I am writing a short story for homework. The story is about a writer who has to write a narrative for a book fair she'll be attending as an honorary guest, but she can't come up with any ideas. In a particular scene, the writer is in her office at night thinking about what to write about. Instead of getting an idea, she gets a headache and that's kind of where I'm stuck. I know that want her to go crazy. I'm just not sure how to write it down.

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    Can you give any more details about where you're getting stuck? Also check out How can I capture the voice of an insane person? and see if that solves your problem.
    – Laurel
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 20:51
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    As the question stands it doesn't sound like the character is going "insane". It sounds like the character is having a nervous breakdown, a common thing for writers that are overworked and stressed. You're not writing a character who is descending into madness, turning from king to a monster. You're writing someone who has writer's block. Those are two very different things. If you're trying to write a character having a nervous breakdown, just think about a time you had a harsh deadline and how you acted when you were low on time. If that's not what you meant, please edit the question. Commented May 9, 2022 at 22:32
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    @Nyctophobia457 I have a better understanding of my character now thanks to your response. In fact, my story came to be because I didn't know what to write for my rough draft which was due the next day. I'm almost finished with the final draft and thank you for your advice
    – Croissant
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 23:05
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    A.) Never? B.) Sounds more like anxiety/stress/frustration than madness. That can lead you to act pretty nutty, too, but it's a tad different. C.) Do you have a flavor of madness you're shooting for (hallucinations, crushing depression, obsession, rage, supernatural/spiritual)? D.) Do we want the character sympathetic? E.) Any history of mental illness (personally/in family)? Sorry, madness is a big, complicated thing and needs guidelines.
    – DWKraus
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 0:03
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3 Answers 3


In a particular scene, the writer is in her office at night thinking about what to write about. However, instead of getting an idea, she gets a headache...

Try expressing the situation without using the word insane. Internalized monologue, easily annoyed by everything in sight, incoherent rambling (Story. Story. Story. Storystorystory. Sotrysottystorysroty......., prologuemonologuedialogueconflictakdngkfntkctngcn——), losing perception of time, lapse of memory once the episode of insanity is over.

There are many ways to portray insanity but it is usually effective to have a blend of degrading of the senses and incoherent rambling.


The term insane probably went out of clinical use around the 1950ies and was likely popularized in the 1800ths, so I would probably try to look at more modern diagnoses.

I'd divide abnormal behavior into two basic classes:

  1. The character's perception is normal but their reaction is abnormal
  2. The character's perception is abnormal but their reaction is normal

I'd call a character of the first category classic Hollywood "Psycopath". The person sees, hears, etc, normally, but when processing these perceptions they draw unusual conclusions about what they should do and how they should act... We'd call this character "insane" because they do things/commit crimes that shock us. An example would be "The Talented Mr. Ripley" or "Dexter".

In class 2 we're talking about hallucinations and similar. They can be caused by psychosis, bipolar disorder, medical conditions like brain tumors, etc. In class 2 you have a character that sees and hears abnormal things and then reacts to them as any normal person would. An example would be "A Beautiful Mind".

Looking at a type 2 character from the outside will reveal that things are not all right. They could, for instance, think other characters' are monsters trying to kill them and attack them in self-defense. From the outside, that would translate to someone coming at you with a big knife for no reason.

But even from the inside, we might already understand that something is up if the perceptions of the character are extreme and unusual (demons, walls with teeth, and what have you...) especially if the setup of the story does not suggest these perceptions would be part of the story (like "goth horror" or similar...)

However, the hallucinations could also be so subtle another character must step in and explain that things are not real because neither the main character nor the reader could have figured this out on their own. (See especially "A Beautiful Mind").

  • The correct term for the first is "neurotic." Depressed people are also neurotic, but they are actually less likely to commit crimes than the sane.
    – Mary
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 0:42
  • @Mary, but in order to call a person "insane" I think you need to add OCD or something else to the neuroticism, if even then. Remember the OP talks about "insanity". I wouldn't call a neurotic person "insane". But then again, I'm pretty used to eccentric people, so maybe my definition of "insane" is way more limited...
    – Erk
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 21:15
  • To have a neurosis is to be insane
    – Mary
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 22:32
  • @Mary, well, that's why the term "insane" is no longer in practical use among professionals. You could go insane from anything from mosquitoes to brain damage. I don't share your definition of the term, so thankfully, you and I can also agree that a neurotic person has an NPD and whether to call them insane or not should be left to characters and narrators in fiction. No psychiatrist would hopefully use the term about them (definitely no one using DSM or ICD).
    – Erk
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 15:28
  • Nevertheless, we are using the vernacular.
    – Mary
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 16:13

A character going insane depends upon the depth of a character, like people in real life, some characters can be written going insane easily by small misfortunes if you portray your character as a short tempered person. On the contrary, characters portrayed as calm or calculating should have a well structured misfortunes.

Misfortunes includes quarreling with some other characters, or some bad things happening to them. A well structured misfortune is one that can make a character experience something that's out of their normal life but not too bizarre in logic, making them to go insane due to the disruption to their normal life.

In your case OP try to define your character, whether she is a calm person or a short tempered one and write one according to that.

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