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Insanity


Comicality

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Insanity

The classic saying is that insanity is the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And yes, I’m sure that’s a part of it. But I truly believe that there’s a lot more to concept than that. And I have to admit that I really do enjoy writing insanity in many different ways for my characters because it’s so fascinating to me to explore the mindset of someone who has become completely detached from reality. Detached to the point where reality and truth can no longer penetrate...because the madness has become ore comfortable and more easily embraced than reality ever could. When you really think about it...it’s really not all that difficult to suddenly find yourself losing your anchor to the rest of the world and not being able to find your way back because you’ve lost your reason to search for a way back. So why would you? It begs the question...how would you know that you were insane if you were insane? And what do you do if you were forced to settle back into the world that you’ve left behind?

Writing that into a story can be a maddening exercise in itself, but it brings up a lot of issues that you might find difficult to face or deal with when you tackle them head on. At least it is for me. But I enjoy the curious journey. Hehehe, which might be my own touch of insanity when I really stop and think about it. The goal is to find ways of bringing that same madness to your audience, and making them question who they are and what they’re willing to believe to help them sleep at night. Because it’s a phobia in itself wondering whether or not you’re capable of losing your mind and being helpless to do anything to stop it. Such a topic for your story could be mysterious, comedic, or downright terrifying...all depending on how it is written and how you treat it. So, let’s discuss insanity in our fiction this week, shall we? Just in case any of you guys decide that you want to try writing something like this for yourselves.

Before I get started, please understand that I’m not taking the issue of mental illness lightly, or that any of the terms I use now (or have in the past) to explain the writing aspect of this topic is meant to be derogatory or insulting to anyone dealing with it in their own lives. Either on their own or through friends and loved ones. This article is simply my interpretation of ideas and how they can be used in a story, based on my limited knowledge of what it’s like to live with these afflictions. So, if I offend anyone, I apologize in advance. And feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment below to straighten me out if you feel the need. K?

That being said, I’ve written a number of stories where a variety of mental illnesses have plagued the main character, and since I almost always write in the first person, I attempt to really try to convey a certain sense of sanity in their insanity. If that makes sense. Because I really do think that a lot of people who some would consider ‘crazy’ actually think that they’re crazy. I don’t believe it. I don’t think they’re crazy at all. We all have mental processes that we use to make sense of the world by looking at it through our own personal lens. We have daily habits that seem completely normal to us and therefore need no explanation to anyone else. But after talking to a great number of people in emails or in the chatroom...things that I might find strange about them, as well as the things that they find strange about me...aren’t really all that strange at all. It’s just a widely different perspective.

One of the first times that I began taking notice of this was when I really started becoming comfortable with the idea of wearing my heart on my sleeve and opening myself up to talk about my earlier life with the story, “My Only Escape”. (https://gayauthors.org/story/comicality/myonlyescape) Which I never really thought of as a mental illness before then, but...is it, though? It does work to use a sense of fear and trauma to affect my outlook on the world as well as my behavior. It was a part of me. It’s still a part of me, even now that the series is completed and I’ve chosen to put it behind me. But talking to people back and forth during my journey from beginning to end, I began to realize that a lot of my thoughts and actions and my approach to my characters in fiction were completely baffling to a great number of people who were reading it. ‘Why does he do that? Why doesn’t he just get help? Why won’t he come out to his friends? Why won’t he ask his love interest out on a date?’ These all sound completely sane and rational to THEM, sure. And I get it. I really do. But I couldn’t get them to see what I was living through at the time to make them understand that none of those things were an option for me. None of them. And yet, as the comments kept coming in more and more, I was forced to ask myself...”Wait...am I the crazy one here???”

Now, this isn’t mental illness or trauma in a severe form, nor is it as potent as it is for some people...but I think it gave me a slightly better understanding of the idea that the world looks different to people who aren’t like me. It doesn’t see the same dangers, or have the same worries, or carry the same triggers, as someone else who has a completely different life from the one that I lived growing up. So we may connect on a few different levels, here and there...but there are certain parts of our life experience that keep us from being able to communicate on the same level. The more I began to explore that with “My Only Escape”, the more I began to do the same with other stories of mine as well. And I think it helped me to dig just a little bit deeper into the story so that I could better translate my state of mind to my audience, and eventually get us all on the same page. Just like I said...it was all done in an attempt to communicate. What good does it do me to share my story if my readers are looking at my shots as if they’re all ‘off target’. You know?

So, off I went to experiment more and attempt to bring my message to a wider audience and get them to understand my point of view. Naturally, they’re going to interpret it in an infinite number of ways and that’s not a bad thing. As long as they’re on board and making sense out of what it is that I’m writing...then I have a better chance of inspiring intrigue instead of confusion. I tried to get to the heart of all of my characters and explain why they were so hesitant to try their hand at love again, or why they felt the cute boy showing them attention was so far out of their league, or why the rich boy wouldn’t want anything to do with them. These people aren’t crazy...they’ve just restructured their perspectives to fit and feed whatever it is that they’re looking for at that particular moment, and avoiding what makes them uncomfortable. And when you have characters that are that emotionally involved...how do you convince them that you’re not the crazy one? They’ve found a safe place and a method of living their lives that soothes them and makes them feel whole...and you’re going to come around and challenge that safety and comfort with something that ‘you’ think would be better for them? Hehehe, good luck!

Now then...take this same principal into some of my other stories like “Gone From Daylight” or “Savage Moon”. Or pretty much any of the sci fi/horror stories that I’ve written here on the GayAuthors website. I always make sure to introduce everyone to the main characters of stories like these where there can be a certain sense of understanding when it comes to their behavior in a lot of situations. Behavior that, to most...sounds like madness. But I don’t want it to read that way. Do you get what I’m saying? I want to pull my readers in and handcuff them to their train of thought, to their past experiences, to the troubles they’ve been through and the obstacles awaiting them further down the road. I want to add a sense of ‘sanity to their insanity’. A vast majority of people don’t just do things just to do things. There’s a reason for them being the way they are. It might be a messed up reason that you can’t wrap your brain around or ever really hope to understand...but a reason, nonetheless. Imagine if you could truly bring your readers into the mind of characters that you’ve spawned for your story...who under any other circumstances would be seen as totally insane. Thanos, Darth Vader, Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”, Magneto from “X-Men”...and get them to accept that there’s a part of their madness that they not only understand...but can relate to.

I’ve had readers actually STOP reading “Savage Moon” because that is exactly what I set out to do with that story. And then took things even further with a vampire/serial killer story called “GFD: Bloodstained Duet” (https://gayauthors.org/story/comicality/gfd-bloodstained-duet/), where I take people into one of the darkest minds that I’ve ever created for this spinoff series! Hehehe, as well as the last story in the “Darkness Waits” ebook (https://imagine-magazine.org/store/comicality/), which is sure to be very disturbing as well. These portrayals are over exaggerated, of course, but I feel like that’s the most fascinating part of it all while writing. Because I’ve spoken to people from all over the globe and all ages from all walks of life...but there’s something about the threat of possible insanity on our parts that causes us to cringe and fidget with discomfort. It’s one of the scariest things out there...thinking that we might have something in common with those that we’d probably avoid if we saw them in the street. The people who make us question whether or not we’re the crazy ones...and it’s merely the majority perspective of the rest of society that brings us any sense of stability at all.

If you’ve never seen the movie, “In The Mouth Of Madness”, before...check it out, as it displays this idea in the coolest way imaginable!

Basically...the key to writing about insanity or mental illness...especially if you’re doing so from a first person point of view...is to NOT write about insanity or mental illness. Because the world doesn’t look all that strange to them. Even if the thought process comes off as disjointed, unrealistic, or downright twisted...that’s just what WE see...looking in from th outside of it. I’ve always written that frame of mind as being as sane and as rational as any other...and we’re the ones who don’t get it because we’re looking at reality through a different lens. Make sense?

I gained this perspective from having deep conversations with people over the years, and I never once felt like any one of them were delusional or out of sync with reality. If anything, I would guess that it was those of us (yes, me included) who are fully functional and seem totally stable to most who need the most help. It could just be that we are the insane who don’t know that they’re insane. In which case...what would there be to go back to? Why seek help if we don’t need? Right?

Ummm...right?

Anyway, if any of your writers out there are looking to take a walk down a dark path and write about a character, or multiple characters, that might be having an episode or dealing with some sort of mental or emotional disability, and chose to write about an unstable or perhaps even potentially dangerous character...this would be my advice. Do some research if you need to, talk to people who might know about these things better than you do, and always remember to approach the issue with respect. That’s a must. If you can’t deliver your own experience, at least try to have some level of understanding about it. K?

I hope this helps! Enjoy your writing, folks! And if any of you have anything to add about mental illness or your experience with seeing how it’s portrayed in fiction, please feel free to comment down below! K?

Take care! Stay beautiful! And I’ll seezya soon!

 

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As always, your insights are spot on for me. I'm currently in the process of writing the third installment of my Hybrid Journey series and am tackling the main character's battle with depression. 

I think there's a fine line between getting it 'right' so to speak, and it coming across as too much. What I mean by that is trying to portray the character's thought process realistically vs sensationally. 

Every author has a unique vision of how they create their character, and developing a character who deals with insanity, no matter what form it takes, is a challenge. 

I can remember reading a book about a character who gradually went insane. I can't remember the title or author but what stuck with me is the process of the character's mind as they slowly "lost it" over time. The author did a fantastic job of showing the readers what was going on in the person's head. Quite honestly, it was scary AF. 

 

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When reading this essay, I remembered Circumnavigation's Bridget.  She appeared as a perfectly normal and helpful person, but by the end of the book it was very evident how truly insane she was by what she did and how she did it.  C. James used the process you just describe to perfection.  Thanks for all these great essays.

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There are many different flavors of mental illness. It's not simply the gibbering madness often portrayed in the media.

There is DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) madness with actual mental illness driving it. Then there are people so mean, depraved and twisted they appear, for all practical purposes, batshit insane, but aren't actually mentally ill.

This provides authors with serious challenges to write a mentally ill character.

It is possible to write an insane character, but it takes some research to get it right. If the character is acutely mentally ill, what is specifically wrong? The author needs to know to write the person authentically. In this case, calling them cRaZy just doesn't cut it.

You can really get lost in the weeds with this. Even a cursory examination of the literature will show you that this is a huge and complex body of knowledge, and much of it doesn't mean what you think. Words like psychotic might give you the image of an axe wielding serial killer, but the truth of that condition is not at all what you think.

If you look up the definition of Psychosis, you will find that it is defined by delusions and hallucinations, but this in turn can be caused by organic disease, other mental disorders (like schizophrenia) or substance abuse.

If you look up schizophrenia, you'll find that it shares many of the same characteristics as psychosis, they're just wrapped a little differently.

This is an area where it is easy to get lost, and you could do research for years and still miss the nuances.

Make the assumption up front that cRaZy isn't exactly what you think it is. Research is useful for discovering the broad outline of the disorder, but it's best to keep it simple. As an author, we know what the poor sot's diagnosis is, and can write him in such a way to make his behavior consistent and believable.

There's a huge difference between evil and mentally ill. Sometimes they appear indistinguishable, but will show up most clearly in the character's motivations.

For example: the Son of Sam Killer (David Berkowitz) was, in his mind, receiving messages to kill via his dog. (Don't blame me, I didn't write him). This is clearly a case of a profound mental illness.

Compare and contrast Berkowitz to a pimp who kills one of his girls for holding out on money she made from a trick. The motive is clear(greed, dominance), and does not rely on supernatural messages. This is clearly a scumbag move, but he's not cRaZy.

You can really get in the weeds with this, but it's not entirely necessary. Actions will show the true colors of a character. You won't need to give your readers a link to the DSM-5.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, JamesSavik said:

There's a huge difference between evil and mentally ill.

Don't rule out both.  There is a raft of those around.

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Very spot on.  Madness is not something easy to write (unless you're insane yourself I would imagine) but I have ran across a few writers who pull it off rather well.  One of the things I used to love about my old World of Darkness RPG books was the little bits of narrative in the chapters.  Reading a story about a Marauder (an insane mage) or a Malkavian (vampire) from the perspective of the character really gave an interesting insight in the disjointed thought process that the character itself saw as natural and normal.  Granted, Marauders and Malkavians are pretty much also stone-cold killers on top of them having a fractured reality.  But it's a good starting point to get used to the idea of thinking on their terms for a short while if you intend to have an insane character in a story.  

On 2/6/2023 at 10:16 AM, JamesSavik said:

This is an area where it is easy to get lost, and you could do research for years and still miss the nuances.

The key word here is "research."  Always research a topic you're unfamiliar with.  People asked me how I managed to write Andy's troubles with his PTSD with such realism and the truth is, I watched hours of video of veterans talking about their traumas and how it's affected their lives.  I read articles all over the place that I could find to learn as much as I could to make sure the character was true to his mindset.

Nice read (I figured it would be good if all I saw was the word "insane" on my screen 😆)

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