About Writing: Sociopaths

It occurred to me the other day that sociopaths make excellent characters. In fact, most of the best characters that really stay with me are sociopaths. Vic Mackey, Omar Little, Gregory House; these are all people you wouldn’t want to meet, but would love to write.

Vic Mackey
Vic Mackey

So what is a sociopath?

Apparently the definition has fallen out of favour, but for the purposes of writing it’s worth looking at some of their traits.

They are single-minded and will do anything to get what they want. They are manipulative and very good at faking emotions if it gets them what they want.

A character with a strong central desire is always important, and it doesn’t really matter if you write them knowing their emotions are fake, because the people around them do not know this; indeed, even the audience need not know this.

A sociopath’s goal is to win, and he is willing to do anything at all to win.

The Airbus A380
The Airbus A380

They are often impulsive and reckless. They have a tendency to violate emotional boundaries, are easily bored, intensely narcissistic and have a problem with authority figures.

In fact, they sound deeply unappealing as real people, but the lure of them to a writer is unsurprising. Best of all, they are capable of being charming and funny, which adds that extra layer to the cake.

And if you’re thinking they only sound like a good basis for dramatic characters, what about Malcolm Tucker or Edmund Blackadder?

4 thoughts on “About Writing: Sociopaths

  • November 1, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Sociopath … sounds a bit like me ha ha :/

  • November 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Perhaps Dexter should be on the list, or is he just a psychopath?

  • November 1, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Dexter’s definitely the quintessential sociopath. He’s a psychopath too, yes, but a big deal is made of the way he fakes ‘normal’ emotions in order to have a normal life.

  • November 1, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Yes, good point.

    I’m surprised I forgot to mention Dexter in the post, but I think the idea was to convey that you could write a sociopath without anyone really knowing he was one. The whole point of Dexter is that we know who he is, while no one else does.

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