B&N Week 25: I’m Not Mad, I’m Angry!

| June 14, 2011 | 4 Comments


It’s Tuesday. It was Tuesday just a short few days ago, and it will be Tuesday again in just another short few days. I don’t know about you, but I’m loving it.

Anyway, welcome back to Bolts & Nuts! We’ve been doing a lot of talk about horror lately, and this week is no different. We’re still talking about it, but this time, our area of concentration is going to be the madman.

I’m going to tell you all a secret, okay? You have to promise not to tell anyone else, though. First, to set the scene: as a kid, I took martial arts for a number of years. As an adult, I joined the Marine Corps, and continued taking martial arts while I was in. While in the Corps, I qualified as an expert with every weapon they put in my hands: M16A2 rifle, a revolver, a 9mm, a shotgun, and the PR90 nightstick. I know how to shoot, I know how to take care of myself with my hands. I’m not afraid to take on just about any two men at the same time. (Boast much?) [Nope. Water is wet. Air is transparent. I’m just stating facts on how I feel about my ability to protect myself.]

Now, when I was in the Corps, I went to see the new release of Halloween. I believe it was Resurrection. And when I got back to my barracks room that night? I slept with the lights on. Actually, I slept with the lights on for the next couple of nights.

Michael Myers terrifies me, and for some reason, I go out of my way to watch every movie they put out about him.

The madman can be powerful, and can be used to great effect if used well. While I feel that they’re used to better effect in film, comics can still use him, although we need to be more careful with their use within our medium than they do with our film brethren.

Madmen come in all kinds of stripes and flavors. You have the virtually unkillable killers such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, you have the killers in Scream who are very human but are just crazy, you have the deformed but mortal killer such as the one in Humongous, and all kinds of gradations between them. (Humongous? Never heard of it.) [It’s an 80s movie. Go rent it. It’s worth a watch. Kids getting killed because they’re stupid is always worth a watch. Why else watch the Friday the 13th movies?]

Here’s part of what makes madmen so scary: they’re human. You think you can relate to them, but really, it’s like a cowboy trying to relate to a ballerina. Doesn’t really work, does it? The madman will chase you, hunt you, trap you and kill you, and you may never really know the reason why.

To quote Tom Clancy, who paraphrased Mark Twain, The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.

This is going to be the hard part of writing a madman. The story, being fiction, has to make sense, even though in reality, it really doesn’t. The why of that is because as rational beings, we like to have reasons for things. When dealing with reality, we can’t always fathom things, even though we strive our best to do so. Why else do we strive so hard to make sense of things like the Bible? Rational explanations are few and far between when dealing with reality. Fiction, however, has to be done better.

Do me a favor. Go watch The Dark Knight. Though a great movie, there are things that make no sense, even though we’re talking about Batman: when Gordon raids the bank, talking with his lieutenant, you see everyone is just standing around one moment, and then Batman is in the vault the next. In broad daylight. Sorry, he’s not THAT good. Or, after the Joker is captured, and is in the darkened interrogation room, and Gordon comes rushing in after he’s already placed there. Now, mind you, Gordon JUST got there. He then leaves, and the lights come up, and Batman is standing behind the Joker. How he got there is a mystery. It’s where fiction breaks down. Again, a great movie, but these are instances of bad storytelling. I like to call instances like that magically delicious.

So, your madman has to make sense, if only to himself. He has to have a reason for doing what he does, even if that reason makes no sense to the reader. I’m going to do all kinds of intimate, dirty, nasty things to your brain and your gizzards, because the moon is high and I was cut off in traffic by your sister’s husband, whom I hate with a passion that rivals flowers. There’s a stated reason in there, and even though it makes no sense, it works.

Or, let’s go back to the Joker for a moment. He’s an anarchist, for its own sake. Definitely a madman by anyone’s standards. And his reasoning? Because he can. He gets the joke, and wants others to get it, too. [Except that the jokes are rarely funny.]

There aren’t any real tropes with madmen. You have your strong silent types who want to kill the hell out of you because you either got in their way or invaded their territory, you have the ones who hunt you because you did something to them and they’re just nucking futs, and you have those who just want to cause pain. Now, there are some who believe they have a mission, trying to transform themselves or the world around them, and because of that, they hurt, maim, and kill. Simply put, madmen are as varied as humans. You’ll have to get used to that.

Your goal is to make them as scary as possible within themselves, an even harder to do is to do this without making the madman sympathetic, and not doing any killing from their point of view.

I’m going to tell you right now, doing it from their point of view is a cop out. I’ll go so far as to call it porn, and the worst kind of it. If you’re writing a story from the point of view of the killer, and you’re inside the killer’s head, putting their thoughts down, you’re writing snuff. (That’s your opinion, Steven.) True, it is. However, try selling that story. Unless it is extremely well done, you’re not going to be able to sell it. It’s snuff porn. Once you get over that realization, you’ll find a different way to come at it.

And again, doing it from the point of view of the killer is a cop out. It’s SO damned easy it’s not even funny. You think to yourself, in the movies, they have the killer watching their helpless victims all the time! Let’s get inside the killer’s head and do it that way! That’s original!

It’s not. Really. Don’t do it. No one’s going to buy it, unless the person really isn’t crazy, and they’re just doing what they have to do.

This does NOT mean, however, that you cannot get across the madman’s point of view. If they’re a talker, they can do a monologue or something. They can talk to one of their victims, or the protagonist, and their story/reason can come out that way. Or, they can lay a discourse on their followers [if any], because there are always those who are willing to follow the mad.

In the end, madmen can be hard to write. You have to be convincing, really selling their madness. The strong, silent types are even harder to write. Since they don’t talk, their motivations have to come about through your storytelling abilities. Their actions are predicated upon the actions of others. Take Michael. Why does he kill? Sure, people keep invading his turf, but why does he hunt and kill the friends of his targets, as well as those who get in his way? Getting somewhat into that can be part of the story you try to tell.

If your madman’s a talker, then you have to sell a convincing reason for their madness, or at least for the pain and suffering they put the antagonist through. This is often easier said than done.

That’s really about it for this week. Homework is to study the reasoning for your madman, and make sure that they hold water. Try to get as compelling as you can. I know its tough with madmen, but it can be done.

See you next week!


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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (4)

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  1. Mac Radwanski says:

    Hi Steven!

    I think the original Michael Myers (before they gave him any back stories) worked so well precisely because he didn’t have a clear reason for what he was doing and it didn’t make much sense. It wasn’t bad or lazy writing, it was very much deliberate and it appealed to a lot of folks. Everything seemed very random. Myers snapped as a kid and nobody knew why, his psychiatrist gave up on trying to understand him and once he broke free he seemed to have targeted a random babysitter. That made him much scarier to me. The less I understand something the more scared I am of it.

    • Mac!

      Everyone, this is Mac, artiste extrodinaire of Runners. (You DID read the preview, right? RIGHT?! If not, go do it! Then tell Mac how much of a genius he is! I’m quite sure he’d appreciate it.)

      Yeah, Michael scares the jeebus out of me. Always has, always will. I remember seeing a documentary/interview with John Carpenter, and he wanted to do this movie about a killer who was killing babysitters on Halloween. It kind of morphed from there.

      It isn’t the randomness of his kills that gets me. It’s the fact that he is a ninja. He is ALWAYS around, ALWAYS watching, and he NEVER STOPS COMING. You can see him in reflections, you can see him off to the side, you can see him everywhere if you look.

      And then he just disappears.

      Carpenter knew what he was doing. You hardly ever get a clear view of him early on. It’s almost always from the waist down, sometimes the chest down, but you hardly ever see his face. When you do, it’s a long view. Sometimes, it’s from inside the mask, so you’re seeing what he sees, and hearing him breathe. (I’m creeping myself out, and I’m at work, with a roomful of people!)

      When you write a madman, I’d definitely suggest following the lead of Carpenter. If you’re lucky enough to get an artist like Mac, give him the tools he’ll need in order to get into the proper mindset, and then he’ll produce things you never thought of. But as a writer, you have to know what you’re doing first.

      Thanks for coming in, Mac! (And thanks for helping me to creep myself out!)

  2. marcia forbes says:

    Steven I always thought that you were the Steven King type :), I remember years ago you gave this transcript that you had written I thought you were good than and I think that you are even better now….I still have that transcript…love you Auntie Marcia

    • My Aunt Marcia, everyone!

      (First my artist, now my aunt. Now I’m wondering who else is coming out of the woodwork.)

      I remember that story. It had a twist at the end that you missed at first. 😉

      Better now? That means you’ve read the preview for Runners. (It’s free! Just download it.)

      (And guess who’s getting a call this evening…)

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