Look, I know individuals personally who act like they’ve lost their damn minds sometimes. If you start talking about their hot-button subject, they will lose all sense or decorum and rant like an old-time revival preacher. It can be about religion, politics, sports or even whether or not the world “irregardless” is legitimately a word.
You can’t let these people get up their full head of steam or you’ll be picking brains and bone out of the carpet for weeks when someone finally snaps. It’s never a pretty scene. And if alcohol is involved it’s even uglier. Practice your intervention skills before it comes to this.
In the real world, people get Teh Crazy. We’re funny that way. We are passionate and not always rational.
But, bear in mind, that’ s the real world. In the real world, crazy stupid shit happens all the time. It’s as predictable as the weather (more of a probability than an actuality).
When you are writing, however, you don’t get to use that level of temporary insanity or you’ll lose your readers.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there is someone out there with enough chutzpah and savvy to pull it off and will take this as a dare to try. More power to ya. But in general, when you are dealing with fictional characters you have to give them enough internal consistency for the readers to follow without suffering a terrible case of whiplash.
If you want your character to rant about sports, give us some indication they are a sports nut. If they are a religious fanatic who preaches in the grocery store, damning someone for the sin of High Fructose Corn Sweetener, you had better give the reader fair warning, or they will drop any empathy for that character like a hot shell casing.
Sure, you can have all kinds of nutso people in your books and stories. Just give us enough build up, enough justification that when the wack-job comes out, we are not totally surprised.
Unless, of course, you intend to shock and awe us. In that case, you’d better have a damn good reason, or your audience will be flipping back to the next story in the magazine, or drop kicking your novel in favor of the next “HOT NEW THING” to come off the presses.
Unlike the real world, your written world needs to allow for a level of logical cohesion that will drag the reader along for the roller coaster ride without losing them along the way.
George R. R. Martin does some very bad things to his characters. If you’ve read the Song of Fire and Ice series, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But, no matter how dastardly the deed, there is always some motivation, some player spinning the wheel behind the scenes that justifies the actions taken. You don’t have to like it. But the man knows how to twist a character.
Think about your own character (if you are a writer) or the character you are reading, if you enjoy story without the psychosis of being a writer. When you find one that works — even if they drop their cousin George into a wood-chipper — examine what was the justification given by the story? Find that thread. If the book is worth two shakes, there is a level of cohesion there that allows you to go along with it, without tossing the book into the fire.
Do your character’s actions flow from the events of the book? Keeping it fresh, is not an excuse to suddenly change how a character behaves. Show us in the prose. Plant clues along the way, so when your pretty blonde cheerleader turns out to be a alien robot from another dimension who happens to burn down orphanages, you’re reader will look back and say, “man, I should’ve seen that coming.”
All the good stories do this (in my humble opinion). It’s one of the key things that can make or break a story. And it’s really not hard to keep straight. Think about how your weird uncle Hugo acts at the New Year’s Eve party and fill in the reasons along his life that justified him standing in the punch bowl, reciting Elizabethan poetry while wearing a tutu.
Then it’s a story you can sell to a reader. If he’s just bat-shit crazy, save it for the water cooler chatter.