Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
His novel, BEYOND REDEMPTION, a work of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, is being published by HARPER Voyager and is slated for release in the summer of 2015.
His début novel, 88, was released by Five Rivers Publishing and tastes like dystopia with a dash of cyberpunk. 88 is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and elsewhere.
The next two Manifest Delusions novels, THE ALL CONSUMING and WHEN FAR-GONE DEAD RETURN, have been written and are waiting for him to edit them.
The underlying premise of Beyond Redemption is nothing new: Belief defines reality. My goal however was to take it somewhere a little different. If the beliefs of the sane could define reality, what were the beliefs of the deranged capable of? The entire novel really fell out of that one question, and what I ended up with was a cast of insane characters. Though the majority of the world’s population are sane, there is only one stable character in the entire novel. Even he is a little too sane, if you know what I mean. Sanity probably shouldn’t be something you cling to tooth and nail.
I’d like to step away from our regularly scheduled program for a brief public service message: Nothing I say should be construed as advice. On anything. Ever. I am not telling you how to write delusional characters, I’m just blathering on about how I did it.
And so, my advice on writing madness…
A) Cheat. That’s what I did. One of the main characters, a Gefahrgeist (Sociopath) is someone I know very well. Much of the character’s dialogue is either based on things this self-centred charming bastard said during conversations we shared. The rest of it is a direct quote. There are of course some disadvantages to this method. Surrounding yourself with crazy people can be a little rough on your own psyche. Some of them—Wütend (Amok) and Wendigast (Wendigo Psychosis)—are both downright dangerous and surprisingly difficult to find; at least where I live. As such sometimes you have to fall back on plan…
B) Research. No, I’m not going to tell you how to research stuff. And now, because I finally saw Breaking Bad: You gotta google that shit, yo.
But there’s more. Writing insane people is not an excuse to throw logic to the wind. Crazy doesn’t mean stupid. Far from it. I might even be so bold as to suggest that frighteningly intelligent people are not only more likely to lose their minds, but are also more interesting when they do. I might be. Hold on, checking boldness levels…nope. Never mind.
My goal with Beyond Redemption was to write insane characters but make sure they remained true to their delusions. They had to be consistent and logical within the framework of their madness. Your Gefahrgeist character can’t suddenly fall in love, though he can pretend to.
Thinking about what I do (and why) is a rarity for me. I’ve always been more of a Taoist by nature. Socrates seems like he was probably a bit of a dick. I mean, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ I’d be hard pressed to find a single sentence that more clearly displays the inherent weakness of Western philosophy. Uh…but this is probably not the place for that. What was I talking about? Oh! Right!
The unexamined life…the unplanned novel. I knew there was a link there somewhere.
I am what is sometimes referred to as a pantser. I don’t spend a lot of time planning my novels. I tend to have an idea how they start, a picture of what the end will look like (which is usually wrong), and a couple of themes I want to explore. When I do plan it’s never more than a couple of chapters in advance, and even then it’s usually just a few point-form notes. This probably also explains the rambling nature of this post.
How does any of that relate to writing insane characters?
Character as plot.
I didn’t plan Beyond Redemption. I had a fistful of deranged characters, a plot so simple it was laughable, a few themes, and I knew how I wanted it to end. The best way I can describe the writing experience is this: I threw the characters into my plot and then stood back to let them decide the story. Yeah, I understand that it was me deciding what the characters would do, but just play along. The plot didn’t follow a nice clean arc because this story was the result of crazy people making decisions that only had to make sense within the framework of their delusions. Or maybe within the framework of my delusions. Dunno. It all gets a little confusing in here.
In the end I had a Gefahrgeist, a Kleptic, and a frighteningly sane old man on one side, and a Doppelgangist (Syndrome of Subjective Doubles), a Hassebrand (Pyromaniac), and some Cotardists and Therianthropes on the other.
How could it end badly?