1. keysersoze

    keysersoze Active Member

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    Writing a paranoid anxious character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by keysersoze, May 13, 2020.

    I am a little anxious if someone would give the advice 'just write'. I hope the question is worth answering.

    The character is a regular corporate employee struggling against acute anxiety. In the state of distress once he took some insider information and used it to trade and made money. Now he is paranoid that someone would get him.

    Earlier he was shy, debilitated under a demanding authoritarian father. After making the excess money, he didn't know what to do with it. He went to a bar where exotic dancers dance. He spent a lot of money on a dancer and she got hooked to him. He got her an apartment.

    The first scene takes place in that apartment. How do I write his paranoia? She does not take his paranoia seriously. She complains about the apartment- water, bed sheets, size etc. She abuses a lot which he objects to. But how can I show his paranoia? I am writing a play, so he would need to act on his paranoia. One idea is a phone lying on a table and his obsessive attention towards it. But that won't be enough. I need something more. What happens to a person who goes paranoid externally? Any ideas?
     
  2. The Bishop

    The Bishop Senior Member

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    I'm sure they would watch windows or continuously look out of a peephole in a door. Maybe they'd do things to fill time and try to distract themselves, but still pay mind to the things around them, not really relaxed. They probably would stay standing if watching TV or something, just in case they need to make any quick moves or arrangements or in case anything goes wrong. For example, if they're in an apartment, maybe have him leave for a moment since this lady is complaining so much and then he gets out and watches the people, thinking too deep into everything the people do. Or if you can't do that maybe try something like what I said earlier about watching the street from windows and continuously checking the door. Maybe even have him check the lock several times throughout the scene to stress the obsessive behavior of paranoia. Not necessarily all these specific things but things like them
     
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  3. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Maybe the dancer asks him questions and he becomes fidgety and refuses to answer her, and if she pushes he gets up and walks around, looking out windows or checking the locks and closing shades. Maybe at several points while they're talking he stops paying attention to her and holds up a hand for silence, listens to things that she can't hear, or that seem innocent and normal to her. But he refuses to listen to her and wants her to remain quiet until the other people are gone. If she starts to speak, to tell him he's being paranoid, he gets increasingly anxious and angry, to the point of violence, as if he's desperate to hear what's happening out there. If somebody walks by in the corridor he won't talk until they've passed and he wants to listen to see if they've left the building or gone into an apartment. If anybody is in a next-door apartment maybe he won't talk about anything he considers sensitive until they leave.

    He might get especially anxious id he hears sirens and they're getting closer, or if somebody knocks on his door. He might look around desperately as if to make sure no evidence is sitting out (even though it isn't) and want to step out in the hall to talk to them rather than let them in the room.
     
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  4. keysersoze

    keysersoze Active Member

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    You gave me this idea that there can be a region, on the stage (I am writing a play) which he dreads. He'd not go there himself. If she stumbles towards that area he would raise his voice. If she gets too close he would shout and scream for her to come back.

    This kind of space can exist in all three scenes (they happen in three different locations) of the play and finally when he commits murder in the last scene he can stand right in the middle of that area.
     
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  5. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

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    In plays, the best work has no dialogue. Actions (like you and the others have described here) are good indicators. Also, consider writing in prompts for stage lighting. You mention a part of the stage where he doesn't want to go. Make that part either over- or under-lit.
     
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  6. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    There are several approaches you can take with this, depending entirely on what perception you want the reader to have. There's a couple things you have to keep in mind when dealing with characters involving psychosis, paranoia, personality disorders or any other thought disorder: to them, what's happening is real. What they are feeling, seeing, ect, is their reality. And they often have an object of their persecution: it's the government, it's aliens, it's my neighbor, etc. And they start to become very hyper-focused on this idea of being persecuted. They start looking for little clues that "prove" they are right. And people who challenge them, might become suspected of being part of that conspiracy. They also have a very grandiose view of themselves. Because that, in their mind, explains why people are persecuting them to begin with and why they are aware of it where seemingly no one else is. They are a secret agent. They are a prophet and the wicked people are persecuting them. They are smarter than everyone else. That's why everyone in the company is looking to get me fired. Now they don't have to be narcissistic. Often times it's just the only explanation they can come up with for what's happening in their head.

    So when figuring how to write a character with these problems, perception becomes incredibly important, because that affects how you approach the subject and what happens to the person externally and how you present other characters.

    You can go with a full immersion approach. This is where you present the character's perception as "fact." This means that the reader is unaware that the character has any kind of mental condition and everything is presented with the assumption it's really happening. Usually, it's revealed later that in fact it was playing out in the character's head all along.

    The problem with this is that you would need to make the character's behavior odd, but the rational plausible. People who might dismiss the character, would have to be given another explanation as to why they aren't taking the character's paranoia seriously. Often times this is accompanied by the character having a grandios view of themselves: (ie they're a government agent, or they're smarter than everyone, or what have you.)

    This was best depicted in the movie "The Machinist." It starts with strange things happening, him trying to rationalize what happening such as asking his landlady about anyone entering his apartment, etc. Then finally accusing people of consipiring against him.

    The full immersion approach can also be used in reverse, where character is not suffering from a mental disorder. They are 100% right about everything they say is happening, but you as a writer are presenting them as being crazy or exaggerating. And this is what I think might work for your story.

    Either way you do it, he can basically have it where she gives him medicine and suspects she's poisoning him. And it's for you to decide if she's really poisoning him or he's just being paranoid. Or he might keep getting these phone numbers calling him and he suspects it's her. Again, depending on how you play it, depends on whether she's using a spoof number or he's just intepreting telemarketers calling as her calling.


    The other ways to present it in case you were curious, but probably wouldn't work for your story is:

    Audience Awareness w/ Character POV. Audience is aware the character is mentally ill, and everything is taken from that mentally ill character's perspective. This was accomplished recently by the video game Hellblade, where the audience knows the character has psychosis. That's not a secret. Even the character is aware something is wrong with her (though it's not certain how much awareness she actually has). However, the game makes no attempt to distinguish reality and fiction. (What's scary about this game is even fully knowing that the character has psychosis, you're no better at telling the difference between fact and fiction than she is.) This can be very effective in garnering empathy and understanding for those who are mentally ill.

    Audience awareness w/ 3rd party POV. This is where it's told through the eyes of someone close to the person suffering. Again, it's done to garner sympathy for the caretakers of mentally ill people.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2020
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    The Philip K Dick approach, like in Total Recall. He likes to play with the back and forth—is the character crazy, or is he really right?
     

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