1. Luna13
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    Luna13 Active Member

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    Having trouble with insanity!

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Luna13, Sep 16, 2012.

    I have a character, a sixteen-year-old girl, who is frequently described throughout the book as "mad." She's insane, although I never name a particular disorder that she has. I'm having trouble making her seem realistically insane.
     
  2. DoctorNovel
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    DoctorNovel Member

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    Depends what route you want to go -- "crazy" or "insane" according to social norms? or clinically or mentally impaired(biological brain damage, etc..depression, schizophrenia)?
    Either way (in my opinion) to be as realistic as possible -- try to make your character feel as though she is somewhat superior to others. In other words, try for her to seem as though everything that goes through her head makes sense to her, but doesn't make sense to everybody else..she feels as though she isn't the crazy one...society is..

    Sorry if I talked too much, hope I helped!
     
  3. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Research, research, research!
     
  4. InkDreamer
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    InkDreamer Member

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    'mad' is a very vague term. I suppose you should decide your character based on the context. You must probably have some kind of an idea about what you want her to be like. I suggest you elaborate on that and then go about doing some research with what you have in mind to close in on the disorder you want to gift her. You can then use that data from your research to further sculpt your character. Happy Writing :)
     
  5. Danvok
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    Danvok Senior Member

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    More research is needed.

    Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between ecccentricity and insanity as well.
     
  6. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Would reading a book on abnormal psychology help? Or would an academic book miss out details that an author would need when writing insanity?

    Edit: Again, I hope that experienced authors will comment on whether or not this is a good idea. But I googled "films depicting insanity" and there were quite a few interesting results. Whether or not fictional portrayals help or not, I'm not sure.
     
  7. Anthrax
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    Anthrax Member

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    Read Hitlers Mein Kompf and research his life.

    If you want general everyday insantity watch TV esp. Look up on line a list of tv shows on insanity and go watch them. For example, SVU
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want stereotypical, Hollywood-style "insanity", read any tripe where the author was lazy. There are a lot to choose from. If you want a character that's mentally ill, do your research, decide on the mental illness (remembering that no one is textbook depressed, manic, schizophrenic, etc), research some more, and then write a realistic character with a mental illness. Check out the DSM (latest version), talk to mental health professionals, check out MI forums online.
     
  9. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    I have done some research (cursory but I have further reading to do) on childhood/ adolescent psychiatric disorders, diagnosis and treatment. The way a 16 year old would be diagnosed and treated (in the UK anyway) is different to an adult. Is your character going to be diagnosed with a disorder, merely exhibiting traits or just misunderstood? These are key distinctions and some reading round the subject is probably going to be helpful to you. My MC is misdiagnosed as a child with schizophrenia and given drug treatments and various therapies - I would not feel comfortable introducing that theme without doing some research as it is such a serious subject.
     
  10. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    "Mad" is such a broad term. If you're speaking about mental illness, even if two people have the same disorder, they can behave very differently. However, my suggestion to you, is that you do not have to base your character's personality on any disorder. Unhinge your imagination to create this other-worldly, wild being. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with research, but unless you're going to be stating specifically in the story what her illness is, then there's no need to spend a ridiculous amount of time studying about it.

    What might help is for you - yourself - to visualize the scene before writing it. What does she do to make you feel creeped out/afraid/confused? Is it in the way she looks? What does she say? Try visualizing all that, and then write about. It might help you to understand what behavior in another person makes you feel "weirded out".

    Enhance the reader's senses by having us feel those same emotions that you may be going through. Only if you can convince yourself, will you be able to convince us.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    This only applies if the OP is just writing a weird character and not one that actually has a mental illness. Otherwise, please see my earlier comment about stereotypes, Hollywood, and lazy writers.
     
  12. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    I see where you are coming from Stilllife - but research doesn't dampen the imagination. I have found reading personal accounts of mental illness, very inspiring.
     
  13. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    I honestly hope that people don't actually think all insane people must act like, well, insane people all the time. Even with a person suffering something as serious as Schizophrenia, he/she may just seem really "weird" to others most of the time. You'd sort of always suspect something was off, but the only time you can really tell if they're completely mental is when they're suffering a break-down. Otherwise, they do just seem like "weird people".

    Aside from that, I'm a firm believer in minimal research and unhinging imagination. It doesn't mean I'm lazy; I just want to feel less handicapped by tapping into my imagination reservoir. Luna did mention that the disorder will never be named, right? Who else can define that "nameless insanity" Luna13 is talking about, except him/herself?

    However, I do agree 100% with your commment if the writer is going to choose a specific illness - say, bipolar disorder - for that specific character. If that is the case, then, yes, by all means, he/she must do the research. It's murder to go into writing a story featuring a character suffering a specific mental illness/disorder/etc., but walk into it blindly.


    Actually, I’m all for reading personal accounts of mental illness. I’m talking about people getting too technical and getting bogged down by all these massive medical reports, etc. Some people never find their way back out and to the story, or end up making things seem even more superficial.
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem with that is one typically ends up just perpetrating the stereotypes, or worse, adding to the ignorance bank. People with mental illnesses certainly don't need more books painting them in a false light.
     
  15. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Most people suffering from a mental illness, unless it is chronically severe or they are on very strong medication, I would not, I think, seem weird most of the time - whatever weird means anyway, as it is completely subjective. As apparently 7 out of 10 people, are affected by mental illness at some time in their lives, most are probably just getting on with their lives, working, having families etc. and may not be obviously troubled, until a breakdown occurs. I would be very uncomfortable labelling ill people as 'weird', I am sure that is not what you meant to do either Still.

    I think people, who don't enjoy reading for pleasure, are weird - my dear husband for one - but that doesn't make them mentally ill! Well probably not. ;)

    I suppose my difficulty with writers tackling big subjects like mental illness without any research is that it can end up with a sub par treatment of the subject which will be irritating to read. I have friends in the nursing profession, who simply cannot watch/ read any medical drama, as they usually end up infuriated, by the poor medical knowledge. There is a fine balance to acheiving plausibility, without getting bogged down in detail. But maybe I am overly hung up about this and should chillax or whatever - I don't know. It is interesting thinking about the whole issue of research. Which is probably rather off topic. Sorry :redface:
     
  16. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    This reply would make the thread go OT, so I decided to PM this part to you. :)

    With a juicy opportunity like the one Luna13/OP has (a mental illness/insanity that will never be named), a good writer could take that in so many different directions. If no one knows what the mental illness is, why can't he/she be creative and make up his/her own?

    However, like you and shadowwalker (and a few other posters) mentioned, if this will be a story where the mental illness will be outlined and addressed, then the research must be done.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because then the writer will more than likely end up with the stereotypes - I mean, what else does one have to go on? The OP has already stated that the character is referred to as "mad" - of course no one is going to assume stereotypes based on that word. Why not do the research so one can accurately portray the character? It doesn't mean writing a new medical journal - like any research, one doesn't put the vast majority of it into the book. But it would allow the character to be real and not insult a great many people in the bargain.
     
  18. Luna13
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    Luna13 Active Member

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    Thank you so much! You are all incredibly helpful. I intend on posting a chunk of the story here soon (the computer I'm writing it on has no internet and is too old for flash drives to work on it, so I'll just have to grit my teeth and manually copy it out) so the exact way in which she is mad will be more clear. I am afraid I was very vague before! Anyway, thank you all so much for your help/advice.
     
  19. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Insane people are often very intelligent. Take the not-very well known book, I Hunt Killers. It's not a very good book, but I absolutely loved the protag's father, Billy Dent the serial killer. He has photographic memory, is apparently king of the prison and has devised an intricate plan to get out of prison. He just switches between normal dad and evil villain, but you get the sense there's a bunch of emotions shifting, gears turning in his head.
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    First, it's mentally ill, not insane. Second, there are as many variations in intelligence levels as any other group of people.

    This is one example of why I say research before writing - and research in the nonfiction section of the library.
     
  21. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    Here is a movie you can watch, the 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas. In that movie, they go to see someone who can give them advice. Mad people in the some cultures, including the ancient bible days of King David, were considered holy, and some were prophets, or seemed to behave as such.

    In this movie, they get the mad woman's advice, and they called it wisdom. Oracles is what I believe they were called. There is a scene in the beginning with such a woman, and about two thirds to three quarters in. That might help with the madness part. The movie Instinct with Anthony Hopkins also has a more then a few characters that can be considered mad, or crazy enough to suit your needs.

    I seem to use movies as examples a lot because I just don't read a lot of books with madness in it. I've read lots of books over the years, but movies give a visual, something to look at and describe. As most people see it, and recognize it, movies tell us what we are expecting. If they went into depths about certain psychological disorders, and concentrated on only a few aspects, then it wouldn't translate well into the visual.

    Hope it helps a bit.
     
  22. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    "Having trouble with insanity!"

    It's not such a big deal...I have that problem all the time. You get used to it.

    Oh, wait--You're talking about a character in a story? Never mind.
     
  23. Luna13
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    Luna13 Active Member

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    Okay, everyone, so I've done a bit of research about mental illnesses and have decided to base her disease of shizophrenia (I probably spelled that wrong) but still don't want to name an illness. Thanks for all your help!
     
  24. serowden
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    Schizophrenia is broad and encompasses a lot of types and symptoms.

    It is best not to name a disorder if you don't know anything about psychology, but it's also best not to write about mental instability if you don't know much about psychology.

    Psychological issues all have genetic and environmental factors leading up to their development:
    For instance, I have the genetics for OCD tendencies. If I did not, I would not have developed it. Additionally, my life experiences led to anxiety I did not know hope to cope with.

    Psychological issues, once developed, all manifest in a specific way based on how the person copes with them
    I feel largely out of control of my life, so I have learned to fixate on specific details to quell my anxiety. Engaging in those details, in compulsive habits based around my obsession, soothes me, but also consumes me, and confuses me, and leaves me perpetually anxious.

    Psychological issues develop over time -- not suddenly, and all at once:
    Generally, there is a reason (scratch that -- many reasons) the person started down the path: trauma, neurological makeup, body, parents, how a person was raised, etc. The person come upon a life problem and has to cope with it. Either he learns a healthy way or he learns and unhealthy way. The more a person copes with their issues in an unhealthy way, the more and the faster they spiral down into insanity.

    An insane character, or one who will develop and become insane, should have a manner of ways to cope with the issues that started him on the path: Drug addiction, self abuse, compulsive steal, lying, cleaning, writing, eating, throwing up, not eating, dissociating (repressing, forgetting an event, pretending something did not happen), etc.

    An insane character fluctuates between lucidity (logic) and insanity (emotions): Even if a person experienced hallucinations, which are common in all types of schizophrenia, logic and lucid states allow them to know they are hallucinating, and allow them to know the difference between reality and odd feelings and experienced that make no sense. A person driven fully by their emotions to a point of losing their logic is warped by their delusions (the inability to distinguish what is real from what is not real). They are angry and afraid. They are volatile and difficult to reason with.

    An insane person has triggers: Triggers are what throw a person from their logical into their insanity. For instance, having been raised by my anger control problems mother and her screaming and yelling about how upset she is, a person who screams and yells makes me feel extremely anxious. One way I have learned to cope with feeling helplessly at the mercy of someone who is unpredictable is by taking control of something I feel like I can control -- being organized and clean. This results in me feeling dirty, sweaty, and gross, which results in desperation to take a shower, to be flushed with water, and to be clean.

    You're going to want to go the way of hallucinations, particularly auditory hallucinations, which are always the first to come. Schizophrenia is always genetic, and it is always environmental, so someone in the family passed it down, and something happened during life to bring it out (trauma, abuse, neglect, inability to deal with some long term stress). So think about that. Schizophrenics often are of the paranoid type, where they imagine people are out to get them (remember, triggers make them have delusions, and many times, they know what is a hallucination and what is not -- the bad episodes may become more and more common over time). They might believe they are psychic or have experienced that their mind ties together in such a way that they think they knew already. They often have tormented dreams and difficulty sleeping as a result of this. They often have strong emotional attachments to inanimate objects -- for instance, an apple might remind them of the time they had their first kiss with their first love, so apples trees (whether they are aware of why or not) become objects of euphoria or dysphoria. Seeing an apple tree cut down might make them irrationally upset, or they might not understand people that dislike apples, and distrust them. Schizophrenia is super broad with many types that are all distinct and different. Look into the types, and maybe pick one...

    This advice is all broad and simplistic, designed for a layman to write a mentally unwell character without using behavioral science terms.

    Basically, think about what causes it environmentally, how they choose to cope with it in an unhealthy way, what they imagine to be sometimes as a result of their unhealthy coping skills, what triggers make them unable to control the things they imagine, how their skewed perception makes them unique and what they are good at because of it, and how that perception makes them suffer -- because that's what being insane boils down to -- mentally suffering.

    Other Ideas -- don't feel limited to pick one. Mental issues blend together:

    Mania -- high energy, baseless euphoria and egotistical mood, generally followed by bouts of the exact opposite feelings. (Bipolar, manic-depressive)
    Eating disorders -- you're familiar with these, but keep in mind, they are based in anxiety.
    Dissociative identity disorder, or split personality -- a person imagines multiple people inhabit his body. Generally developed with Post-traumatic stress from abuse, accompanied by body pains, unpleasant memories, and amnesia about certain events based on which personality is at the front of their mind
    PTSD -- post traumatic stress, from war combat to sexual abuse to psychotic breaks triggered by LSD... some trauma results in high anxiety, flashbacks, horrible dreams, and panic
    Panic disorder -- panic attacks, hyperventilating, inability to move, speak, or function. Triggered by something that causes the panic
    Brain damage -- also contributes.
    Dementia and regular states of psychosis -- these are going to make for less interesting characters, because they are just people who are full blown delusional, doped up on antipsychotics. You want to pick someone on their way there, or someone in middle.

    Good luck.
     

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