As a huge disclaimer here: this is absolutely my biggest peeve as a plot scenario. Insanity is a poor excuse for a villain to do terrible things and often the ‘insanity’ the villain suffers from is a poorly researched form of legitimate mental illness. If you choose to use this plot scenario PLEASE do your research and talk to people who deal with that illness on a day-to-day basis, and especially those who actually live with that illness (seriously, if you need to know what it’s like living and dealing with social anxiety and depression I will happily answer questions!). Understand that there is still a massive amount of stigma attached to mental illnesses and disorders and that continuing to use outdated stereotypes and myths about these conditions is harmful, especially to those who suffer from them.
I’ll say it again. If this is your scenario: Do your research. Talk to people.
Now that the huge disclaimer is out of the way, a smaller one. This post isn’t quite the same as the other posts in my plot scenarios series. While most of the others focus on the more traditional forms of these scenarios, this one is more aimed at the potential options. Why?
To explain that, let me explain a bit about ‘insanity’: it’s a terrible excuse for not fully understanding that some people’s minds are painful places to be. If you really want to get into it, research the history on mental health treatment. Be warned, a lot of it is awful, some of it’s gruesome and many, many people died for no good reason. That’s not even getting into the stigmas and ableism that still affect mental health today.
Thankfully however, things surrounding mental health are improving, and it’s about time to improve this plot scenario. Writers are known for taking the old and twisting it, so here are a few ideas for twisting this outdated scenario.
- A sufferer gives a seeker a better insight or ability to reach their goal.
In this case, you’re looking a plot that would be heavily character-driven, which suits romance spectacularly, as well as drama, or women’s fiction. Try adding this in as a good character development plot for your hard-as-nails detective in a crime novel. This isn’t unlike the traditional enigma scenario.
- A sufferer returns to the start of their illness as part of their recovery.
This particular one might play out in several ways, but also requires an understanding on the particular illness or disorder you’re working with. Depending on the genre you’re going for, you can use this as a good plot for time-travel. If you’re looking more into a realistic genre, try using flashbacks as they work through the different aspects of their condition.
Alternately, the form of conflict their illness takes might also be in the form of confronting someone who has severely wronged them before, lending this to mix nicely with revenge, or healing stories. This provides a heavily plot-driven scenario with a strong dose of character and setting-driven backing.
Finally, if you’re still drawn to the traditional form of the insanity scenario, invert it. The traditional scenario involves a madman wronging a victim, but try making that victim the madman himself. This creates a man versus self conflict that opens up to some very deep thematic and symbolic elements.
And again. Please. Do your research. There is a lot to mental health and it’s already been misaligned for centuries.