To combat the summer madness, a couple of days ago my husband bought me a new game. Other than Civilization and The Sims, I haven’t played much of anything over the past year. When I had free time, I wrote, researched or read books. When I didn’t, I focused on the kids. It was as simple as that. Entertainment, what’s that? You mean . . . I can have that, too? Are you sure?
As I explore the world of Divinity: Original Sin, I can feel the stress and unrealistic expectations I’ve heaped upon my shoulders slowly slipping away. I love this game! When I play it, I sometimes experience a brief flashback of the Baldur’s Gate games, but this one feels fresher, cleaner. It even comes equipped with a local madwoman. Madora, a source (magic) hunter, is convinced everyone who uses source is evil. Try as they might, they can’t hide from her. Every corner she turns, every chicken she runs across, she can smell the evil fermenting in the air. I love her! She reminds me of Minsc in Baldur’s Gate II, with his miniature giant space hamster, Boo.
Where have all the madmen and madwomen of the written world gone? I’m not talking about the diabolical type who chop people up to make jam out of their guts. I don’t read horror, but I’m sure the genre is alive and kicking with insanity. What about the other two million books out there? When was the last time you read a good book that had a large dose of madness in it?
Hamlet and Don Quixote? Or was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas your last journey into madness? Please don’t tell me it’s Alice in Wonderland. I scoff, but the truth is, I have an easier time finding it in older books. I can’t think of any modern Sci-fi stories with madness of the top of my head. Hopefully someone can help me out and post an example. In fantasy, Steven Erikson is the first name to pop up in my mind. The master storyteller of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series has a fantastic ability to create a host of unique characters, sane and insane. His books have to be one of the best, and most epic, series I have ever read. Within those daunting pages, madness leaps off the page. A lunatic priest married to a spider. A pair of insane spirits who take over the bones of miniature dinosaur-type creatures. A god in the guise of a delirious beggar (hmm, so that one isn’t entirely original, but the beggar is very convincing!). He even threw in an amphibious art critic and did it with such skill I believe in all of them.
Terry Pratchett, another author in the fantasy genre, also dares to insert little touches of delirium ‘millennium hand and shrimp’ style.
That’s two. But why are the authors bold enough to venture through the realm of lunacy so few? Why aren’t we embracing the madness?
Is it too daunting a task? Or do we not consider insanity an option? Maybe we’re writing a love story, or another genre where deranged lunatics aren’t welcome.
You know what? Sometimes I want the lunatics. Sometimes the lunatics are the missing ingredient, and sometimes amid all the normalcy they have their own story to tell. I’m not saying we should toss in a little madness because we’re bored, but we shouldn’t shy away from it.
Here are my tips to bring rolling out the welcome mat and bringing back the Mad Hatters of the literary world:
1) Knock the teeth out of fear. If it tries to intimidate you after that, all you hear is an unintelligible mumble you can easily ignore. We have to stop listening to other people. Unless they’re wise. Then we should definitely listen to them. Seriously, don’t be afraid to write about madness, create a mad character, or write someone who is different. Stephen King had no idea how to write from a female perspective, but that didn’t stop him. Ask yourself if your characters are really the same but with different names and a few habits thrown in for variety and authenticity. Better yet, ask someone else. If the answer is yes, it’s a perfect time for you to play with madness.
2) Research everyday people. You don’t need to strap yourself in a straight jacket and pour over old asylum records. All of us have a little bit of crazy inside. Your local tax investigator probably doesn’t because there’s not enough space inside of his head for anything other than tax codes. The rest of us, however, do—no matter how well we’ve hidden it. Don’t believe me? Spend at least two hours at a local people-watching spot like the airport or the mall. Take a pen and a notebook. You’ll be surprised at what you see and hear.
3) Study the Masters. How do Pratchett and Erikson pull it off? Don’t limit yourself to books, either. What movies come to mind besides The Shining? What games have mad memorable characters? I highly recommend the two I mentioned, Divinity: Original Sin and Baldur’s Gate, if for no other reason than that they are pure fun.
4) Practice. Start out with a short story. If that seems too daunting, try a fan-fic piece and throw in a little craziness. It’s easier to create chaos in someone else’s world. Another good idea is to start a character diary and begin rambling. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to make sense! Create an imaginary friend.
5) Let go. The simplest tasks are often the most difficult to perform. We need to let go of our expectations. We need to force ourselves to shove our preconceptions down the garbage drain. Be silly! Chase crazy all over the living room. When Aunt Vera’s voice pops up in our heads reminding us how people are supposed to act, what characters should look like and what they are allowed to say, slap some duct tape over her mouth.
I try to follow my own advice, but if I’m honest it doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m stuck in a weird fog where everything has to make sense. My words must conform to the rules I’ve laid out. Eventually it overwhelms me and I grab a safety rope to pull me out of the darkness and into the world of lunacy. Once I arrive, I discover a place where judgments are tossed out the window and expectations burned on sight. I discover a place where I can be free.
My latest short story, Orbital Extraction, has a touch of madness in it. I can’t wait for you to read it. Once I finalize the cover art, a little more insanity will be released to the world!
Now it’s your turn.
Go write the stories that need to be told, but don’t fear the madness–embrace it.