Psychopathic characters are obsessed with topping their latest act of villainy and drive themselves deeper into badness. They are often the cause of their downfall because they are so hubristic and believe themselves invincible, like Stefano Valentini, Achilles, or Tiger Woods. If perseverance were an art form, you would be a master. I’m not saying demigods and golfers are psychopaths, but hubris is an important fatal flaw when composing psychopathic characters.
Duty does not matter to a psychopath, making it hard to write, as they are supposed to be unpredictable because of it. Make your psychopath care about something. Giving your psychopath something they deeply obsess about provides humanity to your character. But you should always strive to have, even if they are psychopaths. If you want to write a psychopath character smoothly, follow my tips.
How to write a psychopath character?
When you introduce your psychopath, it’s a good idea to have your hero, witness, or psychopath in action. Your hero is baffled and disgusted at the psychopath as they portray a sliver of their evil. Don’t give your reader an introduction to your psychopath in which they perform their greatest act of psychopathy, only never to top that in the climax of your story. It gives your reader a taste of the crazy for them to want more than write the most gruesome, devilish thing your psychopath ever does in the finale.
Most writers treat the psychopath as almost an afterthought, which can mess up your book’s structure and the intimidation or fear factor created by your psychopath. Not all stories have scary psychopaths, but you want your antagonist to pump up the tension and make the reader anxious about what will happen.
So even if you’re not writing horror or sci-fi or fantasy where the psychopath might be a little scarier, you still want the reader to experience that fear of what’s going to happen. That’s going to make the reader connect and worry about your psychopath character. I will talk about 5 tips to write a psychopath character perfectly. Let’s do it!
1. Create a disappearance of the psychopath
The most common problem I see with the psychopath is the disappearing act. The psychopath shows up or is mentioned early on and then disappears for most of the story in the same way the protagonist is taking steps and moving towards their goal. The psychopath should be doing the same thing.
- The great thing about the disappearance is that once you implement that in your story, you can create more scenes, plot points, creativity, and unexpected events in the story.
Because all of a sudden, you have two people moving towards their goal and two people who are impacting the story and changing its direction. If you can’t have the psychopath present for whatever reason, you should have some evidence of the psychopath present in the story. It could be ransom notes, stumbling upon a body whoever coming upon the crimes of the psychopath’s continued crime helps to give a sense of presence in the story.
If you don’t want to reveal the identity of your psychopath, there’s some mystery about who the bad guy is. Or, if you’re writing a mystery, there’s the mystery about who the psychopath is. When you’re hiding the identity of the psychopath, it is that the psychopath doesn’t do anything. It is what happens in Harry Potter with Voldemort, but then he isn’t relevant to Harry substantially until the end. However, he affects the story throughout.
Voldemort is always putting plans into play, and he’s moving towards getting the Sorcerer’s Stone. You want to avoid the sense that the psychopath isn’t doing anything, that the psychopath perhaps took something away from the protagonist or tells the protagonist that they’re hunting them. That is not going to work. It will make it hard for the reader to stay engaged with the conflict. So be aware of it.
2. Show the cruelty
One thing that can go awry with a psychopath is when you don’t understand their personality and what motivates them to be evil or go against the protagonist. Then you can end up with characters that feel wishy-washy or almost seem as if they’re acting in whatever way causes the most problems, rather than in a way that’s truly related to who they are.
- A strong psychopath also needs to show up in the story only when they do something valuable to them.
It tends not to work very well if the psychopath shows up to be creepy or to be mean. So take into consideration your psychopath motivation. If your psychopath is kidnapping a child because they need money, that person probably isn’t going to harm the child purposefully. It’s because they don’t have any motivation to do that.
If they’re desperate for money, then what they’re going to do will be things that get the money. So maybe they would harm the child in an attempt to get a higher ransom, or if the parents aren’t responding to their ransom note. But they’re not going to do it to be bad. With a motivation or mental illness, a psychopath seems to react differently in different situations that, for some reason, will harm someone in one situation. Or they’re acting without a lot of intention or goals.
Note: Readers want to see your psychopath character as a terrifying murderer who tortures victims with a motive or mental illness.
3. Have a revengeful or illogical goal
You need to understand your psychopath inside and out. What would they do to get their goal, and what motivates them? It can be helpful to understand what the belief is that the psycho has. In general, your psychopath character will have beliefs about themselves, the protagonist, or the world. It will be what pushes their behavior, what pushes them to respond in how they respond.
For example, maybe your psychopath believes that the world is not fair and the only way to get what you want is to take it. Or they believe that the hero is an evil person and deserves punishment. When you understand the belief, you can then conceptualize where this belief came from, and you suddenly have a lot of depth to your psychopath.
So what the psychopath believes will spark their motivation or emotional drive, which will spark their goal. Then you will have a complete and logical psychopath. Treat them as complete characters the way you would treat your protagonist.
4. Create a correlation
Story structure isn’t only about plotting; character creation isn’t characterization at any stage. We’re not visualizing hair, color, accent, or what food they like. Explore how to build your characters’ foundations and how the principal cast will work together to take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. Once you have a cast, you can layer on the psychopath characterization. Also, you can shape your personality and then build relationships.
The hero would be living in their normal world if the psychopath hadn’t come crashing into the first act. First and foremost, you have to love your psychopath, and you have to understand their motivations. Clearly, the character won’t be authentic if you don’t remember what the most convincing. Compelling psychopaths are those who would see themselves as a hero!
The basic motivations of the psychopath are what create the story, and their conviction makes them an unstoppable force. The hero has to win against someone or something that has no intention of ever giving up to have such conviction.
5. Do research
Neuropsychologist Dr. Ryan Bartha wrote a paper on the differences in psychopathy between men and women and said that collectively studies suggest that although psychopathy occurs more frequently and is typically more severe in men, the disorder also exists in women. Further, the behavioral expression of the disorder is likely to differ across gender, with females showing more emotional and verbal violence, as well as relational manipulation, and to a lesser degree than males.
Bartha also quotes a study done in 2005 where female psychopaths displayed fewer explicit acts of violence and instead engaged in forms of manipulation and destructive relational aggression. So it seems there are some differences in the manifestation of psychopathy between men and women, and we see that in these two characters. One of the major differences between these two characters is their method of harming others. So, before picking a male or female character, learn more about them.
Important notes/references about the psychopath
Criminal trial attorney Frank Perry and psychologist Terrence McDonald said a class of personality types could characterize personality disorders. It deviates from societal expectations of acceptable behavior. Research has proven that those with personality disorders display rigidity or inflexibility in their thinking, feeling, and behaviors that impair them from functioning with others.
Antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy and psychopathy refers to people who habitually disregard and violate the rights of others with a complete lack of remorse. Common symptoms of Asperger’s include a lack of empathy, superficial emotions, charm, secrecy, manipulation, compulsive lying, authoritarian nature, paranoia, and a narcissistic self-image. In addition, psychologists describe those with Asperger’s as having a severely malformed conscience or lack of conscience altogether.
Psychopaths are particularly prone to rage when they don’t get what they want. So feel free to let them wreak havoc and give in to their hubris as they reach their downfall. When you write your psychopath, please don’t give your audience a clear reason why they’ve become a psychopath. Some are born that way, and others are created through trauma.
By giving too much information about their psychopathy, you end up playing down the appeal of a psychopathic character. Psychopathic characters and psychopathic people in real life are so feared because of the ambiguity of their condition.
Be careful not to let your psychopath be sympathized with by your audience. They want your audience to pity them so they can take advantage of them. Your audience may only pity them in their downfall. If you have any questions about the psychopath, feel free to put those in the comments.
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