Take a young attractive married couple in a clean town or village with lots of fresh air and pleasant scenery.  The husband gets up early each morning, has breakfast and goes to work.  The wife has a schedule too (maybe a job or children to look after).  One day, something out of the ordinary happens and the wife suspects someone is targeting her, but no one appears to believe her.  Especially the husband.  Worse, the events that follow seem to suggest that the husband is the bad guy.  Sometimes, he is, but not always.

A cliché?  Well, yes, sort of.   Having said that, building up paranoia in a story does work sometimes.   It’s kind of personal, since my first novel explores this idea, alongside other ideas, although the question of paranoia isn’t the most important in the story.  In my second novel, I do the opposite by taking a tough guy and delving deep into his troubled psyche, placing events along the way that lead him into danger.

Back to the stereotypical paranoid character…clearly, readers expect something more sophisticated today, a satisfying bringing out of the character.  I believe the following tips might help:

  • Instead of concentrating on paranoia, concentrate on the voice and marginalisation…the character has something to say, something crucial, but the other characters in the story brush it off as insignificant.  Frustration results
  • The character in question should not have willingly caused the problems they face.  However, choices they’ve made in the past might limit their present options, making them feel trapped
  • The character should have enough intelligence to see what is happening  
  • The character may have chosen to keep secret an event in their past
  • The character should resort to desperate measures to bring a solution to their problem – measures that seem reasonable to them but crazy to the other characters
  • The character should have at least one person who believes them

 Just some of my thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Novel Writing: The Stereotypical Paranoid Character

  1. Hi Lawrence…. “concentrate on the voice and marginalisation”= great advice. With such a focus writers can be very creative, especially through suggestive language, imagery, and metaphors. Thanks

  2. Hi Dustus, Thanks for commenting. I’m bang in the middle of the central character’s marriage crisis (re: paranoia). The character is in serious danger, but her husband and her neighbour thinks she’s imagining it. I’ve changed the character’s responses so that she tries to escape but finds her way barred by the husband. The neighbour, of course, sides with the husband and tries to “help” by secretly urging the husband to ring the doctor. *Big grin!* Cheers, lawrenceez

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