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How do I write an scenario about being in an insane asylum accurately? (1 Viewer)

The-90's-Sucked

Senior Member
In a short story I want to write, the narrator is a man who lives in an asylum after having committed a crime and the verdict of his trial was that he was "to be not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder". The story is about his life afterwards. How do I portray the life of a person of an insane asylum after these particular circumstances accurately?

What is the daily routine with these people? What do they do?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
If you are speaking of the time in the asylum, after the verdict, I'm reminded of the "tragicomedy", One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson, who plays Mac. He gets himself in there to avoid heavy labor. It was based on a 1962 novel by Ken Kesey. I would think it's a pretty accurate portrayal.

Their life seems pretty routine, with yard games and TV. And how can we forget Nurse Ratched who administers their sedatives every day and exercises her authority by confiscating their cigarettes and suspending their card-playing privileges? It would be a good one for research.

 

Bloggsworth

WF Veterans
Time-frame is critical, modern asylums don't exist in the UK, but in the past they were visitor attractions - My late wife, when a student nurse, was left in charge; on her own, overnight; of a 46 bed ward at a Surrey mental hospital, after being stabbed with a pair of nail scissors she realised that the risk wasn't worth it for 7 shillings a week. The salery was £4. 7s, 0d, but they took £4 for board and lodging...

Read One Flew Over etc... and other autobiographical literature on the subject.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
How do I portray the life of a person of an insane asylum after these particular circumstances accurately?

What is the daily routine with these people?

Well. There are two questions and so many interrelated answers to both. Let's parse.

With some questions.

I would ask myself, Well... how did I get here?

Wait. No. (Well ... maybe)

I would ask myself, "Is this my story or the protagonist's"

Why? Because if it is my story, I can plot and structure things. If it is the protagonist's story, well, I just have to start writing and froth him up out of the foam and see what he's up to, what comes to light.

Let's choose the first: It's my story. Control...

I would ask myself, How do I work this?

Nope. Well, kind of....

I would ask my protagonist, since he is telling the story, if he is actually insane, or merely wants to be seen as such. That is: Is his insanity the plot or merely part of it. Maybe he is quite sane and wants to get inside the asylum to accomplish another task. By acting the loon.

Why this question? Because if he is truly insane and telling the story, the sky is the limit. In the Asylum we can have hookah-smoking caterpillars and cheshire-cat-less smiles and white knights talking backwards.

Reality doesn't matter so we get to make it all up. And all the questions vanish.

But on a more sedate and pointed note, there's this immense and critical SPOILER from a 2003 Lehane novel and its 2010 Scorsese movie:
See the character U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels in Dennis Lehane's "Shutter Island."

And I would ask myself, My god what have I done?

No, really! I would ask, Why an Asylum? Instead of a Psychiatric Hospital?

Asylum implies some history.

Is this story to be set back in a time when we had Asylums for the mentally incapacitated? Think Arkham, MA, in the US. Or Stone House, LDN, in the pre-NHS UK.

Or are we talking about not an asylum but about a modern-day Psychiatric Hospital? Sort of an adult day care center or community college with psychotropic drugs and shrinks and staff and dorms and beefy bouncers and whispered stuff about all these damn crazy people here!

Why do I ask all these questions about the place?

Because an accurate answer to the second part, What is the daily routine with these people? depends an awful lot upon the place they inhabit and its mission and whether the patients are treated as prisoners for care or are denizens of the local Thunderdome anarchy.

Since we aren't yet having a discussion and the question is hanging for now, let me offer a suggestion and some resources.

Suggestion:

Maybe move your question to the "Research, including Sensitive Research" board?
Different folks, different strokes in there.

Resources:

And no, I didn't have all these just laying about, not until your question compelled me goog my curiosity.

Not a terrible list for fictional place with real roots
https://www.cbr.com/mental-hospitals-fictional-inspired-real-asylums/
It left me with a nice list: Again, the previously mentioned "...Cuckoo's Nest," but also H.P. Lovecraft's Arkham in "The Thing on the Doorstep" and "American Horror Story: Asylum," and then there's the more sensible places in "Girl Interrupted," "Shutter Island" (book and film), "Grave Encounters," "Snake Pit" (autobiography and film), and, another side addition (briefly) "House M.D. S6E1 Broken."

There's this rather sensationalistic piece of click bait
https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-a-hospital-for-the-criminally-insane

And, boy howdy, the mother lode: a whole blessed wiki of asylums!
https://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php/Main_Page
Hint: Select your country in the left nav.
Having the name and history of a place really helps searching for detail about it. Details to maybe help create one's fiction?

[2021-06-11 14:40]
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans


I happen to know this book has descriptions on mental asylums. I found about this book from a creative writing book that referenced influential historians (a book about history and creative writing). It's because of his work that mental asylums of the past vanished.
 

K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
If the person is now out of the asylum you may want the focus to be on the rehabilitation aspects of his time there. You could contrast his therapy, treatments, and discussions with that of a patient who unsuccessful. If the person is still inside you could start with them entering and everything being new, then the mundane daily routines after which introduce something or someone of interest.
 

The-90's-Sucked

Senior Member
Just so we're clear, the entirety of the story is set in the protagonist's time in the asylum, although the protagonist narrates about the trial and his arrest.
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
In a short story I want to write, the narrator is a man who lives in an asylum after having committed a crime and the verdict of his trial was that he was "to be not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder". The story is about his life afterwards. How do I portray the life of a person of an insane asylum after these particular circumstances accurately?

What is the daily routine with these people? What do they do?
Tell a psychiatrist that God is talking to you. Pretty soon you'll have all the research material you could desire. Of course, extricating yourself could be a problem....
 
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