Insanity, do you suffer from it? You’ll probably never know. You’re welcome for the words of inspiration friend, and you’re also welcome for the awesome article you’re about to read. Seeing as we are now entering the second week of our Spooktober event (click here for more info) we saw it fit to talk about one of the staples of the Horror genre, or at least the Psychological Horror genre, insanity. Insanity depends a lot on the human urge to fit the mold, which makes the ones who are mentally unable to stay within the mold unpredictable and erratic, and this unpredictability is where most of the horror comes from, well, that and the threat of someone coming at you with a knife.
What is Insanity?
Insanity is constituted by a few different concepts in the real world (ew, what’s that?). The first one being the blurring of lines between fantasy and reality (never mind, we rescind our “ew what’s that?”). And this prospect makes us fear for the entirety of book readers, to whom we send this message, “Please don’t go mad and kill us all. Sincerely, Don’t”. Another aspect of madness is that of being unable to control impulses or urges, meaning if they want to do the stabby stab, they probably gonna do the stabby stab. And the last basic idea of madness is that of being mentally unstable or having skewed morals, which allows someone to justify and believe strongly in their kooky behavior. Kooky in this scenario means murderous. You can take these concepts and combine them in any way you want to create a type of fictional insanity which is really good for more magical and mysterious horror novels, but if you want to go for something a little bit more real, then we have 3 types of semi-diagnosable “Insanity.”
Psychosis is a symptom of several different things in which essential pieces of the human mind, such as thoughts and emotions are so screwed up that a person can’t comprehend reality properly, hearkening back to the first concept of being unable to distinguish reality from fiction. However it is important to note that Psychosis isn’t a permanent thing, it appears in what are called “Psychotic Episodes,” but there are a few ways to tell if an episode could be coming on, we’ll link the website we’ve been using for you to view those symptoms here.
After the warning signs come the actual Psychosis with actual symptoms arrives. One of these symptoms is delusions, which consists of mistaken thoughts ranging from “I’m being controlled by the lizard people,” to, “I am controlling the lizard people, and I created you, I am God, bow down before your almighty creator, peasant.” During episodes, they may also hear or see hallucinatory sounds and images, like voices, or people, or both (which is a normal thing, but ok, go off). Another manifestation of Psychosis is that of feeling strange or indescribable sensations and emotions, which could prove an interesting challenge if you’re writing from the POV of the one with Psychosis. And the last one we found is that of babbling incoherently, which we don’t think occurs to often, but we thought it would provide a good background for that evil murmuring we see in horror novels.
But now that we’ve given you all of this information we don’t want you getting the wrong idea in your head, the idea of Psychosis leading to murder 100% of the time, as that scares people away from those with the condition. When what really should be happening is you guiding them to a doctor for help. But the problem with that is that it doesn’t really provide room for that interesting of a book, so what we suggest doing is writing your homicidal maniac, and either trying to work in some elements of a doctor healing them or just talking about the illness at the end of your book. But these next two are “Insanities” are kind of a different story.
Sociopathy and Psychopathy
There are two very similar personality disorders that could be seen as insanity. These disorders are called Psychopathy, and Sociopathy, which stem from the same vein of not feeling emotions properly. Another thing with these personality disorders is that they are often very hard to diagnose, which brings up the thought of anyone being capable of heinous misdeeds, which is a good way of getting your reader to stare suspiciously at that pile of laundry in their room (We know it’s up to something over there). And another thing is that we can’t cure either, which throws the idea of healing them out the window (unless it’s via magical means).
The terms Psychopath and Sociopath are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect, and you should feel bad. But not that bad because the two disorders are very close to each other in the way that they operate, which, as we mentioned earlier, is a lack of emotions. Let’s start with Sociopaths, which we would consider to be the base level of the Opaths, Sociopaths have a hard time feeling normal human emotions, which you might be saying is the same thing as being a Psychopath, which it is, but the difference comes in the ability to learn about these human emotions, like remorse and empathy. Meaning that Sociopaths know what is right and wrong, it’s just that sometimes they don’t care what the world thinks and they’ll go commit the stabby stab without another thought. This type of insanity brings up the idea of a pure-evil villain, where the villain is doing evil things, not because of some tragic backstory, but because they just feel like being evil. However, it would be nice of you to note that Sociopaths, because of their ability to learn right and wrong, are more likely to blend into society without incident, the same can’t be said for their kooky relatives though. Kooky in this situation means complete voids of destruction.
Psychopaths share many of the same symptoms as Sociopaths, only turned up to dangerous levels. They also carry a few extra ingredients that make them so wonderful, ingredients like a lovely dose of narcissism, a dash of absolutely zero remorse and empathy, and a few cups of total unawareness to the concepts of right and wrong :) And the lack of awareness towards right and wrong is what allows for them to commit stabby stab without hesitation, and to accompany the lack of awareness is the lack of remorse and empathy, which is what allows them to commit stabby stab and not feel anything afterward. And the narcissism is just the icing on top of a horrible cake because even if they did feel something for their crimes they would feel justified in your killing because you were in the way of whatever it was they were trying to achieve. So that being said, watch out for your neighborhood Psychopath, they may be closer than you think… Ok, have a good night sweetie.
Now that you understand insanity, in reality, let’s explain how to make more fantastic and kooky insanity. Kooky in this situation means horrible.
When starting to design the system of magic that will allow for insanity you need to take into account two things. 1) What are the symptoms of your insanity? and 2) What are the causes of your insanity? When looking for the symptoms you can take a look back through the real-life insanities and the basic concepts of insanity we mentioned earlier in the article, but if you feel like getting a little bit more creative then we suggest going through the brainstorming process with the main topic of brainstorming being symptoms of insanity. By doing this first you can start to develop ideas on what could cause this madness. A few examples could be things like Satanic cults or rituals, looking into the infinite universe and seeing that you are nothing, or maybe having the magical McGuffin of Insanity that drives whoever beholds it to, well, insanity. And a lot of this has been done before so you should really try and create something unique, with a kooky twist, as almost no one likes a cliche, overplayed, and boring satanic ritual.
Once you have the basics of your magic system set up we suggest creating an aesthetic for it that matches your horror setting. Which is probably drab and dark, but if you play your cards right you could create a horrifying sequence of bright colors, but that requires skill level 100 in set-up and description. But no matter what scheme you go for we’re sure you can do it.
Now let’s talk a little bit more on the unexplained section of this, where we have no idea whether the insanity is realistic or mythical. We do this by providing evidence for both sides but leaving completely ambiguous at the same time. This concept once again runs with the idea of fear of the unknown, because as readers try and figure out what’s going on they’ll discover a horror that is probably much scarier than what you could’ve done. And that’s not a sting to you in any way, it’s just more likely because they created a more personal horror. And one benefit that comes from writing an unexplained insanity story is that of getting people to discuss and theorize on your book which keeps more attention on your book for longer.
Putting it Into Effect
There are two different ways to use insanity, externally or internally. External insanity is when you have an insane antagonist that drives the plot forward through testing your main characters’ ability to either cure, survive, or escape them. Internal insanity though is when insanity haunts the mind of your character, slowly turning them into the horror of an External insanity story. Let’s talk more on these two concepts so that you can get a better understanding.
If you’re writing an external threat, meaning someone is insane and coming for your main character, then you know that you have to set up a believable scenario where someone could be being chased down by a psycho killer. Or you can add to the sub-genre of Home Invasion Horror, where a character is attacked by intruders in their own house randomly and oftentimes without provocation. This type of horror is based on making safe places unsafe, which can cause your reader to squirm and look around a bit (I think the laundry moved). This is because break-ins are something in the realm of possibility, but we choose to only ignore most of the time, but when it is brought to the forefront of our thoughts we become paranoid and untrusting. You should use external insanity if you want to place more pressure on a plot and smart decisive characters.
The other type of insanity is internal. Internal insanity is when the main character is at risk of going, or already, insane. We suggest that in the plot where a character is turning insane that you do it slowly so that it becomes a big reveal at the end. But we have seen it done where a character is a psycho from the beginning, yet the audience still roots for them the whole story. This is because the key to making a good character that people want to read about is making them intriguing and interesting, which makes readers want to learn more about them. But if the threat of insanity is more of what you’re going for then make sure that what is happening can plausibly cause insanity. This includes stuff like extreme trauma, already existent conditions, and a magic system that can draw others into insanity as well. These plot structures put more emphasis on characters and getting the reader to hope that the character can make it through despite their deteriorating mental health. Internal insanity is also used to show the reader that the place they thought they had protected, their mind, is actually susceptible to external systems that can send them down a dark path. Some fun stuff if you ask us.
When reading in the Horror genre you should keep an eye out for hidden meanings and metaphors, as the genre is rife with them. This is because Horror has a way of bringing toxic ideas and ideologies into the forefront of people’s minds, which allows for pondering, discussion, and if you’re lucky, change. So when you’re creating a Horror story keep in mind the purpose of your writing, and not all Horror has to be some deep thing, sometimes it can be, “I just want to scare people,” or, “Killing is bad,” and that’s all completely fine. All that really matters is that you have some purpose chugging you through your story.
So, to finish up. Insanity haunts us all, and you are doomed to succumb to it. We hope you enjoyed the article today now go on everybody and have a nice time of existence :) But to be more serious, we suggest taking breaks when writing insanity as we have seen it leave people in a dark place, so try and avoid going insane yourself, please.
Click here to view our source on Psychosis