Thursday, April 29, 2010

Abnormal Behavior & Pavlov's Doggie

PSYCH 101 for Writers and Their Characters Continued
\Q 3— How does ‘abnormal behavior’ enter into the realm of crime writing and fiction in general?

Answer: Have you read any one of my books? OK…risky word phrase this ‘abnormal behavior’ as you have to ask then what is ‘normal’ behavior in a species that ‘won’ out as the meat eater of all the great apes? Authors are forever dealing with perceptions of what is right and what is wrong, what is good, what is evil, and the common error of taking things at face value. Is writing and painting and creating ‘abnormal’ in itself since, like actors, all artists have to be driven and obsessed to become a player in this field? This question may be too complex to answer here, but let’s keep exploring.

Appearance is seldom what it seems in a novel, especially a mystery or suspense or thriller. Societal norms are taken to task. Since I write about murder and often times serial murder, murder is my stock and trade, my INC. This means ‘abnormal behavior’ is my bread and butter but once removed as I have killed no one except on a stage. My evil antagonists are always into aberrant and sickening words and actions; what he says, thinks, and does is who he or she is (see Final Edge for the worst female killer in all the history of books! Laurelie Blodgett). Such characters are motivated by sick fantasies, mania, fear, psychological disorders, obsessions, phobias, actual physical deformities, actual illnesses just as are Shakespeare’s worst villainous scum like Iago. They are motivated often by ‘abnormal’ beliefs, but often such ‘abnormal’ beliefs come out of popular cultural beliefs, legends, even religion as in anti-religious behavior on a grand scale. Some sick beliefs have a foothold in historical fact about mankind–as in cannibalistic behavior, perhaps even necrophilia–sex with the dead. Certainly there are enough scatologically disgusting elements about mankind and his history to provide fodder for many, many an aberrant behavior or belief system or ‘nutty’ fantasy, desire, want, goal.

I don’t have to mention Stephen King and Anne Rice made a killing on abnormal behavior, do I? Still there is a fine line at work here. Abnormal can slip over into caricature and unintended funnies in the blink of a Cyclop’s eye if one is not careful. How far from the ‘norm’ can our ‘abnormal’ Grandma Grimwood go before she becomes a twisted Dickensian comical granny?

In books about psychotics, sociopaths, organized and disorganized killers of every stripe there is great latitude in defining abnormal, but in all cases the sociopathic monster has to have its\his\her roots in humanity and where we’ve come from…from the primitive lizard brain to the present…roots are sunk deep. This is why the abnormal among us, in the end, are human after all. Humanity swings a wide arc across the rainbow from purity to the unspeakably vile and no author can turn away and not see this if the story demands it. Those who do turn a blind eye to the absolute end of the spectrum, the deepest rung in the pit miss an entire part of the human condition and it’s like being color blind, missing an entire spectrum of the rainbow itself.

OK…believe it or not.

Robert W. Walker
author Killer Instinct, Fatal Instinct and Dead On
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Unknown said...

Rob, I completely agree with you. Let me use another fictional example to back you up. Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the only season where the major villain is human. I found him far more horrific than the vampire and demon villains because he was human. I could identify with him on some level, far more than with the supernatural big bads. His motivation, while twisted, was familiar and something I could understand.

Was he abnormal? No, not really. And he was very disturbing because of it.

Mary Anna Evans said...

I agree with you, Rob, that abnormal behavior and the gradations of abnormality within "normal" behavior are the palette with which any author paints. When I was writing ARTIFACTS, my editor felt that one of my secondary characters' behavior wasn't plausible. I searched the web, found a questionnaire to diagnose psychiatric conditions, took the test while pretending I was Wally, and e-mailed her the results. He had antisocial personality disorder with some elements of narcissism. In other words, he could be a friend one moment, then stab you in the back the next, because the world revolved around Wally.

In my Faye Longchamp mysteries, I'm more interested in those gradations of normality. It's more interesting to explore the reasons someone commits murder when the answer is more complicated than that the killer is simply evil incarnate.

In my standalone suspense novel, WOUNDED EARTH, however, the villain is vile enough to give himself the name "Babykiller." And there's no question who the book's about, because "Babykiller" is the first word in the book. But it's also about his victim Larabeth McLeod, a beautiful, brilliant, wealthy, and successful businesswoman whose tidy little world is brought down around her ears, just because Babykiller decided it should be so.

It's interesting to explore the twisted territory between Babykiller's ears, but it's also interesting to explore the impact his madness has on Larabeth. Because the impact of abnormal psychology on an essentially normal human being is the stuff novels are made of.

Mary Anna Evans
Blogging at "It's like making Sausage",

Unknown said...

It was a nice blog and i want to know more about mental illness