1. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    How Best to Portray Insanity?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Pythonforger, Jul 31, 2012.

    Title says it all.

    The idea I have for portraying insanity is basically someone who enunciates his words very, very clearly, moves very, very precisely and works very, very carefully.
     
  2. ThievingSix
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    ThievingSix Member

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    It depends what point of view its written from. Insanity can be depicted in first person through the use of jarring, short abrupt sentences, using hyphenation for words and carefully constructing sentences with a clear rhythm. Along with the standard metaphor and simile, the use of a paranoid tone and clever juxtaposition against a "sane" person can give the effect of insanity. One could also allude towards paranoia or even make reference to clearly fictitious entities and have other characters ridicule them. Sometimes the presentation of an idea "the fires of hell are going to open up in my basement, so I'm covering it with duct tape" can create a sense of insanity.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest doing some research into mental illnesses to find which one(s) come closest to your character's problem. There are a great many reasons why someone would act and speak that way - including the wrong dosage of medication. But what you've described sounds closer to autism, which is not really a mental illness but rather a developmental disorder. However, as I say, there could be many causes for those behaviors.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I need more information. From whose perspective? Is this your MC? Is it written from his POV or from another character's POV?
    Shadow has a point -- what kind of insanity are we talking about here?
    I'm not entirely clear on what you mean by "works very, very carefully." A lot of people who aren't insane do that.
    Enunciating words very carefully might or might not indicate something is off with the character. How, exactly, do you intend to convey that in your written work? If you do it too much, it can get distracting. This could be an element of showing something isn't right with the character, but you need more than that.
     
  5. Quinn T. Senchel
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    Quinn T. Senchel Member

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    What type of mental disorder are you trying to imitate? Insanity is a legal term and can be used to describe a great variety of behaviors. Does he behave like a paranoid schizophrenic, a psychopath, an autistic person, as someone with psychosis or dementia? And what perspective is it written from? I'm currently involved in a BSc in Psychology and Neurobiology. If you have questions you can PM me. I could help you with research.
     
  6. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    As part of your research, you might want to read a biography of Nikolai Tesla. He was a genius, but eccentric to the extreme, and the quirks of your character reminded me of him. For instance, he could not enjoy food unless he counted how many times he chewed, and had an obsession with groups of three.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm wondering, like the others, if your insane character is to be a villain or the mc or a minor character who pops up now
    and then - the choice will decide on how coherent you want him to be. I read this facinating book - Royal Babylon by Karl Shaw
    which exposed some of the nuts that were born into power - you might want to check it out.
     
  8. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    Based on this portrayal, I would recommend researching Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If at all possible, I'd try and pay a psychiatric ward a visit or do some volunteering work there for a spell. There're some low security wards around with low-risk patients (my sister worked in one - still pretty dangerous but it's the least dangerous kind). Perhaps try and see if any psychiatrists, doctors or other healthcare professionals might give you their time of day and do an interview where you can ask them these questions.

    Otherwise, watch some good films and see what their dialogue's like.

    Sweeney Todd is a very good one - by the end you got the distinct sense that Todd wasn't really "right in the head", as it were - for me he was definitely on the verge of insanity or already insane. But that is only in the film - I watched the play version and Todd wasn't as twisted and it was a lot more humorous actually. Within Sweeney Todd there's also the beggar woman, who is most definitely insane.

    Watch Black Swan - Nina was steadily going insane until by the end she is lost to the "black swan" by dancing the perfect ballet. Truly creepy and very well done film.

    Or read/watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - I've never read or watched it but I know it's set in a psychiatric ward.

    Shutter Island is another brilliant film set in a mental institute.

    Watch how insanity and the characters are portrayed there and watch especially for the dialogue and any visuals, body language, set up that gives you hints and eventually convinces you that the character is insane.
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I wouldn't give much credence to Hollywood's versions of mental illness. Better to talk to the professionals and/or get some psychiatric text books (up to date ones).
     
  11. Crystal Parney
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    Crystal Parney Member

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    I'm a psychiatric technician in an adult psych unit. I have a BA in psychology, and I see it all. So if you have any questions for me id be glad to help. I see alot of schizophrenia, schizo affective disorder, borderline PD, bi polar, mania......list goes on.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, this is a little like asking, "How best to portray illness?" The obvious question is, "What kind of illness?" and the same question can be asked of mental illness.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definition of "insanity" is when a person has lost all touch with reality and is responding to internal stimuli such as delusions, hallucinations etc, but they have absolutely no insight that this is happening, ie. they firmly believe that what they are perceiving is the actual, external reality.

    What you described is a person with obsessive-compulsive tendencies at best, which has nothing to do with being "insane".
     
  14. Lemontine13
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    As someone who touches the borderline of it sometimes :p It's not really a solid thing you can describe. I find that the best way to get inside the mind of an insane person is to liken their experiences to being inside a dream. When you're in a dream, the most random things make sense, but when you wake up you realise they make no sense at all. Imagine being awake, but the same things make sense to you as in the dream, and the "rational" daytime thoughts and reasoning are a distant voice which is somehow unimportant. Now use this to get inside the head of your insane character, use that to determine how they would react to the situations presented before them. Maybe they would completely ignore it? Maybe it reminds them of something in their own logic and they say something seemingly random by association. Maybe they get upset because something reminds them about that thing they know deep down, that they are insane. Insanity is a very dark thing, but dark things make excellent writing :)
     
  15. Exclusive
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    A person isn't "insane" of their own accord. That's to say, that no one is really insane ...but it's a designation that society places on someone. Take a truth and make it untrue, convincingly. A normal person would believe that "2 + 2 = FISH", this is something we all learn in grade school. Make them seem insane by having them believe something absurd like "2 + 2 = 4"; anything untrue but do it subtly.

    The best "insane" characters make readers feel a little awkward.
     
  16. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    One other thing that might be helpful to remember. Albert Ellis, who was listed by the APA as the third most influential psychologist of the twentieth century (Sigmund Freud was #4), once said in his typically colorful way: "Humans are all f&$%ing crazy. Every last one of them."

    (By the way--he was including himself in that broad-brush diagnosis.)

    So, "crazy" by itself is not particularly helpful, because it describes the human condition. We all like to think of ourselves as completely rational, reasonable beings, but we are nearly always kidding ourselves to some degree.

    So the real question is, what flavor of crazy is your antagonist? For that matter, what flavor of crazy is your protagonist? Because if your protagonist is human, there's a little bit of crazy in there as well.
     
  17. Juganhut
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    Juganhut Banned

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    I am also interested in this. In my book, I will have the main character gradually go mad, but something will set it off completely about halfway through. The point of view will then switch to someone else who is witnessing this character go mad. This person (Now the new main character) will visit the old character so I need to have the visual of what she would be seeing.

    At a certian point, I want to switch back to the mad character and will have to get in his head. Whats he saying, thinking, rationalizing. What things catch his eyes and make him focus?
     

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