1. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    How to make a character descent into madness

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tsukiyukiko, Mar 14, 2021.

    Hello! I'm writing my second book and I have a question as I am not very familiar with the horror genre.

    My story is set in the Victorian era and the protagonist is hired as a governess in a big mansion. However, the family's intention is not for her to educate their kid, but to make her descent into madness as a part of a bigger scheme.

    How could they make this girl go insane? I have already thought about some examples, but any ideas are welcome!

    Thank you.
     
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Active Member

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    It's descend, not descent. Descent is the noun. There is gaslighting, but I don't think that would be powerful enough. Maybe something involving hallucinogens she unwittingly consumes?
     
  3. Gravy

    Gravy Member

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    What kind of 'madness' are we talking about? General fiction madness or something actually diagnosable?
     
  4. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    What do you mean by "going insane"? If you're meaning the classic signs of psychosis like voice hearing and delusions, then often times the person has to already be predisposed to developing those symptoms. For example, the game Hellblade is lauded for being one of the most realistic examples of psychosis. The main character, Senua has a moment where she actually goes insane, but the game makes it pretty clear that she already had problems with depression, anxiety, and delusions.

    If you mean more that she starts to question her reality and begins to become more and more prone to suggestion and more detached from reality, in other words, brainwashed, that can happen a number of different ways. Gaslighting is a good way to do it as it were and it's the most subtle because it doesn't require direct torturing the victim. It's also easy for a writer to warp the narrative to confuse the reader as much as the victim and make assumptions about what it is that's happening.

    Cinema Therapy did an excellent video about gaslighting in the film Tangled. And while Tangled doesn't mess with perception, it does help you know a little more about what gaslighting entails and how it works.


     
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  5. alw86

    alw86 Active Member

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    Madness is an extraordinarily vague term. If you tell us what actual concrete behaviour you want her to end up with, we're more likely to be able to help you.
     
  6. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    They want to force her into a mental asylum so, diagnosable.
     
  7. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    My bad! They want to take her to a mental asylum. Some examples of what I was thinking about is, for example, the face of a statue suddenly changes and the protagonist seems to be the only one who can really tell.
     
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  8. alw86

    alw86 Active Member

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    Sounds like gaslighting is what you're looking for then, where they deliberately change the face of the statue and then everyone else acts like it was always like that, questioning her view of reality. Being slipped some kind of drug to make her mind vague would help, too. Her 'madness' probably wouldn't hold up once she got to the asylum though, since the gaslighting and the drugs would stop, and even in those times, they did have doctors and such superintending. I guess you could have the family she worked for paying for it under the guise of 'kindness', so that the doctors would be more likely to listen to them than to her. Alternatively maybe you could have the drugs permanently damage her mind?
     
  9. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    I want to make it being a part of a bigger scheme, where the doctors, the family and the police are all in it. They organizated this because of the money they are paid when they get a new patient and so on. So, they would not help the protagonist.
     
  10. alw86

    alw86 Active Member

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    I'm confused, who is paying for her care?

    Also, if literally everyone is in on it, why bother to drive her mad at all? They could just agree to commit her regardless.
     
  11. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    I think they would need to follow a strict protocol in order to not raise any suspicions in the rest of the town. Though they hold the power, they could easily lose it if there is a rebellion against them or they are reported to the central goverment/central police/etc.
     
  12. B.E. Nugent

    B.E. Nugent Senior Member

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    If you're writing Victorian times, I'm not sure these things apply as they might today. Getting people locked away in institutions wasn't particularly difficult in that era and the people who held power could pretty much do as they saw fit, without fear of recrimination. So I'm also confused as to why the employers, who hold the power, need to devise a strategy to get this girl institutionalised when all they need do is make the demand. I think you need to manage it differently than suggesting they are fearful of a pleb uprising, because that just didn't happen. If you have a more believable plot device, the "gaslighting", which is a new term to me, is the way to go, where your character's presumptions of reality are consistently attacked by a concerted effort to scramble her brain.
     
  13. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    So I was thinking and I came across the idea that this family (composed only by a widow and her little daughter) wanted to find and hire her because the protagonist is the first daughter of the widow's late husband, which would make her the heiress of their fortune and not her little daughter.

    Sounds ok?
     
  14. B.E. Nugent

    B.E. Nugent Senior Member

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    Now you're talking. Nothing like an inheritance to bring out the brutal. You might want to check that the governess has inheritance rights because, if "illegitimate" (if her parents weren't married, which was a thing), she might not have rights to property. But this context makes more sense to me.
     
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  15. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    Yeah, I have already looked into that and they could only file for a divorce if the wife was an adulterous woman, which could make sense as to why she remarried later with the father of the protagonist.
     
  16. alw86

    alw86 Active Member

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    Why would an heiress be working as a governess? Governess was a job for women who were technically middle class or above but had no real options, i.e. inheritance or good marriage prospects. Even if her father is still alive, she would be eligible marriage material purely based on the fact that she will inherit. Besides which, if the husband/her father is dead, she would already have inherited and definitely not be working.

    Sorry to be a killjoy! What if she accidentally discovers some nefarious business dealings by the family and they don't want her to be believed? Or maybe the older son falls in love with her and they don't want him to marry him and therefore need her out of the way?
     
  17. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    There's also a psychotic break, which can happen to anybody under enough stress. It's a temporary condition featuring hallucinations and paranoia. It's what I believe happened to the Natalie Portman character in Black Swan.
     
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  18. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    The thing is, like in the Disney movie Hercules, she is not aware that who she considers to be her real father is not actually his father. She has been raised by two farmers who have given her the best possible education; therefore, she is pretty interested in this job.
     
  19. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    oops! haha Well, English is not my first language so pardon me for any grammar mistakes.
     
  20. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    Have you read The Yellow Wallpaper? A woman is kept in a room and at first she just describes the yellow wallpaper being horrible but slowly it becomes more. She can't ignore how horrible it is and it starts to consume her thoughts, then she starts to say it seems like the wall pattern in shifting in the night. She then begins to believe it taints people, that if you touch it it clings to the person. It gets worst and in the end she finally believes she's merged with the walls and lives behind the wallpaper.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yellow_Wallpaper
     
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  21. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel Contributor

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    How they execute their scheme should, preferably, depend on the final goal of the antagonist. Why do they want the character to go mad? What do they gain. How, exactly, will madness further their ends? Answer these questions and work the answers back into the process. That will create a logically cohesive chain of events which will lends itself to a smooth literary flow that the reader can easily follow.

    If you don't mind sharing, what is the ultimate goal of your villains? That might help us offer more useful suggestions.
     
  22. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    Yes! I have read it, but she starts to lose her mind because she is locked away in that place. However, my protagonist is not :(
     
  23. tsukiyukiko

    tsukiyukiko New Member

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    The family that hires the protagonist (composed only by a widow and her little daughter) wanted to find and hire her because the she is the first daughter of the widow's late husband, which would make her the heiress of their fortune and not her little daughter.
     
  24. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    You could, perhaps, make the protagonist the product of a secret first marriage, and the sole or primary heiress of her father's money. She's always been told she was illegitimate, and is happy to find a place with this widow and her little girl . . .

    Does the young woman know her employer is her stepmother? I presume she doesn't? What triggers the widow taking her on as governess? Is the young woman on the verge of discovering who she really is and the widow knows that and fears for her own position and that of her child?

    Maybe in that case driving the protag mad would stop the damage if she starts saying, "Hey, I'm Mr. So-and-So's heiress! This house and everything in it belong to me!" "Poor deluded girl," everyone would say, "don't listen to her. Her brains are addled."

    (BTW, one hopes the late husband and father has left some provision for his second wife and child. You don't need to leave them destitute. Just make sure the bulk of the estate goes to the daughter of the first marriage.)
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2021

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