Everybody I know is having kids, so I made this helpful guide to nature names for your baby.
By Marian Perera
I read an urban myth that The Madness of King George was originally called The Madness of George III, but it had to be retitled in case Americans thought it was the third in a series. That made me think of writing a post on insane characters…
Obvious vs. subtle
I’ve read that one of the scariest things about serial killers or rapists is that they look like everyone else. The same thing would apply to insane characters.
This isn’t always the case. There was a serial killer called Richard Chase whose disheveled, bizarre appearance helped in his identification and apprehension. But for the most part, people with mental disorders can pass as normal, or eccentric at the most. Writers can often use that to its best advantage, because readers will usually believe that I’m a wolf and will be taken by surprise later.
By the way, the phrase I dropped into the last sentence – “I’m a wolf” – is the first indication in Stephen King’s Desperation that the cop stopping people on the highway is not normal. The cop slipped it into the middle of a regular conversation, and it made me start a little. The people he had stopped weren’t sure if they had heard correctly or not.
The same thing applies to insanity. It’s incredibly fun to watch readers gradually realize that a character whom they took for normal is nothing of the kind. And is probably very dangerous.
Often, such slips in dialogue or odd actions can be more unnerving to the reader than if the character is gibbering and clawing at the walls. You can always start subtle and ramp it up to obvious, but it doesn’t work so well the other way.
Beyond the madness
Annie Wilkes, the psychotic nurse in Misery, might chop off a man’s foot but she’ll never use the f-word. Insane characters could have their own codes of morality and ethics. The more you flesh them out – giving them hobbies, fears, genuine liking for some people – the more realistic they’ll be. And the easier it might be for the readers to care about them, if you’re going for tragic-insane rather than only scary-insane.
Even in Misery, there’s a moment when Annie laughs along with Paul at something, and he catches a glimpse of what she might have been if not for her psychosis.
Using madness in the story
This was a theme in a couple of Agatha Christie stories, and IIRC both times it led to the characters being murderers. I also like the fact that in Suzy McKee Charnas’s Motherlines, all women of the Omelly bloodline were insane.
That would be original, and certainly enough to propel a character into a quest. If I were told that I was the Chosen One of some lost kingdom, I wouldn’t even get up from my computer. But if I had evidence that someone in that kingdom had spelled me to go slowly insane, I’d be out there opening up Ye Olde Canne of Whup-Bottom on them.
It doesn’t even have to be a curse, by the way. Enough mind games and manipulation – a la Gaslight - and the victim’s sanity would slip away.
A balance to a positive trait
Just as Cassandra could predict the future but no one would believe her, a character could be a military genius but insane as well. The fun of this is that the protagonists might really need this character’s help, but could never really depend on her, and might not even be sure if the advice came from the sane or insane parts of her mind.
The Five Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
I have run my course, Writers Write, for 10 years. I have learned so much from teaching novelists to dream their books into life. After seeing more than 130 graduates published, I have identified these as being the most common mistakes made by debut writers.
- Beginner writers all want to write their life story in the form of a novel. Almost every writer who comes through the school thinks they have a life story so compelling that an editor won’t be able to resist it. Starting a query letter with, ‘This novel is based on my life,’ means the dreaded slush pile! Even if your mother sold you to gypsies to feed her heroin habit, or your father let his father molest you, your story is not unique. I promise you they’ve heard it all. See a therapist. Then write a novel. Or write a memoir. But learn how to do it so that it is not an indulgence. Chris van Wyk’s Shirley, Goodness & Mercy, Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight and Peter Godwin’s Mukiwa are good examples of memoirs.
- Beginners have no antagonist. If you develop well-constructed protagonists and antagonists, who SPEAK and ARGUE and FIGHT, you will be able to write a book. How can you write a novel, which is generally 360 pages long, without a villain? Who will your hero fight to achieve his goal? The other characters – love interests and friends - are not important for the plot. They are important to show a protagonist’s life, goals, motivations, and feelings without you telling your reader what they are.
- Beginner writers have no plot. Beginner writers either stop at about 20 000 words or carry on until they reach 120 000 or more! Most novels are 80 000 words. Either way, these writers don’t have a plot. Most first time authors ramble on philosophically until they have told the story. They are writing an essay, not a novel. This is called telling. Never tell.
- Beginners do not have enough dialogue. In modern fiction you have to show. The narrator style of writing has all but disappeared. One way to get around this problem is to use dialogue. Modern novels contain 60-70% dialogue. I suggest that writers make friends with this writing tool.
- Beginner writers hang on to an idea for a novel that is no longer popular. All writers have a story from long ago, mostly high school, which they won’t let go. I ask these writers to go to their nearest good bookshop and look at the new releases. I tell them to do some research on Amazon. Would their book fit in either of these places? Family sagas written by authors like Barbara Taylor Bradford in the 1980s do not sell now. Nor do cosy mysteries a la Agatha Christie, or historical adventures like those written by Wilbur Smith – unless you are Wilbur Smith. These writers need to let go, do some research and write fiction that readers want to read, and that publishers will buy.
Six Types of Courageous Characters
by K.M. Weiland, author of Dreamlander
1. Heroic Bravery
When we think of heroes these days, we generally think of those who qualify for heroic bravery.
What is it? This is the kind of bravery that makes a character do crazy dangerous stuff, either to protect others or to advance a cause in which he passionately believes. He’s not a fool. He knows what he’s risking, but he believes the danger is worth it.
2. Steadfast Bravery
Steadfast bravery isn’t as flashy as heroic bravery (although it exhibits bursts of heroism), but its patient doggedness challenges fate every single day.
What is it? This is the kind of bravery we see from someone who is enduring a bad or dangerous situation day in and day out. A POW, a soldier in the trenches, or an informant in enemy territory will probably exhibit steadfast bravery.
3. Quiet Bravery
This one is perhaps the least flashy of any type of bravery. It can even occasionally be confused with cowardice.
What is it? Quiet bravery gives a character the courage needed to endure bad situations with grace and patience. It’s basically an offshoot of steadfast bravery, but it usually surfaces in situations that are less physically dangerous. Cancer patients, overworked single mothers, and trod-upon servants who maintain their sense of self-worth and hope all exhibit quiet bravery.
4. Personal Bravery
Not all brave characters are going to face death or save the world. Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is take a chance to advance his own lot in life.
What is it? Personal bravery demands characters reach for the stars and chase their dreams. Instead of remaining in a bad situation and taking it and taking it, they risk everything for a chance at a better life. Personal bravery is perhaps the most common kind of bravery of all, since it’s something every single one of us chooses to exhibit at one point or another in our lives, whether it’s in dreaming of a better education, a better career, or just a life-changing trip around the world.
5. Devil-May-Care Bravery
Here we find the domain of the anti-hero and the fatalist.
What is it? Devil-may-care bravery isn’t bravery so much as a cynical realization that death (or whatever the worst-case scenario may be) will come no matter what we do, ergo let’s meet it with arms stretched wide. Characters who have nothing to live for can often exhibit insane courage, but they’re doing it from a place of negativity.
6. Frightened Bravery
Finally, we have the most dichotomous, and often the most compelling, bravery of all.
What is it? Frightened bravery finds the hero a knee-shaking, gut-churning, terrified mess. But he rises above it. He enters the fray in spite of his terror, and, in so doing, becomes the bravest of all characters. Frightened bravery can go hand in hand with any of the other types (save perhaps devil-may-care bravery), since the very act of overcoming fear is what makes a character brave.
None of these categories are exclusive. A character may well exhibit all six types of bravery during the course of your story, and often you’ll find the categories overlapping. In creating a strong character, it’s important not only that he qualify for at least one of these types of bravery, but also that you identify which is the strongest category, so you can further strengthen it on the page. Once you’ve done that, it’s almost a cinch readers will find your character fascinating.
THE PROBLEMS WITH FANFICTION
This is what I do here!