Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writing crazy

True chaos is hard to write.  We are naturally logical creatures.  Some people say this is the basis of all belief - I did this thing a certain way, and it had this outcome.  If I continue to do this thing a certain way, I will continue to get this outcome.  For certain situations, this works.  Mixing the correct ingredients and baking them for the right amount of time and at the right temperature should result in a delicious cake.  This is a pretty safe form of witchcraft.  But what about things like wearing lucky undies to a job interview, or making a wish before you blow out your birthday candles?  How about eating people alive?  As Jayne says, "Where's that get fun?"

For this reason, most people can't write crazy folk.  You just can't.  Not without premeditation, and maybe not even then.  The Xaositects in Planescape are my favourite faction because they do crazy so well.  You genuinely feel like their thoughts are completely unconnected.  Most people's thoughts are always connected, whether they realise it or not.  I have two examples to back up my statement:

1) My boss was running a series of tests on his game design students - n-back tests and other psychologically-proven ways of determining memory retention.  I have a pretty good memory for Simon-says style games, but I did manage to find out why I'm so bad at Ikaruga.  He got me to run a test which I'm embarrassed to have forgotten the name of (ha ha), but it involved me memorising a list of 7 words while repeating an unrelated word to myself, out loud.  This process continued for 30 seconds, then I was supposed to write the 7 words down.  I watched his look of fiendish delight dissolve into the mask of a man thwarted as I wrote them down without hesitation.  5 hours later, I emailed them to him.  He asked me how I did it, but I merely smiled and walked away - the truth of the matter is that I know him enough to know how his mind works, and since he wrote the words down 'randomly' in front of me just before the test, I was able to identify the logic leaps his mind had made, and associate them with those words myself.  I still remember, a year and a half later, that the last two words were 'ketchup' and 'bag'.

2) Quite simply, one day my father and I were driving somewhere and I noticed an ad for something involving a nuclear explosion.  I asked him if he thought we'd ever wipe ourselves out by using nukes, and destroy the world.  He said he didn't know.  I then asked him if we had any cheese.  He called me weird.  But you see, the logic in my brain went : nuclear explosion --> radiation --> microwave --> things melting --> food --> cheese --> cheese sandwich.  The logic links are all clear, and would be for someone who understood my thought processes.

Not so for those of the truly crazy variety.  You'll notice that, above, there is no link that goes from purple --> banana.  Even then, trying to be random, I'm cheating : purple --> Grape Ape --> banana.  I've simply omitted the middle link.  Omitting enough links, as above, can give the illusion of randomness, but has none of the connotations of the truly random, or any of the horror.

That is what fascinates and terrifies us about tales of serial killers.  They are, to our mindset and logical way of looking at the world, completely unpredictable.  We cannot fathom the way that they think.  For a race whose most important functional organ is a highly advanced computer, that's a scary thought.  To give the semblance of craziness, I must plan carefully in advance.  This makes me laugh at the same time as I wonder if it's ever truly possible to write a convincingly crazy character.

If not, that makes me sad.  If so, should I worry for my sanity?  As someone who imagines people into existence for a living, should I be content to limit myself to those that bear some semblance of sanity?  Or would I be doing my psyche irreparable damage if I were to try to understand the crazy side of things?

Much like Hannibal and Clarice, should I venture into the darkness, or stay in the light?  Can I ever understand without breaking myself?  I imagine this is more the real of forensic investigators and crime novelists, but when you have characters like the Joker in popular culture, it leads you to some uncomfortable conclusions about the people who originally wrote him.  Our favourite abyss is always watching us, it seems, just waiting for our gaze to slip.  Bewares the Ides of March, and look out for talking mandibles.

I had a dream, before, that the greatest tragedy of mankind was caused by a badly-drawn picture of a man kicking a soccer ball while watched from afar by a terrified fish.  I wonder if my subconscious isn't trying to tell me something already.

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