Villains: The Psychopath or Sociopath
By: Nicole Galloway-Miller
No matter the genre, every story needs an antagonist, a character who works against the hero or heroine and thwarts his or her every move. When writing a villain, it is easy to turn to the tried and true clichés of evil in-laws, serial killers, and stalkers. These types of characters make excellent villains. When creating a realistic antagonist, an author must consider the character’s primary motivation. What separate mediocre villains from memorable ones is the reason the antagonist desires power, prestige or revenge. Oftentimes these goals are the result of mental illness.
Psychology is a great resource for exploring the motivations of criminals. As a writer, being familiar with some common personality disorders and how they manifest is extremely beneficial. This information can be a big help during the characterization process.
One of the most common diagnoses is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), the psychopaths and sociopaths of the world. Symptoms of this mental illness include irritability, impulsivity, deception and a blatant disregard for social norms. Often people with this diagnosis are aggressive and do not feel remorseful or guilty. They have above-average intelligence and a wide variety of talents. When creating a villain with this disorder, it is important to remember that they exhibit these symptoms from an early age. In fact, many were juvenile delinquents.
Psychologists disagree about the number of types of ASPD. Since the symptoms manifest themselves in many different ways, there is plenty of fodder for inspiration.
Most sociopaths exhibit Jekyll and Hyde characteristics. On the surface, they are charming and pleasant. Underneath this façade lurks their true nature, aggressive and violent. Driven by a lust for control, attention, power and money, they are expert manipulators and can often get large groups of people to do what they want. Their ultimate weakness is that eventually these psychopaths can no longer maintain the act and turn violent and abusive.
Sometimes the focus of their destructive tendencies is companionship. Aware that most people are tortured by doubt, guilt and inhibitions, sociopathic individuals create a relaxing, pleasant and safe environment. They tell them their partners, want those people want to hear and appear interested in their likes and dislikes. After some time, their true nature emerges. The psychopath becomes violent and abusive, lashes out at their significant others and shatters the peaceful environment.
In other sociopaths, they are social and friendly in public and at home. Once at home, these individuals turn into monsters, abuse their families, and close friends.
Since most people with ASPD are suspicious and paranoid, psychopaths may bully and antagonize coworkers they see as threats. Even when on their best behavior, sociopaths are unreliable, impulsive and moody. They often nurse deep resentments and never take responsibility for their actions. These villains like to point fingers and blame others for their failures.
When befriending someone, most sociopaths depend on quick talking and sales pitch techniques. In most cases, humans are drawn to people similar to themselves. Psychopaths go to extreme lengths to exploit this. During conversation, the sociopath probes into a person’s psyche to determine their likes, dislikes, thought processes and mannerisms. Then, they imitate these to gain the other person’s trust. When all else fails, they will turn to threats. Once the target has agreed to go along with the task, the sociopath drops the act.
For me, the most interesting type is psychopath is the creative one. Basically, they are con artists. This sociopath fits in well with writers, artists, bohemians and revolutionaries. There, he or she can blend in and seek out victims pretending to be a misunderstood creative genius.
One of their manipulations is spending hours painting or sculpting a piece of artwork, which is nothing more than an exaggerated phallic symbol. Their primary goal is to get other people to rebel against societal norms. Like the other psychopaths I mentioned, he or she pretends to like the same things as their victim. In fact, he or she may come across more knowledgeable. Extremely intelligent, this person sprinkles cultural, literary and historical allusions in his speech and may act in a condescending manner. For example, the sociopath may want to do the crossword with someone. The psychopath will allow that person to read the clues, but not let him or her help solve the puzzle. Offers to help the sociopath will be turned down with explanations of how it will slow the ASPD individual down and impede their progress.
With a variety of different manifestations of ASPD, there is plenty of inspiration for villainous characters. Understanding the psychopathic mindset and applying it during the characterization process will make antagonists authentic, interesting and unforgettable.