specifically).
     
  14. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Wow, no offense guys, but you're all a little overboard in my opinion. This is a work of fiction, not a dissertation that's going to be published in a medical journal. To say that 'a lot of damage could be done to the mentally ill' if he doesn't throroughly know the medical side is preposterous.

    I mean sure, do some research, but remember you're not a doctor, and your character can be and do anything you want him to be. I'm all for being accurate to a point, but this is fiction writing and if Jack Toarrance can go insane do to ghost possesion in 'The Shining', then you can too.

    Perhaps 'insane' is a poor choice of words, but when you push a person far enough, eventually they snap... And it's the snap that makes good writing.

    Just my two cents.

    ~ J. J.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    JJ, I thought of that. But if you are writing something in a real-world sense, then it should be grounded in fact. Otherwise, you risk losing credibility with the reader. The OP didn't give any indication that the occult was involved or any kind of fantasy, so I assumed (and many others did, too, judging by their responses) that (s)he wanted to give a realistic portrayal. The initial post certainly gave that impression.
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nobody is saying that the OP should write an essay on any particular mental illness. However, vast majority of successful books and movies, even though not written by doctors, somehow manage to adhere to the general picture of the mental illness they are describing. For that, they first need to be familiar with it. To encourage young writers to make their mentally ill characters "be anything they want them to be" is the same (although more offensive) than if someone went to write a police procedural and they never saw any police shows or read any detective fiction and themselves are not and don't know any policemen whatsoever. Of course a lot of writers potter in the dark, trying to invent things which already exist, trying to be "original" by not caring about research, structure, all sorts of things, but you won't find them published.

    Incidentally, Jack from shining had a typical psychotic break, they added supernatural elements but the essence was consistent with the psychiatric condition. As was "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" although the latter is also a testament to horrible form of psychiatry that was practiced prior to big reforms in the late 70s. In any case, to an outsider it may look easy, creating these compelling characters who suffer from some kind of "madness" but there is a method to it which shouldn't be overlooked.

    This is true to a point, but psychotic breaks don't happen to everyone, not everyone is even capable of "just snapping" in a way as to lose grip on reality. It is true that extreme trauma may in some people trigger a brief psychotic episode, but almost everyone who develops psychosis of any kind was in the first place vulnerable to it. Mental illness is like diabetes in many respects. There are mild and severe forms of illness, and people who have very mild form, in the absence of triggers, may never develop psychosis. Or might have it once and never again, be able to stop with medication permanently etc. This is why when you are writing a character who will "snap"later, you must give him character traits which will in retrospect testify to his vulnerability. To do this, a writer should be familiar with different forms of personality which with themselves carry the risk of psychotic illness, such as paranoid personality, schizoid personality etc. None of these popular characters are random or entirely creative, vast majority are actually extremely well researched.

    That'd be my two cents ;)
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think what's being said is don't go with the old "crazy lunatic" Hollywood stereotype. Writers have learned not to write other stereotypes, so why should the mentally ill still be considered fair game? Because it's more fun to write the crazy lunatic than a realistic MI? Because writing accurately takes more work than using stereotypes?
     
  18. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    I disagree. Mental illness varies immensely, and based on the OP's character having a god complex, he probably would be the one sniggering at others (although others might certainly be sniggering at him as well). If you thought you were god, would you be scared? Maybe, but only if it was because you felt overwhelmed by your moral responsibilities. I doubt you'd be afraid of what people thought of you with an ego that massive. And of course, being schizophrenic would be one of the worst things on earth. I'm not saying if he's a schizophrenic (and the OP never actually gave a diagnosis of what's wrong with him) to have him sniggering at others, because that wouldn't fit in with a paranoid schizophrenic's behavioural profile most of the time.
     
  19. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Books and movies are all about stereotypes and most people are just fine with that. Think about movies, do you know how a real shooting looks? Nobody goes flying through the air, and it doesn't make a thunderous booming noise. People don't stand still and take bullets they scramble like cockroaches.

    But we're all okay with that. I would even say we like that. It would be boring if it were more accurate, or real. Same with mental illness. We don't want to see all the 'other stuff' that happens to insane people, we wanna see the 'crazy' stuff.

    Do people wanna see Alex DeLarge crying into his pillow or belting out 'Singing in the Rain' while beating someone to death?

    It's fiction, it's entertainment, it takes us away from the real world where bad guys aim and takes us to a better world where the good guy dodges bullets.

    Just my opinion. ;)

    ~ J. J.
     
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I just can't agree with this. Entertainment is all well and good in my opinion until it starts reinforcing what are, to put it bluntly, lies. It is the difference between something like (I don't know) the portrayal of 'madness' in something like 'The Tell-Tale Heart', where it's not clear at all what is wrong with the narrator, but it doesn't matter anyway because to most readers he's just a 'crazy guy', and the more sophisticated portrayal of mental illness in something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Which one is worth more to you as a person: the ignorant 19th century depiction of the 'madman' or the more modern, more knowledgeable 'mentally ill'? I know which one I'd go for, and it's not the one that could reinforce prejudices.

    I don't think fiction should sacrifice truth for entertainment - not when we just know so much more about the subject than Poe could have.
     
  21. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    So you would have no problem with "Amos and Andy" styled characters, because it's just entertainment, after all.
     
  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The more I think about the more nonsensical your point is JJ_Max. Would it be ok if I wrote about a Frenchman who always wore a clove of garlic around their neck, a black and white stripped shirt on, and was always holding a glass of red wine? Would it be ok if I painted all Americans as stereotypical Texas cowboys going on about those 'gosh darn injins'? No, it would be ridiculous, and offensive to some - and I'm sure someone out there would want to kick the shit out of me for it. There is no reason to treat the mentally ill any differently than you would anyone else.
     
  23. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    A god complex does not start by people thinking they are better than other people.

    It is about controlling the world around you, not about being better than other people.

    In your original post you talk of starting off (as one of the first symptoms) with someone sniggering at others and I disagree with that. I think you are wrong.

    Ok, this is how I would see it happening (not based on any particular mental health problem - just a generic psychotic breakdown)

    It is likely that (to begin with) the person would notice that he started to predict things or make things come true (a form of deja vu. This happens to "normal" people. They think they have already had a conversation, or they know what someone is going to say, or who is ringing them on the telephone before they pick up, etc).

    To start with this would be scary. To begin with he would be in touch with reality and recognise that this is not something normal. He would be scared that other people would see him as mad. He would keep these things to himself, to begin with.

    Then he may start to accidentally let slip that he can do things that others can't. Then there may be a reaction from others, which would make him feel different, and more worried about sharing his feelings.

    As time develops he may lose touch with reality more and start to really believe that he controls events, and people. But this would be gradual. As a mental health problem progresses there may be an increased belief in self (particularly with someone with Bipolar Affective Disorder), and they may come to believe they are superior to others, but this is not a first symptom and not necessarily to do with a god complex.
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just to make sure we understand the difference between "god complex" and delusion that we are god. First is a classic symptom of narcissism and a lot of vain and high achieving people have it, like typically surgeons can develop an attitude they are better than everyone else becuase they literally hold people's lives in their hands. People who find them annoying diagnose them with a "god complex". Nothing to do with psychosis or "madness" of any kind. Most of the time it is a coping mechanism to compensate for the enormous stress and responsibility.

    The second one is a delusion of grandeur, uncommon in schizophrenia, because people are more likely to believe they are communicating with god. Belief one IS actually god, is most likely a symptom of manic illness, and that can have various causes (organic cause, drugs, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disoreder).
     
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  25. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Agree with that. And it's a sliding scale. How much do you accept as 'if it's close enough - it's good enough?
     

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