Guest Post: “Writing Crazy” by Michael R. Fletcher
Today I’m pleased to present a guest post from the one and only Michael R. Fletcher, author of Beyond Redemption and also Grandmaster of the Insane! *whispers* Trust me, folks, he knows what he’s talking about. Don’t believe me? Just get a load of his crazy post! And also don’t forget to check out his book, which is bar none the best grimdark fantasy novel I’ve read this year, out now from Harper Voyager.
* * *
by Michael R. Fletcher
Beyond Redemption takes place in a world where reality responds to the whims of humanity. If enough people believe the same thing, that belief will manifest. The twist is that crazy folks, the demented and insane, are capable of believing things so strongly they can alter reality all on their own. They are also capable of believing all manner of impossibilities and manifesting it as reality. Cotardists—folks who believe themselves to be rotting or dying—will actually begin to rot. Pyromaniacs can spark fires with their thoughts. Kleptomaniacs know where all your left socks are. You get the idea. I’ve taken real world mental disorders and turned them into wizards. Kind of. If you’d like to read more on the background I’ve done a series of posts detailing the workings of the world of Manifest Delusions.
A quick aside if I may: If you believe something with absolutely no evidence, and in-spite of a fair amount of proof contrary to whatever it is you believe, do you really qualify as sane? Or is this more of an intelligence question? If someone blindly believes something with zero evidence, can they possibly qualify as intelligent? I honestly don’t know. After all, it’s not like I am without my own delusions.
Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes!
So here I was with this world I’d dreamed up and a story I wanted to tell and virtually every single one of the characters involved was one flavour of crazy. Some were two or even three flavours. On the one hand this seems like a writer’s dream: My characters are crazy, they don’t have to make sense!
There are two possible issues with this.
1) You allow the idea to run rampant and end up with a book that has no discernible plot. Your crazy characters make crazy choices and your book reads like an insane asylum where the inmates have been dosed with LSD and allowed to run rampant. Damn. That sounds like an awesome book.
2) No one can relate to any of your characters because all their choices are insane.
Today I am going to—very briefly—look at how I handled each of these issues. And I’m going to pretend it was all intentional. Just imagine me sitting down and thinking all this through before I started writing the book. Contemplate the amount of planning and forethought I might have used. Consider the sheer genius involved in figuring all this out before a single word was written! Revel in my— What? You’re not buying it?
The thing with crazy people is that, while they might not make sense to sane people like you and me, they do tend to be consistent within the parameters of their delusions. Having an insane character doesn’t give the author freedom to write whatever wandering insanity pitches its tent in their demented little imaginations. In fact, quite the opposite. To write madness you must delve deep into the wounded psyche of your characters. What made them this way? Is it genetic, or the result of childhood trauma? Was it caused by physical brain damage, or is it due to narcotic and/or alcohol abuse? Background is everything. It determines your character’s choices. Santayana may have said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” but let’s face it, for most people, their past is their future.
To write the mad character you must be the mad character. You must see every event through their eyes, filtered by their delusions.
And now for the truly difficult part. How do you write an insane character so that readers will relate to them and not think your book is irredeemably depressing and populated by delusional psychotics no sane person could ever relate to?
Muahhahahahah! (that, by the way, is an evil laugh)
If you do the first part right, if you write so that your characters are true to themselves, consistent with their nature, readers will relate. Readers want struggle, they want characters with flaws. They want your characters to make mistakes. Give it to them, but do it honestly.
Or maybe there are so many crazy people out there, people who are able to bury deep their delusions and make it through each day mistaken for one of the sane, that you can write crazy characters and get away with it. Or maybe sanity is itself a delusion! What if the reason so many folks enjoy Beyond Redemption is because they see something in the struggles of my mad characters mirroring their own daily struggle through the split-pea soup of reality?
In truth, I have no idea.
* * *
Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author. His novel, Beyond Redemption, a work of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, was published by HARPER Voyager in 2015.
His début novel, 88, a cyberpunk tale about harvesting children for their brains, was released by Five Rivers Publishing in 2013.
The next two Manifest Delusions novels, The Mirror’s Truth, and The All Consuming, are currently in various stages of editing while Michael tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.
Michael is represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.