Is There More to the Crazy Characters?

Maka Albaran from Soul Eater

People who have been following my blog or read my books may have noticed that there’s one type of character that I really enjoy writing.  This is the ‘crazy’ character who can be either a hero or a villain.  The list for me covers most of my series with Yola Biggs, Lloyd Tenay, Dawn Addison, Aerial, Bob, and most recently Archillious and Lost from War of Nytefall: Lost.  These characters are wild and unpredictable, which means I can get away with a lot from them.  On the other hand, they can be very difficult to work with because you can get caught up in the crazy.  I do find them to be a very intriguing archetype, so I wanted to do an overview for anyone who wants to give them a try.

Not Too Much and Not Too Little

The temptation to keep the crazy character on a tear is very high.  They act as a comic relief at many points, so an author can fall into only making them like this all of the time.  This can erode their appeal and cause the audience to mark them down as nothing more than chaotic fools.  You can’t have them be more serious than crazy too.  That way makes it more of a quirk that doesn’t quite fit.  The best method to go here is what I’m going to call the ‘Effective Maniac’.  Take the following examples:

  • Lloyd Tenay in the Bedlam Series is a violent killer who thinks he’s a character in a fictional story.  He can be weird and random, but he also has many moments of stable conversation.  He’s cunning as well, so there’s a method to his madness.
  • Bob in War of Nytefall talks a lot about horses and gets into odd debates with Luther Grathan.  Yet, he does come up with plans and insights.  He’ll go off the subject at times, but he still adds to the conversations and plots.

So, you need to find a balance and really think out the ‘crazy’ part.  Being random for the sake of randomness creates a weak character if that’s all they are.  They’ll never grow and may even become a hindrance to the overall story.  Even Yola Biggs the Chaos Goddess of Windemere evolved in Legends of Windemere: Path of the Traitors, so immortality isn’t an excuse.

More to Crazy Than Killing

This doesn’t go for every character, but I’ve noticed that at least half the time, the ‘crazy’ character is a psychopath.  You never know when they’ll snap and kill someone, which makes them unpredictable and deadly.  This makes for a one-dimensional and limited character.  You can have this as part of what they are, but you need to add a few more layers.  Maybe they’re a psychopath who loves talking about jellybeans or collects stamps or has some other kind of quirk.  Perhaps they’re normally a wacky character, but there’s a trigger to make them violent.  The problem either way is that people will remember the violent aspect more than anything else.  I get this all the time when people mention Lloyd Tenay and paint him to be utterly psychotic with no self-restraint.  That’s not really him.  He does enjoy killing, but more of his ‘craziness’ comes from his perception of the world and how he runs his mouth.  There’s a lack of fear in him that makes him rather fearless to the extreme.

You don’t have to make the crazy character a killer either.  There’s plenty of ways to do this without going down the psychopath route.  They can be narcissists, easily distracted, have an obsession, be cursed with bad timing, or anything that you can see as a deviation from the ‘norm’.  A great example is Lost from War of Nytefall: Lost.  She can get violent, but that’s not her big thing and it’s no different than the other vampires.  Her ‘craziness’ stems more from a child-like sense of wonder that overrides her common sense and being easily distracted.  She has impulse control issues too.  This leads to her doing what pops into her head first, but possibly wandering off to follow a butterfly or because she remembers that she forgot to clean her breakfast dishes.  There’s comedy without the dangerous side that you see in many ‘crazy’ characters.

Limits Needed

This one is simple to explain and discuss.  Many people think a ‘crazy’ characters needs to either go big or not do it at all.  That’s not entirely true.  Again, if the character is off-the-wall and wild the entire time then they become a hindrance to everything.  Nothing can get done with such a character around, so you need to put limits on their antics.  It could be another character who can keep them under control like Trinity does with Yola Biggs or they aren’t acting up all the time.  Even for a supporting character, you need to make sure they’re not defined entirely by their insanity.  This is where limiting things will work.  You can get this done by deciding how they operate.  Unlike the others, a ‘crazy’ character requires a little more thought to make sure you stay consistent and don’t let them destroy everything.

Consistency in the Crazy

Another easy one because reality shows that nobody is a general, all-purpose crazy.  Heck, the turn is insulting when used on a real person.  Part of why I’ve put it in quotes throughout this post.  Decide how the ‘crazy’ is going to work and never stray from that path.  Keep in mind that characters like this don’t really know they’re acting weird.  If they did then they would be faking it for attention.  An example from my own stuff would be Bob: His obsession with horses remains consistent as does his habit of messing with Luther.  There are hints that the second thing is done on purpose, but the first is him being serious about a topic that could be random.  You know he’s going to mention them or do something with them.  It takes the surprise factor out at some points, but you don’t make him too random to harm him as a character.

Hard to Explain Them

This is going to be a final note and it’s more of an observation.  It’s really hard to explain these characters to people.  I’ve noticed that when I try to do so with Lloyd, people usually only retain serial killer.  So, people talk about him likes he’s an unrestrained killing machine with not much else.  These characters are better understood in the moment because they are surprisingly multi-faceted if done correctly.  They have something beneath the ‘crazy’ and extend beyond this piece of their puzzle.  So, I guess one should try not to get frustrated when you think your ‘crazy’ heroes and villains are talked about as if they’re nothing more than sources of comedy or destruction.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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19 Responses to Is There More to the Crazy Characters?

  1. Having first-hand experience by serving for several months with a sailor who turned out to be a serial killer, I can say this: he was the most interesting character in our group of some 250 men. Educated, articulate, and a pleasure to talk with, even though we disagreed on almost everything (from his taste of music to his astounding cynicism. Which kinda made sense in hindsight: this was a man who had sacrificially murdered a few women in the name of Satan).

    In other words, my advice would be to treat them like any other character and don’t cut corners just because his dark side happens to be darker than usual.

    It’s why I roll my eyes every time a TV show has a killer murder for no other reason than just being “crazy” (I consider it typical lazy writing).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. Didn’t expect a comment like that, but I have heard that many serial killers are friendly and approachable. They blend into society very well, which is probably why they aren’t always caught after the first murder. I wonder if they put more effort into being friendly because of what’s going on in their heads.

      Have to agree with the ‘because he is crazy’ reasoning. At least have a reason for him being crazy. For example, Bob in ‘War of Nytefall’ is kind of nuts, but it stems from being tortured by a paladin. Even if he went on a killing spree, there’s now a reason for him to be the way he is.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My guy had a contemptuous way of dealing with the rest of humanity, as if they were simple pests and he better than the rest of us. But the two if us were among a handful of sailors with a higher education, so I attributed that side of him to this fact.

        By the way, he’s now been released from prison, having served his sentence. But his was such a big case over here, it must be pretty hard to start over, as pretty much everyone knows his name (anyone over 40, anyway).

        Like

      • Sounds like someone out of a murder mystery. Kind of scary that such people exist. Curious about him getting released. You’re right that starting over is going to hard if not impossible.

        Liked by 1 person

    • L. Marie says:

      Your comment is really interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t resist a comment about writing what you know…. (Sorry, probably going to hell anyway.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    Sounds like walking a tightrope. A very interesting challenge. You’ve listed some really good points.

    Like

  4. For fantasy writers (and readers) wanting to see a “crazy” character who’s written well and definitely not trite and one-dimensional, I strongly recommend Barbara Hambly’s Windrose Chronicles.

    Like

  5. Adele Marie says:

    Lloyd is far more than the crazy, serial killer. As he progresses we see many sides to him. I like Lloyd and sometimes he is the voice of reason.

    Like

  6. You do such a great job with crazy characters it is nice to read how you keep them real.

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  7. I can see what you mean about Lloyd, when I read your posts about him, I thought he was just a serial killer, but I was incredibly surprised by the story on your blog last year, I came to realize that he was much more than just a serial killer.
    Thanks for this post, it raised a few interesting points.

    Like

    • Glad you enjoyed it. A tough thing with blogging is that I have to mention characters without spoilers. This means that I have to be vague and general many times. The nuances don’t come up that often, so people can miss the depth of a character outside of the book.

      Liked by 1 person

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