In my stories when I write about baddies (also known as ‘antagonists’ in fancy writer-speak) I want to understand their motivation, beyond a simplistic ‘I’m evil, so I’m going to do evil’ kind of way.
In real life I subscribe to the theory that everyone in their own mind is a good person. We generally try to act according to our values and believe those values to be ‘right’. I always try to remember this when trying to get on with difficult people in the workplace.
Of course acting in accordance with your values doesn’t always mean you make things rosy for those around you. We often hurt people because we don’t appreciate the affect our words or actions may have on them. We put self-interest ahead of the needs of others. We justify our own need to control by believing we know what’s best.
And we also do things we believe to be wrong for a whole host of reasons. Anger, pain, frustration – all these can lead us to actions that can clash with our basic values. Acting against your values creates internal conflict – which is great material for writing.
However, there’s an estimated 1% of the population who don’t quite think like the rest of us. Sociopaths (or psychopaths – the word is used fairly intercheagably) are defined by having blunted emotional response to negative stimuli (e.g. they genuinely don’t feel bad if they hurt someone) and poor impulse control. Which gives you the double whammy of “I feel like doing this thing you all think is bad and I’m going to do it anyway.”
Other features include: lying, lying and more lying; thinking they’re much better than everyone else; no sense of remorse or shame; superficial charm; need for stimulation and excitment; inability to love.
Sociopaths are not all criminals and murderers, although they’re certainly over-represented among that group. They’re also apparently pretty well represented among successful businessmen.
I’ve been spending a bit of time recently researching sociopaths including two blogs written by self-proclaimed sociopaths and frankly I feel like my brain needs washing out with bleach.
I had planned on making one of the five main characters in my nanowrimo novel a sociopath, but as I developed his motivations and relationships I found it just wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to not like him and a sociopath is a hard sell. Not impossible, but I struggled with it in the context of the larger story.
But then I thought…I have this race of ethereal non-humans – the Djinn – who possess some humans and then want to take over the world. What if, when they possess someone, they have the same affect on that possessee as making them a sociopath? In many ways sociopaths could be said to lacking in humanity.
How much fun would it be to write a whole civilisation of people for whom the norms that govern human behaviour don’t exist? A civilisation driven by basic desires. It will be utter chaos!