Saturday, May 18, 2013

Creating Unstable Characters

Do you have any tips on writing insane characters? I haven’t been able to balance insanity with a real personality. Back story was he killed his son in a fit of rage, his wife stays with him out of love and the knowledge that she can control him to an extent to stop him from hurting others. Is it possible to have a fully insane character with bouts of sanity?

I instantly thought of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, which is brilliantly done in regards to watching the main character’s downward spiral—but I don’t want to spoil it.

Remember your character is a reflection of real people, and so your character should be as developed as any of your other characters. He should be many-sided, with desires, flaws, strengths, contrasting and complimenting elements with other characters, and the ability to change (whether for good or bad). The character he is in the beginning should not be the character he is by the end.

So, here are some questions to fortify his foundation:
  • What is the source of your character’s insanity? What drove him to this point? Was it a mental disorder? Something that happened to him in his childhood? If you’ve decided on a mental disorder, there should be a clear progression of how he fell apart, but also keep in mind that, predominately, a mental disability isn’t enough to drive someone to murder. “Nurture” is just as important as “Nature”, so don’t rely on a disability alone, as it perpetuates an unrealistic and harmful notion that those with disabilities are inherently and unpredictably dangerous.
  • Does he have the capacity to think logically? Is his thought process coherent and understandable? Is it sympathetic or twisted? How does his mind tick and why does it tick that way? Characters don’t have to be sympathetic, although it adds a human element that readers can associate and identify with (which consequently causes readers to question whether or not they’re rooting for this character). Consistency, however, is important. Readers need to understand how a character started at point A and ended up at point F – unless the character himself doesn’t even know (as an unreliable character/narrator, which is always good fun), and perhaps experiences such things as blackouts in memory.
  • What does your character want?  Does he want to stop hurting others? Does he want his wife to help him? What is he willing to do to achieve his goals? What’s stopping him? What’s standing in his way and how does he tackle it? Does he take medication to keep himself stable? Does he want to take this medication? Showing his struggles and his failures and how he gets back up, if he does, adds to his character dimension.
Do not let his insanity define him – rather, he should be the one to define his insanity through his actions. This goes for any character with an atypical lifestyle. People are not defined by what they are — they define what they are as people. The moments where he’s stable should reveal who he is.

Additionally, make sure it’s clear and believable why his wife still stays with him. What’s their history? Why does she love him? What does she see in him that compels her to stay? Is she staying with him because she loves him or is she staying with him because she’s afraid of him? How does she stop him from hurting others? How does it affect her?

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

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