A Life Of Fiction CXXXIX

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

The Art Of Falling Apart: I think that writers need to be a little crazy, if they are to stick to the task which they have chosen for themselves. I know a few other people who have written things, some of which have even been published (and not on kindle) and they are all interesting characters. None of them are really those nine to five people who want the nuclear family with 2.4 children and some woofy dog.

I write because, following a mental breakdown – the details too boring to list – I have been left with problems associating with people. (Well, that’s one of the reasons why I write, anyway). But all that I need to write is my imagination and my computer. I can keep writing novels, hoping that, one day, I will have that breakthrough which will allow me to be self-sufficient, not relying on the increasingly meagre handouts by the state to emotional cripples like me.

There have been a lot of authors, over the years, who have struggled against their minds, or against what was expected of them in a ‘normal’ world. I think that perhaps the creative process needs a little madness. The art is keeping it in check so that it does not overpower other considerations. You don’t want you’re writing just to be about your internal problems. Very few people want to read anything like that.

There have been a fair few authors who have dipped a little bit too far into the river of madness. Mary Ann Lamb, co-author of Tales from Shakespear, is one who comes to mind. It is possible that mental illness ran in her family. But, in 1796, a bout of insanity claimed Lamb. She stabbed her mother to death. Declared temporarily insane, she was to have recurrent bouts of madness for the rest of her life.

William Cowper was a poet who had problems; and many poets seem to be on the edge. I guess that it comes with the territory. Anyway, after a suicide attempt in 1756 Cowper was locked up in an asylum for a year and a half. He would suffer recurrent mental problems.

Unfortunately, being a poet is one of those occupations – if you can call it that – where suicide seems to be an option. Apologies to anybody reading who is disturbed by such dark thoughts. But the fact is that there are a lot of poets – some major, many minor – who have ended up killing themselves. Cesare Pavese and Sylvia Plath – and many more whose names escape my memory – are poets who have taken their own life. And they are just the famous ones. Pets, honestly, have a shorter life expectancy than most professions other than ones such as deep sea diver, simply because suicide is such a danger.

We, as poets and writers, often skirt around the edge of the abyss. We gaze down into it. We must try not to fall into it, though, but to use some of those dark thoughts to inspire. We must not let the darkness won, but tame it with our pens, turning depression into poetry, and madness into novels.

Perhaps we need to be on the edge of falling apart in order to write great verse. We need to have those memories of sadness and madness. We must write informed by our mental experiences, while hopefully not being destroyed by those selfsame experiences.

Madness has featured in some of my work. Not a lot, but there are some characters in there who are made, here and there. As I write gaslamp fantasy, they tend to be arch-villains. In my opinion you can’t beat a villain who is a little bit crazy. But don’t make them too mad. Characters still need to be able to function.

Villains should be driven, though. Often they are the protagonists of a tale, and it is the job of the hero to react to what they do. The villain, however crazy, has plans, and it is up to the hero to stop the villain from completing those plans, whatever those plans may be.

There should be a reason why characters are a little bit crazy. Something should have happened to them to make them that way. Rex Mundi, in the novel of the same name, wants to conquer the world, and is probably insane, by the ways that we measure sanity. But he did not start out that way.

There should be events which put characters onto the path of madness. Perhaps they were bullied as a child. Perhaps they were ignored. Perhaps something medical went wrong with the processes of their brain.

Or perhaps something happens which pushes them over the edge. This is called a stressor event. It can push some people into becoming serial killers. It can push other people into going the other way.

There is (nearly) always a reason for the way that people are, whether fictional or real. If you are writing about some really nasty steampunk villain then keep in mind that he (or she) almost certainly did not start out as a homicidal genius. Something made them go to the Dark Side. Something made them villains, rather than heroes. I like to examine those stressor events, when writing those sorts of tales, to give the villains a bit of colour; and to make them a little more human, rather than just some stereotype cobbled together. Keep in mind, while writing, the thought processes which drive people forwards; or the ones which cause them to fall apart.

Keep on writing, anyway, those of you who are writers, however mad or sane you may be. Never give up. Sorry if this post has been a little more depressing than normal. I will endeavour to be a little more upbeat in future.

The title of this post comes from an album by Soft Cell, by the way.


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