Insane Characters

Through the two submission rounds I’ve had for Allasso, I haven’t received a single piece that has had an insane character.  A few had druggies or drunks (who are very similar), but my writers have spared me the loony bin.

To my dear writers: I thank you.

I’ve been doing improv comedy for about 10 years now, and one thing I learned there is that insane, drunk, and drugged characters almost always fail.  When people watch comedy, whether consciously or not, they look for something in the characters that rings true with them.  Although insane characters can have elements of reality, they often become so off-the-wall that those elements are hidden or forgotten.  Unfortunately, this leads to a very boring or awkward scene, and neither of those is what the audience wants.  Side characters can sometimes do this successfully as long as they don’t try to become the focus of the scene.

So if you have a character who becomes drunk, drugged or insane, how can you deal with her?  How can you make her feel real?

My first recommendation is to tone the craziness back.  Think about how odd they are, and make them one step more normal.  The characters can be infinitely more interesting than the insanity.

Second, find something about the character that holds true, both when they are drunk as well as sober.  This should be the focus.  Make the insanity give us reason to think about the character’s problem, family, despair or success.

And finally, if neither of those two things does the job, then give the reader something deeper to consider.  “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, for example, shows the main character slip into insanity because of extreme sexism in her world.  Her insanity is constant in ways (the woman lost in the wallpaper), but the story is definitely not about her.

In Allasso, Volume 2, Alice Dryden’s story “Tiger Light” revolves around drugged characters in a fantastical, sexual, and oddly humorous manner.  This story will be an example of how insanity can work into anthropomorphic writing.  Be sure to read it when the publication comes out on May 1st.



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4 responses to “Insane Characters

  1. Dwale

    Not sure how you concluded that the protagonist from “Scarheart” was anything but a madwoman.

    • Heh, you’ve got a point. I should’ve mentioned that. I don’t think it jumped to mind because the protagonist had a steady descent into insanity. Honestly, the last section of that story was beautiful to me; that’s not the only way to do insanity, but it really worked.

      • Dwale

        Having been institutionalized and with a long and not very pretty history of substance abuse, you might say I have an inside track. Almost all of my stories feature altered consciousness as a major component of the plot…like people say, “write what you know!”

        I’m pleased to hear that you found beauty in “The House at the End of the World.” That segment is probably the most intensely personal thing I’ve ever written outside of poetry.

  2. Gah, I’ve only just found these blog posts, and I’m even namechecked in one! I will keep a closer eye on things in future :)

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