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AXavierB
09-23-2008, 12:06 PM
I'm new here, and this is sort of a strange question. I've been wondering what approach I should use in depicting a slow descent to insanity by one of the characters in my story.

This character is the antagonist in a romance I'm writing. He's a teenaged boy who picks on and teases one of the three main characters because he's envious of his friendship with one of the other main characters. He starts out as an annoying character, but my background idea for him is that he was bullied in school and abused at home, and over time he developed severe schizophrenia which finally manifests itself near the end of the story.

I was wondering exactly how to depict his transition. As the antagonist of a romance, he's a minor character, and the main focus should be on the romantic relationship in the story, so how can I give him enough background and attention to show this development of insanity in this stage of his life?

urbanespaceman
09-23-2008, 12:25 PM
Without being funny I reckon you have a whole lot of research to do here - you haven't picked an easy subject ;) (I'm assuming from the tone of your post that you don't know a lot about schizophrenia already ...)

I'm not an expert but I'd say you need to find out what sort of triggers there can be for this - is there a family history? You'll need to put some fair amount of biographical detail in to explain what's happening without it seeming like a bolt from the blue.

My suggestion would be to read about and understand the disease first before you start trying to create the bio, that way you should have a good idea of what sort of incidents you need to put in his past.

TheAntar
09-23-2008, 12:39 PM
If appropriate to your audience, the use of cussing in the novel could be mostly reserved for the guy in "psycho mode" to clearly indicate when he's having an episode.

Or, when he's not being aggressive perhaps add a small stutter to his speech, something I find v-very easy to d-do without putting too much emphasis on the subject. :)

hammerklavier
09-23-2008, 05:33 PM
Watch "Caddyshack" and "Funny Farm", they both have characters that go insane.

vixey
09-23-2008, 05:39 PM
If appropriate to your audience, the use of cussing in the novel could be mostly reserved for the guy in "psycho mode" to clearly indicate when he's having an episode.

Welcome!!

Or, when he's not being aggressive perhaps add a small stutter to his speech, something I find v-very easy to d-do without putting too much emphasis on the subject. :)

I researched stuttering for a character. Read up on it before you apply it as an indication of insanity. Stuttering begins as children learn how to speak. In many cases it's physiological, in others it's learned. It usually resolves by adulthood, but not always. So, if you choose to use stuttering, your character would have been afflicted as a child.

ETA: I agree with Kevin. There's so much more research you can do by googling stuff before asking here.

IceCreamEmpress
09-23-2008, 08:04 PM
my background idea for him is that he was bullied in school and abused at home, and over time he developed severe schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is an organic illness. It may be exacerbated by stressors, but it's not a product of stressors.

NeuroFizz
09-23-2008, 08:20 PM
Mental diseases and mental challenges are not automatically categorized as insanity, and strange (unusual) behavior can occur over a wide range of severity. Some are caused by organic problems, some by genetic abnormalities, some without any documentable physiological substrate. You really need to dive into the research (as others have suggested) because your ideas, as expressed here, seem like they'll lead to a very stereotypical (and likely incorrect) expression of your character's behavior.

Some of the best examples of psychological suspense are the ones that take extreme behaviors (emotional behaviors) of otherwise normal people and push them a little farther--out onto the "ledge." The characters don't have to be hearing voices, or be embroiled in visual hallucinations.

If you want to create a villian out of this kid, you'd probably be better off NOT giving that character an "easy out" in the form of a diagnosed mental illness. That might let the reader excuse some of the character's actions, and you will lose some of the potential impact of his deteriorating behavior.

Beach Bunny
09-23-2008, 08:29 PM
You need to do some research on mental illness in general so that you select the correct one for your character. I think someone with that kind of background would develop MPD (Multiple Personality Disroder) or Bipolar Disorder, not schizophrenia. People exhibiting those types of behaviors tend to be erroneously called "schizo."

Lyra Jean
09-23-2008, 09:05 PM
Read "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman. A great short story dealing with insanity.

Also like others have stated research, research, research.

Ken
09-23-2008, 10:11 PM
was going to have one of the minor characters in my current work lose their sanity. Had a cool way of showing it. Unfortunately I had to nix the scene. Just couldn't fit it in. // Good luck. And yep, like others say, do the research first.

blacbird
09-23-2008, 10:29 PM
Read "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman. A great short story dealing with insanity.

I second this, and also add "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" by Conrad Aiken, and "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" by Ray Bradbury.

caw

Ageless Stranger
09-23-2008, 10:48 PM
I'm new here, and this is sort of a strange question. I've been wondering what approach I should use in depicting a slow descent to insanity by one of the characters in my story.

This character is the antagonist in a romance I'm writing. He's a teenaged boy who picks on and teases one of the three main characters because he's envious of his friendship with one of the other main characters. He starts out as an annoying character, but my background idea for him is that he was bullied in school and abused at home, and over time he developed severe schizophrenia which finally manifests itself near the end of the story.

I was wondering exactly how to depict his transition. As the antagonist of a romance, he's a minor character, and the main focus should be on the romantic relationship in the story, so how can I give him enough background and attention to show this development of insanity in this stage of his life?

I have a similar problem AXavier. I'm writing a mystery/detective/fantasy. My antagonist begins to go insane (and she starts off as not being too particularly stable as it is) and hallucinates, becomes paranoid, questions everything not matter how likely/unlikely it is. I never go into try to analyse her or pin it down beyond "she's going over the deep end". But needless to say, her prior actions, thoughts and following actions, clearly show her gradual descent into madness.

kuwisdelu
09-23-2008, 10:54 PM
Definitely research. I'd stop reading right at your first post, because--as others have pointed out--you can't really "go schizophrenic" in the way people throw around the phrase "go insane." Either you're schizophrenic or you're not....it may not come out in many people until after certain stresses trigger them (such as abuse), but schizophrenia cannot come about solely through environmental or "nurture" factors.

I also highly recommend NeuroFizz's advise. Sometimes giving a character you're trying to depict as "going insane" a diagnosed mental illness is a bit of a cop-out. There are great stories about mentally ill characters, but too often I see writers asking "help! what mental illness does my character have??"

I write about mentally ill characters a lot, and I write about insane characters, too. They're not always the same. Even with the mentally ill characters, I rarely pin down their illness, even though I could if I wanted to--I'm in love and live with someone mentally ill, so I know a fair bit about mental illness--but I prefer to just let the character be himself or herself. Knowing what kinds of diseases give what kinds of symptoms certainly help, but when you start thinking about the illness too much, you could start thinking "what would a schizophrenic do in this situation?" instead of "what would John (who just happens to be schizophrenic) do in this situation?"

So that's my warning about that. Remember, a character driven insane does not necessarily need to have a diagnosable mental illness, and even when they do--don't let that illness rule their character. Would the Joker be nearly as interesting if we could just say "oh, he's a sociopath"? Sure, he fits that description, but there's a lot more to the character than that.

And research! A lot!

tehuti88
09-23-2008, 10:56 PM
I have nothing to add but wanted to thank everyone here so much for their insistence on research. The utter misunderstanding of mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia, just grates on me so much every time I see it!!

--Tehuti, who is not schizophrenic but is diagnosed schizotypal (look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls)

kuwisdelu
09-23-2008, 11:04 PM
I should mention the stories I've written about mental illness and going insane were fairly well received by my beloved mentally ill beta reader. According to her, the characterizations were great, logical, and nearly flawless. But nonetheless, somewhat shallow. In her opinion, it's not completely possible to get it quite right without letting yourself fall into that world and that mindset.

So if you don't like research, just go the method writer route, and lock yourself in a hotel room for several months with nothing but a journal and copies of The Killing Joke and Arkham Aslyum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth. Don't mix your pills up. ;)

AXavierB
09-23-2008, 11:45 PM
Definitely research. I'd stop reading right at your first post, because--as others have pointed out--you can't really "go schizophrenic" in the way people throw around the phrase "go insane." Either you're schizophrenic or you're not....it may not come out in many people until after certain stresses trigger them (such as abuse), but schizophrenia cannot come about solely through environmental or "nurture" factors.

I also highly recommend NeuroFizz's advise. Sometimes giving a character you're trying to depict as "going insane" a diagnosed mental illness is a bit of a cop-out. There are great stories about mentally ill characters, but too often I see writers asking "help! what mental illness does my character have??"

I write about mentally ill characters a lot, and I write about insane characters, too. They're not always the same. Even with the mentally ill characters, I rarely pin down their illness, even though I could if I wanted to--I'm in love and live with someone mentally ill, so I know a fair bit about mental illness--but I prefer to just let the character be himself or herself. Knowing what kinds of diseases give what kinds of symptoms certainly help, but when you start thinking about the illness too much, you could start thinking "what would a schizophrenic do in this situation?" instead of "what would John (who just happens to be schizophrenic) do in this situation?"

So that's my warning about that. Remember, a character driven insane does not necessarily need to have a diagnosable mental illness, and even when they do--don't let that illness rule their character. Would the Joker be nearly as interesting if we could just say "oh, he's a sociopath"? Sure, he fits that description, but there's a lot more to the character than that.

And research! A lot!

Thanks!

My misunderstanding of the causes of schizophrenia came from misinterpretation of a list of symptoms and causes. Also, I used to confuse MPD with schizophrenia, but I recently read that they were different.

I've done a little research on mental illness, but I think you're right about not diagnosing the character with a specific illness. That would be blatant. I also don't want him to be like those stereotypes of mentally ill people as irrational people who go on uncontrollable killing sprees, so I'm going to tone his actions down from what I previously had in mind.

Thanks for all your responses!

Mr Flibble
09-24-2008, 12:10 AM
I also don't want him to be like those stereotypes of mentally ill people as irrational people who go on uncontrollable killing sprees

Dang, there goes my get out of jail free card.

We all have those days when we're feeling a little flaky round the edges. Try using that, deepen it, think what if this happened on top, what would I do - how would I lose my grip on reality? Go through the thought processes of your guy, see how he would react. I don't recommend doing this for too long at a time however....

Of course, this is easier for those of us with only a tenuous grasp of what reality actually is.

TheAntar
09-24-2008, 12:55 AM
I researched stuttering for a character. Read up on it before you apply it as an indication of insanity. Stuttering begins as children learn how to speak. In many cases it's physiological, in others it's learned. It usually resolves by adulthood, but not always. So, if you choose to use stuttering, your character would have been afflicted as a child.

My point was there are ways, if multiple personalities is something our beloved OP is going for, to indicate a stark difference without too much detail which 'version' of the 'bad guy' is talking. Stuttering may be one, and is certainly well within the possibilities when it comes to multiple personalities (which is what I infer the OP to be talking about, maybe I'm wrong maybe not).

Either way, regardless of researching the diseases and all that stuff which is great advice, sometimes a simple distinguishing 'marker' could be useful as a reader and I tried to provide two possibilities/suggestions/starters.

Beach Bunny
09-24-2008, 01:03 AM
My misunderstanding of the causes of schizophrenia came from misinterpretation of a list of symptoms and causes. Also, I used to confuse MPD with schizophrenia, but I recently read that they were different.
Most people who have little experience with mentally ill people do confuse those two. I think it's because we have the slang phrases "He's schizo" or "going schizo" to describe someone who's shifted from one personality to another or all of a sudden for no apparent reason flips out.

There is a lot of variability in the behaviors of people who have schizophrenia so getting it "right" will take a bit of research. The movie "A Beautiful Mind" might be of some use to you in your research. I thought the portayal by Russell Crowe was fairly accurate.

ishtar'sgate
09-24-2008, 01:23 AM
Get a good book on psychology. I'm making one of the characters in my current wip bipolar. I'm using the text, Psychology: The Frontiers of Behaviour. Get a book like that and check out schizophrenia to make sure you're handling it correctly. There are several types of schizophrenia. For example, disorganized (hebephrenic) schizophrenia, involves some of the most bizarre psychotic behaviour. Here's an example from the book.
A fourteen-year old girl had difficulty getting along with her high school classmates and one of her teachers. As her interpersonal problems worsened, her behavior became more and more bizarre. She had violent outbursts, heard voices and spoke incoherently. She behaved very impulsively, stated that a popular singer was persuing her with a knife and also said that her father was plotting against her and that she was pregant. She totally neglected her pysical appearance, lost bowel control and danced noisily throughout the hospital ward on which she was living.
That's probably more bizarre than you want but you get the idea.
Linnea

willfulone
09-24-2008, 01:36 AM
What specific questions do you have? I have a schizophrenic son who is now 15 1/2. But, he was diagnosed at 9 and had issues much earlier than that. I can tell you what things you want to know from a real life experience. However, you will have to realize that the answers I supply are related only to my son and our situation (ie: HIS issues, afflictions, reactions, "habits", thoughts, feelings, expressions, etc.). What happens to him is not what happens across the spectrum of all schizophrenics. But, if you post your specific questions, I can answer them to the best of my ability and give you at least one real life perspective. Additionally, if you need resources, I can provide a ton. I have to live with this daily, I do not do so unarmed.

Let me know if I can help and good luck!

Christine

ETA: Do NOT put in a stutter as a part of your affliction for the sake of it. Stuttering is not a prevalent issue in this population. If they stutter it is for they would anyway. However, hesitatant speech is not uncommon for they try to order thoughts, listen to the "voices" and/or hesitate for what they say may sound odd. Or, they start and just lose the thought they wished to convey (schizophrenics). I have a degree in Speech and Language Pathology. I can tell you that stuttering is NOT a symptom or by product of schizophrenia. If it happens that one has both, it is coincidence and non related.

Sean D. Schaffer
09-24-2008, 07:46 AM
I agree with the sentiment that your character's illness should not be specifically diagnosed. I know a lot of people who seem to have mental issues who at the same time don't want to get them checked out for fear that they might be labeled as crazy ... or simply don't realize they have such issues. He can show traits of mental problems over the years in your story and either be terrified of being found out as mentally ill or worse yet, not even realize his thoughts are abnormal.

Another thing that I might add, is that stuttering could be a sign of abuse in the character's life. I stutter every now-and-then, because memories of past abuses in my own life come up at the most inopportune times, and they cause me to get really quiet and be unsure of myself when I'm talking to certain people.

One thing you could try is, as the character has been bullied in school, having your character stutter or stammer when dealing with particular characters who have abused him in his school days. From personal experience with the same exact problem, I would say if you're going to use stuttering at all, this scenario would be one of the better ways to use it.

AXavierB
09-24-2008, 07:54 AM
I agree with the sentiment that your character's illness should not be specifically diagnosed. I know a lot of people who seem to have mental issues who at the same time don't want to get them checked out for fear that they might be labeled as crazy ... or simply don't realize they have such issues. He can show traits of mental problems over the years in your story and either be terrified of being found out as mentally ill or worse yet, not even realize his thoughts are abnormal.

Another thing that I might add, is that stuttering could be a sign of abuse in the character's life. I stutter every now-and-then, because memories of past abuses in my own life come up at the most inopportune times, and they cause me to get really quiet and be unsure of myself when I'm talking to certain people.

One thing you could try is, as the character has been bullied in school, having your character stutter or stammer when dealing with particular characters who have abused him in his school days. From personal experience with the same exact problem, I would say if you're going to use stuttering at all, this scenario would be one of the better ways to use it.

That sounds like a good idea, and I think I'll use it.

I was also thinking of using word salad, which is when a person speaks clearly, but the words are in the wrong order and so end up making no sense. I heard that could sometimes be a symptom of some illnesses.

Sean D. Schaffer
09-24-2008, 07:58 AM
That sounds like a good idea, and I think I'll use it.

I was also thinking of using word salad, which is when a person speaks clearly, but the words are in the wrong order and so end up making no sense. I heard that could sometimes be a symptom of some illnesses.


I have a similar problem myself. I will insert the wrong word where I intended something totally different to be.

Have you ever ordered a BK Broiler with no ONIONS? I did. They don't come with onions; they come with tomatoes, which I described in great detail to the gentleman behind the Burger King counter years ago. He then explained to me "Sir, that's a tomato."

To which I replied, "What did I say?"

"You said 'onion'."

"Oops. Sorry."

Chasing the Horizon
09-24-2008, 09:01 AM
If you're interested in writing any characters with mental illness, I suggest you get a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition). This is the official diagnostic guide put out by the American Psychiatric Association. Every officially recognized mental disorder is listed in it, along with complete lists of diagnostic criteria (symptoms), and other information like usual coarse and prevalence. Even though I rarely name specific psychiatric disorders in my writing, I find this book extremely helpful, as it basically describes every form insanity and mental illness can take.

For instance, if you had a copy of the DSM-IV to refer to, you would know that Multiple Personality Disorder no longer exists. Its name was changed to Dissociative Identity Disorder in this latest edition of the DSM. :)

tehuti88
09-24-2008, 06:53 PM
Wikipedia is a good place to start if you can't find or afford a DSM-IV (they seem to be pricey when I see them at eBay):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disord ers

If you Google the name of any mental illness, Wikipedia articles are likely to be near the top. From the bottom of any such article you can often find links to info on many other disorders. For example, try "Schizophrenia" or "Dissociative identity disorder."

MPD (the term) is outdated, but still highly used as it's more easily recognizable as a name. The misunderstanding between schizophrenia and MPD/DID actually came about due to "schizophrenia" literally meaning "split mind," meaning as in "split off from reality" rather than "split personality" (another commonly used misnomer).

AXavierB
09-25-2008, 09:43 PM
All right, I'm going to look through that list of illnesses and see if I can find any good ways to apply them.

tehuti88
09-26-2008, 01:13 AM
Good luck. :) It's a very interesting field of study, I admit.