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I am currently writing a cosmic horror story, (without an eldritch abomination) and I am wondering how one would write the classic "You've seen too much and now your mind is breaking" scene typical for the genre. My story takes place inside the dreamscape/mindscape, and my main character finds a way to get outside of it somehow, which slowly starts to break down her sanity. I don't want the initial act of seeing it isn't what drives her insane, but it's more of a "Fridge Horror" situation, where the more she thinks about it, the more it breaks her brain. Thank you in advance!

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    Is it that typical? I've only seen this "you've seen too much and now your mind is breaking" thing in Lovecraft, and never elsewhere.
    – Stef
    Dec 16, 2023 at 12:33

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If this is a huge big part of the story, where what happens and it outcome are really important to story, then you could steep yourself in the manifestation of madness so you have a solid understanding of how it feels to witness some who is insane.

For some of my character development research I've viewed psychiatric training videos to inform myself how humans present themselves when they are gripped by extremes of mental illness. In this case, if you pay attention to your reactions to the patient interviews contained in these videos, you might find ideas for your story. In the end, fiction writing isn't just about describing the moment, its about evoking specific emotions in your readers.

An additional approach might be for you to define for your own benefit the specific arc of your character's madness. Its like choreographing the scene, so you have a solid sense of the causes of the character's madness

Is their physical neurology breaking down because of what they've been exposed? Or, are the character's logical, epistemological, or metaphysical understanding of the universe becoming unmoored and they can't face the consequences of the implications. If its the former, then their actual perceptions will change as their neurons corrupt and twist. They could rationally experience hallucinations and intrusive thoughts. If its the latter, they might experience fear, terror, and extremes of uncertainty. It might look a lot like paranoia.

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  • If I pay attention to my reactions to the patient interviews, how exactly do I get from this awareness of my own reactions to knowing what I need to do to evoke this same reaction in my readers?
    – Ben
    Dec 16, 2023 at 2:04
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    @Ben, presumably you'd note your own reactions that you found interesting, and you'd target those reactions as what you intend to reader to have as they read that section of the story.
    – EDL
    Dec 16, 2023 at 3:18
  • But how do I target those reactions?
    – Ben
    Dec 16, 2023 at 8:03
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    @Ben, I recommend 'The Emotional Craft of Fiction' by Donald Maas.
    – EDL
    Dec 16, 2023 at 16:15
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The problem that you face is typical for inexperienced writers: You want to write something but you don't know what it is that you want to write.

What you want to write is how someone's mind is breaking from seeing too much.

But what does that even mean? What does it mean that someone "has seen too much", and what does it mean that someone's "mind is breaking"? Those are empty words that sound spectacular and intriguing and evoke emotions of awe and mystery, but don't actually mean anything at all.

If you want to fill those words with meaning (and understand what it is you want to write) you have two options (that you can combine):

  1. Read a lot of cosmic horror stories and take note of how those writers have described "seeing too much" and a "breaking mind". Attempt to emulate that.

  2. Do research into religious experiences and how patients describe the experience of developing one of the mental disorders that are accompanied by delusions and dissociations such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or psychosis, and progressive brain deseases.

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