MORE RANTYPANTS: Writing Mental Illness for Fun and Profit

FULL SNARK AHEAD.

Yes, I’m taking my meds. Shut up. Also, it’s my birthday, so I can put on as many pairs of RANTYPANTS as I want. And maybe even go commando in them. That episode of Friends is my all-time favorite.

Sorry, where were we? All that lack of focus must mean I’m ADHD. Maybe a certain self-proclaimed expert can do a fly-by diagnosis for me.

So. Someone retweeted this, and I could not stop myself from clicking that damn link.

writing_insanity

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/09/30/9-tips-for-writing-an-insane-character

How fun was it? Let’s take a look at a few highlights:

You need to get specific. There are about a million types of crazy.

Does anyone else see the WTF in this statement? Just me?

I even took a university class on abnormal psychology….  For those of you looking to lose your fictional marbles, let me share what I’ve learned.

One undergrad class makes one an expert? I shall update my résumé! Let’s see…world religions, astronomy, statistics, juvenile delinquency (A+ in that one! I should write a book!), Intermediate German (there’s a good story about that), visual communications (in which I researched the brilliance of Cecil Beaton so I’m an expert on him too). OH! Also: racquetball! My only A in a PE class; I had a killer serve.

Yes, I changed my major seven times. Shut up and keep reading.

What flaw is splintering your character’s sanity? Is it alcohol abuse, as in The Shining?

Because mental illness is never just an illness. I keep wondering what my Deep Dark Secret or Tragic Past is, because I honestly can’t remember. Maybe I should try regression therapy. Or I could make up something, like…I was kidnapped as a toddler and force-fed mercury-tainted tuna by a satanic motorcycle gang club. That’s crazy enough to justify my crazypants, right?

I detest tuna. Just the smell of it makes me nauseous. I should write a book about that.

…obsession is a side effect of having a screw loose…

Let’s try this instead: …obsession is a side effect symptom of having a screw loose mental illness. Got it? It’s really not that difficult a concept.

Give your insane character these moments!

If only my mental illness was momentary. And deserving of !!!exclamationpoints!!! I feel so undeserving.

Writing insane characters offers a fantastic chance to use dramatic irony.

I shall endeavor to find the ironic moments in the drama is that is my life.

5. He shows symptoms of a real mental disorder

Does this really need to be said? Seriously???

Most insane characters seem to have an escalated version of psychosis. This disorder is worth researching, from the early signs (social withdrawal, sleep disturbance, anxiety…) to full-blown delusions, hallucinations, and speech problems.

I don’t doubt the items mentioned correlate with some forms of psychosis (which, btw, is a generic umbrella term and not an actual diagnosis). But calling out common issues like anxiety and equating speech problems with full-blown delusions reduces a highly complex medical issue to nothing more than some potential Amazon keywords.

Insane characters are not like this.

Because all crazy is the same — even though there’s million different kinds of it. [See what I did there?]

8. He was set off by something

What triggered your character’s descent into madness? You may choose to show the trigger in your plot, or mask it as backstory.

Mental disorders have a variety of causes. Why does your character have this disorder? Was her mom bipolar? Is it drug-induced psychosis? Did she have a traumatic experience as a child? Again, use science to inspire you.

OH FOR FUCK SAKE. I just CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS. It just KEEPS GETTING WORSE. Where’s my damn Xanax?

A crazy character’s Snap moment is probably the most fun thing to write. Like, ever. In the history of time.

*~*sigh*~*

Note that an insane character doesn’t have to be doomed.

This is totally true. Insanity can be cured by some vitamin injections. Even if the character has been diagnosed with a real mental illness by a psychiatrist and has prescription meds. No, really.

If you’re preparing to write an insane character, I do recommend you study the books and movies I reference.

*RAGEFACE*

Oh, wait – I hope *rageface* doesn’t mean I’ve lost my non-fictional marbles, or that I’m “one fry short of a Happy Meal.” If it’s only in lowercase, does it still count as insane, or just cranky? What’s the threshold here?

Insanity might seem synonymous with unpredictable, but it does have patterns and symptoms that we need to be mindful of. (pardon the pun?)

Ah, finally. But..this was in response to an actual logical response in the comments.

And what are the author’s credentials, you ask?

I don’t care if you didn’t ask. You should have. Because UGH.

Yes, I’m going there. I’m a bully. So sue me. Is that stupid STGRB site still around? If so, I’m on it.

Two (2) self-pubbed YA books. And that one university class. But she’s read The Shining and watched Fatal Attraction, so she’s got that going for her.

Yes, The Shining is the epitome of batshit crazysauce. I think Stephen King is a little crazypants himself, but in a good way. He gets a pass. You, dear author [collectively, not specific to anyone], are not, and never will be, Stephen King. You’re not even Tana French. Don’t even try to go there.

HOWEVER.  I can only hope this article compels other authors to read A Beautiful Mind or The Silver Linings Playbook. As in actually read them to find all the ways Sylvia Nasar and Matthew Quick treat their mentally ill characters as actual people and not !fun! and !easy! and !lazy! plot devices.

One fry short of a Happy Meal, indeed. To which I say: Bite. Me.

The Facebook Book Meme: My Annotated Edition

The rules: List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books, or great works of literature — just ones that have affected you in some way.

I broke the rules (you are not surprised). I spent more than just a “few minutes” and there may or may not have been a bit of obsessing and waffling and mind-changing. Because, duh, you can’t just fluff off a list of BOOKS.

And 10? TEN? Yeah, right.

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Thankful for Mental Health (With Bonus Literary Analogies!)

I joke about my anxiety and depression and OCD here quite a bit, because most of the time I’m in the right frame of mind to view those diagnoses as just another part of me, like being ridiculously near-sighted or having hay fever. When the meds and therapy and the planets are aligned, I can just shrug off my, um, quirks and make it through each day without dreading the next.

Last Thanksgiving, nothing was aligned. This Thanksgiving, I’m on an even keel because I finally did something I was terrified to do before.

I asked for help.

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Audiobook Angst: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (audiobook)

  • Title: Flowers from the Storm
  • Author:  Laura Kinsale
  • Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, 1992
  • Source: Purchased ($2.99 ebook, $3.49 audiobook)
  • Length: 565 pages (19 hours)
  • Trope(s): Sheltered Spinster, Dukish Duke, Evil In-Laws, ANGST ANGST AND MORE ANGST (did I mention the ANGST?)
  • Quick blurb: Sheltered Quaker woman feels called to help a notorious (but brilliant) duke when she finds him wrongfully imprisoned in her uncle’s asylum.
  • Quick review: Go away and leave me alone. I’m still swooning.
  • Grade: A- for story, A+ for narration

 “It was an Opening,” she whispered.

 “It was…you,” he said.

OH. MY. GOD. You people weren’t kidding about this book. Good lord. It’s going to take me months to recover my equilibrium, and god help whatever books I’m reading and listening to next.

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (original 1992 cover)The minus on the story grade is for the slight lag in the pacing after the [NO SPOILERS], and I wondered about Maddie being called “Duchess” instead of “Your Grace,” and I couldn’t figure out why her father didn’t play more of a role in her spiritual conundrum, but then I had to replay the last chapter three times because, you know, OH. MY. GOD.

[Gimme a sec, I need to swoon again: *~*SWOON*~* <thud>]

Sorry, where was I? With the wrong narrator, this audiobook would have been a disaster of epic proportions. Nicholas Boulton captured Jervaulx’s anger and anguish — and Maddy’s longing and confusion — so bloody brilliantly I had my headphones on all night for four nights straight. And I stayed up until 3 o’clock this morning and I don’t care if I fall asleep at my desk and drool on my keyboard.

These characters, and all their lovely, glorious angst, will live with me — and I can’t think of much higher praise for an author than that.

Audiobook Adventure: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

  • Title(s): The Bronze Bow
  • Author: Elizabeth George Speare
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical, Young Adult
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1961
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 ebook promo, $1.99 audio)
  • Length: 256 pages (7.5 hours)
  • Trope(s): Coming of Age, Angry Young Man, Revenge and Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Young blacksmith’s dreams of avenging his father’s death are disrupted by the unwanted responsibilities of adulthood — and his encounters with a charismatic traveling preacher.
  • Quick review: Now THIS is how to write historical fiction.
  • Grade: B+ for story, A for narration

He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

This book won the Newbery Medal in 1962, and I can’t believe I’ve never read it before. The historical world-building is utterly enthralling, and narrator Pete Bradbury made the complex characters vivid and unique — I was there every minute, and there were more than a few times I lingered in the parking lot when I arrived at work to listen just a few minutes longer.

The plot went in directions I never expected, and I loved how the secondary characters grew and changed — even more so than the main character. Just when you think Daniel has finally gotten his head out of his nether regions, he has another hissy fit about something and must begin his spiritual and emotional journey all over again. My frustrations with his self-centered cluelessness lowered the grade a bit, but this book might just have a place on the DIK list.