Show the Crazy!

by limebirdamber

“I’m so lost inside but I don’t know what to do. I act fine on the outside but I never feel content or safe inside. I think everyone is out to get me, so I have to stay on my toes. I must not let on that I know they are after me. That would only make it worse. I wish I could trust them,” Matthew thought.

Matthew obviously has some internal conflict going on, doesn’t he? Poor baby.

Showing internal conflict makes for very interesting characters. The more messed up they are, the more fun it is to write, and then read.

Some conflict shouldn’t be resolved by the end of the story, in my opinion. Our characters can’t become perfect people. Real people have faults; deep rooted psychological damage. You have the designated leader character, who feels incompetent. By being leader, he slowly becomes more comfortable with it. Does his main issue leave him though? What caused the incompetent feelings? It may or may not be resolved. How much fire does he go through to forge him?

You have a character with a diagnosed mental illness, say paranoid personality, like in the original example. That isn’t going to resolve itself in a short novel, unless maybe he realizes everyone IS after him. Then, of course, he isn’t paranoid, but right. What caused the paranoia though? What other forms does it manifest? This you show through actions as well.

Internal Conflict Post

Ultimately, everything stems from something inside us, and this is why glimpses into the thought processes are so important to showing a well-rounded character.

Motivation to an action is important. Things don’t “just happen”. However, you can’t have back story for every crazy character in the book, especially if everyone is crazy, but we want to know why the main that we’re in love with is insane. Memories can show this, or conflict brought on with the initial problem.

The point is to give your characters lots of issues. No one wants to hear about someone normal. Novels are all about bringing out the worst and through that, the best, in someone; so we know we can do the same.


16 Comments to “Show the Crazy!”

  1. This is brilliant advice for writing. Though it doesn’t make a person so compelling in a real-life situation, I am afraid. How is it that we love to read books about deeply hurt or damaged people, but when we are actually confronted with them in real life, all we want to do is get away from them?

    Maybe I’m feeling this a little personally because I’m going through something very painful at the moment but I find that it has not made me more interesting to other people; just the opposite, they seem to be uncomfortable with my feelings and want to avoid me.

    Is it because books are a relatively safe place – with clearly delineated boundaries – and the reader has complete control over the experience, because he or she can shut the book at any time? And real life isn’t like that?

    • I don’t think everyone wants to stay away from damaged people. The reason I feel a stronger connection to damaged the characters is probably because these are the people I prefer in my real life. I think the answers to your question would depend on the person and what they are going through.

      I think because you feel like it is pushing people away you should examine how you’re going about talking about it. People are fickle and weird, even the undamaged, “normal” ones. Certain types of people have more trouble relating to someone in pain than others. Find someone who isn’t going to react that way, there is someone out there close who will listen.

      At least once you get tthrough it, you can say you made it, right?

      And if you feel like you need to talk about this with someone, you can reach me at

      Good luck.

      • Thanks, Amber. I didn’t mean to turn this into an all-about-me thing. I was just wondering about this in general. I’ve had people I know go through intense grief and I felt awkward around it and stayed away, and now I’m experiencing the other side of that. I was wondering just how that process works and if we couldn’t all have a little more empathic concern for each other. (Not around here where people are plenty nice! I mean, in the world.)

      • Oh, you’re fine. 🙂 It’s because we get scared, I think. We may want to be more involved with whatever is going on, but, the fear of different sorts of reprisals stops us. Fear is a big motivator and a terrible experience. But, in the end, I think it’s that.

  2. I see what you’re saying…but I’m afraid I disagree, to an extent.

    I like to relate to characters, especially my heroes/heroines. I like playing with their flaws (gender conflict, parental issues, vanity, insecurity), but I feel like pushing those limitations too far into the realm of weirdness creates a character who’s crazy just for the sake of being crazy.

    Of course, a character with issues of delusion or paranoia likely works much better in a thriller or drama over a straight-up romance, so that’s where I’m probably taking issue. There’s already a lot of craziness in the world, though, and my stories serve as an escape for me. Perhaps that’s why I like my heroes to be basically good, stable people. Or, at least, I like them to grow to be so over the course of the story.

    Nice post, though! I really support the idea that – while accidents can occur – our reactions to them don’t “just happen.” It’s good to remember WHY our characters do the things they do, just as much as describing those actions to our readers. And, sometimes, it’s good to leave aspects unresolved…especially if it can lead to sequel stories! 😀

    • I suppose it would depend on the person writing and the type of story they wanted. In my own experience though, these people seem to come to me. 😀 I see your point though. Everyone has what they prefer in a story and writing style, so don’t feel like I’m being contentious in my post.

      I think, though, if I were to write a romance I would want to use as messed-up people as I could. The world is a messed up place, like you said. That’s why we can show these messed up people grow. Like my picture-quote, we have narratives to get us through.

      But, of course, like I mentioned a few paragraphs up, I’m a bit biased. I like my people a bit mixed up. Watching someone grow feels great.

      Thank you for commenting 😀

  3. Great post! Adding that internal conflict really does endear a character to us, because we can all feel their fears or wants ~ and we know how that makes us feel.

    • Right. 🙂 I think especially powerful are the fears and wants we see but don’t want to admit that we’ve felt too! Then there is also an emotional release to go with the story.

  4. I think the degree of conflict should reflect the genre and the story line, as Mayumi noted. Quite honestly, I enjoy reading as an escape from the real world. So I’m not going to pick up psychological thrillers or books heavy on violence and twisted characters.

    That being said, perfect individuals are pure fantasy and shouldn’t be part of even the happiest or funniest of stories. I wouldn’t pick up a book like that, either.

    But I have no problem with “an ordinary” protagonist with only some realistic conflict issues (e.g., bitter over a divorce or struggling in a new job)—as long as something interesting happens, and I enjoy working alongside them in getting the events sorted out.

    Good post!

    • There’s gotta be a quote somewhere that talks about the beauty in ordinary life. The ordinary broken-pieces of us are important too. I like hyperbole quite a bit, though. So when I write I try to explode the emotions my characters feel. It does depend on what you’re trying to do. But, we shouldn’t be afraid to explore the broken side of the psyche, too.

  5. Flawed characters are the best to follow, you can see them grow and change. Even if they seem “ordinary” there is usually something, even if it’s just a little something, about them that is flawed. It may be something as simple as too eager to please, but we all have our flaws, so the most compelling characters will have them too. Good post 🙂

  6. I can deal with a “crazy” character as long as there is something else that grounds him to make me relate to him. If he’s too all over the place, too fractured or inconsistent, then there isn’t enough to connect me to him. I don’t sympathize or care about his quest.

    Myself, I like dark characters as long as there is something poignant and down-to-earth about them. I could not read 300+ pages in Jack the Ripper’s POV for instance. Give me a dark protag with some genuine, honest goals that tug at my heartstrings and I’m there for the whole ride.

    And as far as resolution, there has to be something solved at the end. I can’t walk away from a novel thinking the character hasn’t made some sort of change–for better or for worse–by the end of the story. No, the conflict doesn’t have to be resolved entirely, but you have to give the reader some feeling that this was a worthwhile journey, even if it doesn’t end in happily ever after.

    • Great input. 🙂 I love the dark hero. They’ve become my favorites. Something must resonate with us inside, so we want to see them win, right?

      That gives me some good input for my novel too, thank you. 🙂

  7. Great post Amber! I’m the same as most of the comments here, where I like it if a character has grown in some way.

    PS – Nobody’s normal! 😉

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