Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I think my main character is crazy.

I'm about 20,000 words into a draft and the select few that I've allowed to read it in its raw form think that my main character is crazy.

Now, I didn't think of this before -- I'm used to writing characters as I know them. There may be some definite traits that I'd like to include, but after the first few thousand, they tend to write themselves. So, I wrote my main character, Nero, as himself, and he turned out to appear paranoid.

I'm almost smelling a double standard. The character must be themselves, and yet, if the character has any sort of mental illness the mental illness must be researched thoroughly. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not against research, but I'd rather keep it out of this.

I've had some very strange comments about these characters from someone who I think is a psychology student. He commented on things that I'd heard in studies, like how women would sit across from each other if they were going to talk for eye contact and men would sit next to each other if they were going to talk. At first, I didn't know what to make of it, but then I decided that I'd take it no heed. If I really needed to know how guys talked to each other, I have a feeling that I'd be better watching them talk in their own natural habitats than taking some research in which I didn't know anything about the circumstances or the testing groups.

Nero is an individual in very idiosyncratic circumstances, and I'd like him to remain that way. I'm only going by what feels right for the story.

I'm hoping writing can be like painting a still-life -- it may not exactly be true to what the subject looked like, but if the picture's good enough, nobody will notice.


hannah said...

"I'm almost smelling a double standard. The character must be themselves, and yet, if the character has any sort of mental illness the mental illness must be researched thoroughly."

This is completely a problem I've had. I had a character who had (surprise!) an eating disorder that manifested as a sort of atypical bulimia. I had several people tell me, "Nope, this isn't characteristic of bulimia." Um, I KNOW. It's characteristic of DMITRI. He's a character, not a disorder, and this is what he does. I don't care if it doesn't fit perfectly into a definition.

Catherine said...

I find it odd that people can generalise about mental illness that way.

Sure, they may be certain specifics that are across the board, but mental illness comes in so many shapes and varieties and combinations... just...yeah *boggles*

It's the same thing as people saying "Oh a girl wouldn't do that" or "no boy would say that."

Wrong wrong wrong, please to be taking your generalizations and shoving them up your arse.

Jordan said...

I think you can do whatever you want to your character and inflict whatever malady you want upon him (including made-up ones) as long as it's consistent to the CHARACTER. Just like in a fantasy setting, where there are certain rules that govern what can/might happen so the reader can comfortably know the boundaries of possibility and properly anticipate the likelihood of certain things happening in the story, your characters have "rules" and "boundaries" that dictate what's possible for them.

I think Nero can be whatever he wants to be as long as it remains consistent, like, no new neuroses popping up a thousand words from the climax because that neuroses will help him there.

Also I don't think you have to follow a checklist of symptoms when making him clinically "crazy," but perhaps knowing what sort of symptoms are likely and choosing the ones that work for you (and adding your own) can make his mental problems more real. Then readers can identify with him and still recognize him as a unique character.

That was really rambling. Sorry. I have been having this same problem with my pedophile character. It's taken a lot of (really icky) soul searching to get it right.

Vanessa Concannon said...

I'm running into the same issue with a new story. I'm pretty certain one of my MCs has depersonalization disorder...just because it's the one that serves the story best. Maybe there's a little paranoid-delusional in there, too.

My solution? Appropriate vagueness. It's hard to pull off with a case like Hannah's, with bulimia, but with something like paranoia like Nero has, vagueness is totally acceptable. My character, Eva, is gonna be obviously "off", with pills, a therapist, and scheduled meditation practices, but I'm never going to label her as depersonalized, obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, or anything else. Let the readers guess, mwahahaha.

I don't know if everyone's read it, but in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, the MC is pretty idiosyncratic. A little too much so to be "normal"--for instance, he only wears white clothes. He probably has a disorder like Asperger's or OCD, but no one ever mentions a diagnosis. He simply is how he is. Good reasearch for someone in a situation like yours, Hap.