January 22, 2013
Writing: (Psychopathic) Villains

No villainous action is random. Nothing they do is out of nothing. There will always be a human issue that drives them to be villains in the first place. Sometimes villains don’t even consider themselves to be villain-they might actually see themselves as the hero. Some villains are sadistic psychopaths, others utter narcissists. Whatever they may be, there’s always a reason behind their actions. Even if it just for fun (although this can sometimes end up being a poorly developed, cliche villain).

However, sometimes villains don’t commit their actions out of pain or an uncontrollable need. Sometimes they just do it because they like to. Johan Liebert from Monster, Norman Bates from Psycho, Moriarty from Sherlock

How do you write these villains?

How do psychopaths work?

First of all, let’s establish the most common traits of a psychopath.

  •      Glib and superficial
  •      Egocentric and grandiose
  •      Lacking in remorse or guilt
  •      Deceitful and manipulative
  •      Impulsive
  •      Thrill-seeking
  •      Lacking responsibility
  •      Emotionally shallow
Some of these traits are held by non-psychopathic people. The main trait-the core psychopath trait-is the lack of remorse and guilt. 
What goes through a psychopath’s mind when choosing a victim?
  1. Is this act justified?
  2. Are there any other ways to get what I’m after?
  3. Can I deal with the possible consequences?
  4. Can I successfully commit this act?
Once the predator has satisfactory answers for each of these questions, he launches a plan…
How do they “capture” their victim?
  • Charm: This a manipulation technique many psychopaths use to compel and control through niceness and attraction.
  • False trust: This is a manipulation technique the psychopath may use in order to establish fake trust with the victim.
  • Chattering: A manipulation technique to distract the victim with nonsense facts and chatter, mostly so the psychopath can get physically closer.
  • False promises: The psychopath can falsely promise their victim something, such as promising to leave after walking him/her to the doorstep.
  • Favors: A manipulation technique in which the psychopath will do their victim a favor, just so that the victim will be in their debt.
  • Typecasting: The psychopath might try to label their victim in a slightly negative manner so that the victim will immediately act the opposite just to prove them wrong. For example, saying “You’re probably too rich to want to be with me.”
  • Refusing to accept a “no”: If the victim refuses any of the psychopath’s advances, the psychopath will immediately try every single manipulation technique he/she knows to get a yes out of the victim.

Still, some authors try to make their villain sympathetic to the reader. Why is that? Because if the readers sympathize with the villain, for whatever reason, it can add more depth to the character. Whether it’s a tragic or twisted past, a streak of goodness (the classic Pet the Dog trope), or even the villain’s inability to recognize that what they do is wrong, it can all be interesting ways to create your villain.

However, don’t make your villain too sympathetic, unless you plan to redeem/save them in the end-or cause some huge angst. The readers will probably be expecting the villain to live on in the end, and depending on how you want your story to be, you may or may not want that to happen.

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