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How do you get inside the head of a psychotic character?
Mia Factor
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 7:00 PM
Joined: 2/28/2011
Posts: 1

Working on a thriller and struggling a bit with one of the characters. What are your tricks for getting inside the head of a psychotic character?

Rhonda Lane
Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 10:49 PM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 3

I just did this - well, I hope it worked - recently. I had to write a sympathetic-to-a-point first-person narrator, who the reader realizes is mentally unstable. He hears voices telling him to do things. I found a video on YouTube, a movie clip, that sounded like the voice inside his head. I also found a song that could drop my mind into his vibe or energy. I'm just glad it was for a short story. What works for me may not work for you, but that's a start. Good luck with your character, Mia
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 12:46 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 10

I guess I'd say first that no matter what kind of a character this is, she believes what she believes, and her actions are dictated by things she believes to be true. If she is meant to be evil, just remember that evil people, real or imagined, don't believe they are evil. They believe they're doing what's right, or what they have to do. Give her a list of rules, a list of things she believes, and make her consistent within that skewed viewpoint. I hope that helps a little bit.
KD Sarge
Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011 3:39 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 15

Agreeing with Gwen--it's a matter of finding how your character sees things. It can be very difficult not to mention repugnant, but if you find your character's rules, I think you'll be able to do it.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011 8:25 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

First off, what do you mean by psychotic. A lot of people mean different things by that word. Does he hear and see things? Do voices tell him to do things. Does he have a dearth of positive emotions, and exists solely to please himself? Is there an attached egomania? Build out his exact symptoms. Thats a first step.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 3:35 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 376

Alexander and Gwen have two good first steps; building his worldview and his pathology. An additional point to remember is that people are not wholly rational; their worldview can and will often contain mutually incompatible things.

Also, and this can be important, not all violent characters or killers are psychotic. Different cultures can place different values on human life. Even Western culture has occasionally placed "Death before Dishonor". That won't keep other people from *calling* him psychotic, of course, but as the author you need to know exactly why the character does what they do.

Unless you're writing a complete bats*** insane character, like some incarnations of The Joker from Batman or River Tam from Firefly. Actually, there is a phenomenal example of that latter in Stephen Brust's "My Own Kind of Freedom", Brust actually writes portions of the story from River's POV, and he does an excellent job of showing *exactly* how River comes to the conclusion that the most comforting thing she can say to Simon is "I'm almost certain Wash won't crash Serenity into the mansion."

Anywho. Plot out the internal rationale, don't be concerned if there is acceptable cognitive dissonance, and know the pathology. That's all I got.
Posted: Friday, April 15, 2011 1:32 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 8

When I'm at a loss, I always try to figure out how someone else did it and did it well.
Not really "psychotic," but two books that immediately come to mind that dealt well with mental health-related abnormalities are "Motherless Brooklyn" (Jonathan Lethem) where the character has a verbal form of Tourette Syndrome and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" (Mark Haddon) where the character is an autistic teen. Just on the same bookshelf, there's also "Timbuktu" (Paul Auster) from the POV of a dog, and "Boy Detective Fails" (Joe Meno) in which the main character is kind of grown man-child trying to reclaim some lost sense of self that may have all been in his head. Robert Crais has several later books with snippets or chapters written from inside a sociopathic or otherwise defective villain, though the library switching kept knocking me out of the bad guy's head in "Demolition Angel." (That could have been a "FL thing," though as I've never heard another complaint about it.)
Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 10:00 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 18

Let me introduce you to some of my relatives. My Aunt Augusta alone should be good for an entire series-worth of psychotic fodder.

Other than that, I think you have to study your subject. Research books, interviews with psychiatrists, detectives, etc...
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 2:00 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 194

How do you get inside a psychotic character?   Lots and lots of research.   Read the medical descriptions of psychosis.  Read case studies.  Interview forensic psychologists/psychiatrists.    Decide (with advice from the experts) on what kind of psychosis fits the kind of thriller you're writing.   Decide how much of the time you want the reader to be in close contact with the psychotic mind, and why.   Spend time with this character (in your own head) and take enough time to do the research right.
Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 2:00 PM
Joined: 6/18/2014
Posts: 6

Find something in real life that annoys you; then write it into your story also annoying your character. Good! Now build on how you are feeling. Hope I helped some.
kevin andrew
Posted: Sunday, October 5, 2014 1:26 PM
Joined: 11/11/2013
Posts: 1

I'm currently writing a different genre for me. A psychological thriller. I've always been a fan of reading stories of that genre but it's the first time I gave it go. So really don't want to get into story details but in order to write the story I had to get into heads of multiple psychotic characters. It's definitely a challenge for any writer. But what type of psychotic character? One who kills or stalks? There's so many types of psychopaths and that's really what makes it such a big challenge to accomplish. In my story however, I had to make multiple murdering characters who are almost at competition with each other throughout the story for dominance. I wanted the characters to be believable and trusting as if they could be your neighbor who would do anything for you. Most psychopaths are people who you really wouldn't even know are psychotic. So create these characters as a trusting individual with a hidden darkness that comes out when it is necessary for the flow story. Hidden dangers and fearing things you can't see is always crucial to a good classic horror story. So write the psychotic character as you would as any other character.
Janet Umenta, Book Country Assistant
Posted: Monday, October 6, 2014 4:02 PM
Joined: 4/7/2014
Posts: 141

Good point, Kevin. I think that's what makes psychological thrillers so engrossing. It's terrifying to think how normal humans can turn so dark!  Looking forward to reading your work.

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