Creating Characters

I saw this photo on Instagram the other day and it made me think.

photo (21)

We all know someone who displays some of those tendencies and it would make for a really interesting if not truly horrible character. I like the imagery of a ’emotional vampire’ as I could see exactly where they were coming from. There is plenty of scope for how far you could take the character and how much damage they could cause.

Wikipedia lists it as:

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder[1] in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process. 

It fits with sociopathic tendencies too as the urban dictionary defines it:

A person with antisocial personality disorder. Probably the most widely recognized personality disorder. A sociopath is often well liked because of their charm and high charisma, but they do not usually care about other people. They think mainly of themselves and often blame others for the things that they do. They have a complete disregard for rules and lie constantly. They seldom feel guilt or learn from punishments. Though some sociopaths have become murders, most reveal their sociopathy through less deadly and sensational means.

So a narcissistic sociopath is forming in my writer’s mind and I don’t want them to stay for long so I need to write, only what to do with them. I’ve never written a nasty character before or an unhappy ending as I prefer to give my characters the happy endings we struggle for in real life.

It might be fun to create this horrible monster and find them get their comeuppance at the end. Or the idea might just burn out like so many others have. Sometimes writing is about challenging your normal comfort zone to avoid the rehashing of the same stories and this developing monster is certainly that.

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12 responses

  1. I just don’t like letting characters like that inside my head. Having to look at things from their perspective makes me feel awful

    1. I feel the same but sometimes a character develops without you realising it and the only way to get rid of them is to write! It’s not the normal character I would write because I’m not naturally minded to the dark side but I think it will be a learning experience as a writer if I can make it work.

  2. If you can keep a character like this in a fenced-off corner of your creative mind, he/she will certainly be interesting and intriguing both to write – and to read. I find the more damaged/dangerous a character, the more fun I have writing them, and the more excited I feel about the creative experience. Is that weird?

    1. I don’t think so. Writing is an art and like any creator is gives us pleasure. It is fictional and part of our imagination. Sure some of it will be based on someone or something we know or knew in our lives that’s natural but an active imagination is a wonderful thing.

      Writing about things that are not our normal situations just helps us to develop our craft. Like studying a new form of painting. I worry that I will just rehash the same stories over and over if I don’t try to push myself.

      My normal writing style has always been to take a deep breath, blank page and write. I never know where I’m going with it. I sometimes have bullet point ideas but rarely go back and look at them. I write what calls to me in the moment. This character will need research and planning so I will have to push myself but I’m excited to see if I can do it and if it will be believable.

      I tried writing erotic fiction for the first time recently and it was commented how life like my characters were when I won the writing competition so I figure my overactive imagination can cope with a bit of change! Oh and writing that was fun too. 😉

  3. I actually live on this spectrum, somewhere on the low end of the sociopath part of the scale, and I often have to work hard not to be a monster in my own right. That being said, when I write a character from that perspective, it’s very easy to let that part of me stalk into my daily life.

    I find it easier to write characters like that since I so easily identify with them and can process the perspective effectively. I have one character, Nick Nixon, and when I write about him I draw primarily from my own secret personality. I find myself disturbed after these writing sessions, having looked inward way too much, reminded of who I really am.

    Good luck with your character…just don’t give it too much reign over your thoughts. A sociopath, even a made up one, will to its best to apply control. And that’s never good.

    1. Thank you for sharing that insight. I’m not sure I can fully write the nasty character I want because I don’t understand him enough. I’m using him as a test of my ability.

      I think a lot of people have links to those scales at some point in their lives. Searching yourself and finding things that are not quite what you thought is a scary process. I can imagine how strange it is for you to read back.

      I have an exercise I do to help me cope sometimes, I write everything I feel and want to say to get it all out of my head. It’s never meant to be read by anyone, its just a clearing exercise. I often don’t read it back but when I do I am always shocked at what I have written.

      Nick sounds like an interesting character! Maybe I’ll read about him one day. 🙂

      1. I can certainly relate to your trouble writing nasty characters; I have the same problem with normal ones and it’s sometimes hard for me to motivate behaviors and actions. I end up creating highly disturbing antagonists just to build a perspective that makes a seriously flawed hero more acceptable to a reader.

        The idea is to create an element of endearment around the character (I distort this perspective by writing exponentially worse characters) that is ultimately false. This also creates a sense of realism since, well, effective camouflage is a primary tactic used by really nasty people. Think about how Hannibal Lecter is a well spoken psychiatrist or how Dexter Morgan works for the police. These are not altruistic endeavors but rather methods of blending in to the environment in order to support and conceal extremely antisocial behavior. Understanding camouflage and the use of deceit as such are fundamental to grasping what makes bad people tick, not just how they operate.

        Fortunately, writers deal in deceit and the first tool for understanding such a person is one we have to use with each character we make up. The difference is to let the character tell their own lie and at some point, let the audience in on it. They did this effectively with the Dexter series. That character actually has us believing that the good he does is real good, as opposed to self serving deeds that just happen to seem good, especially when compared to the different antagonists. And we’re reminded, consistently by both words and actions, of the truth.

        Most of my writing comes the way your coping exercise does. I sleep on an idea and then wake up and just write it. It works well for essays, blog entries and the like, but it’s hell editing a 100,000 word stream of consciousness. And you’re right, rereading bad things you might not necessarily remember writing can be, in fact, quite scary. Have fun with it. I once wrote something so far beyond disturbing it was perfect. It just popped in my head and completely disgusted me. So I changed the whole storyline just to make it fit in and it became an element through which to define the characters personality. I think the reason it works is because I didn’t motivate the action. Motivating a bad guys behavior is a way good guys make sense of bad deeds. It’s a way of applying a common moral baseline to an uncommon behavior. The idea of not necessarily explaining motivations behind naughtiness changes the perception of them and, I think, sets a precedent which can function, for the reader, as a way to understand how different the characters moral baseline actually is from theirs. An antisocial personality defines it’s own moral code…explicitly.

        Does any of that make sense?

        I wish benevolent characters were easier for me.

      2. That makes perfect sense to me, thank you for taking the time to explain. I think to do this character justice I need to do a fair bit of research.

        At the moment I have an idea of a character but not much of an idea of what story to put them in! I’m finding it exciting pushing my thought processes and trying to learn a different way of writing. So far my idea for the character is him tormenting a woman and using her as his puppet only for her to snap and get her revenge in a gruesome way but I’m not completely set on the idea!

        Thanks again for the feedback 🙂

      3. Sounds like the beginnings of a good story. One more bit and I’ll stop… A guy like that naturally chooses a woman who will do the opposite of snap. Think of the difference between thinking and believing. He needs a believer, not a thinker. Or a fighter. She will need a catalyst or agent, if you will, to instigate the snap and guide a revenge like set of behaviors. Good luck man.

      4. You’re help is much appreciated, thank you for helping me get into the required mindset. I hadn’t even considered your points. Good luck to you too!

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