1. TheApprentice
    Offline

    TheApprentice Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2013
    Messages:
    1,198
    Likes Received:
    154

    Acceptable explanation for sociopath tendencies?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TheApprentice, Nov 2, 2014.

    I am working on a dark urban fantasy novel involving a set of mage characters as the protag group. One of them has no problem with killing anyone who threatens him and his friends, and has almost no bad reaction to seeing corpses of people he doesn't know. He still cares about his friends, and has his morality like anyone else. He is not like Dexter Morgan. My character feels normal people emotions. The only difference from him and a normal person is he has no second thoughts or remorse about killing the bad guy, and on some occasions does so with great pleasure. Also, his main method of killing is to buff his own strength with magic and beat people to death, so you have an idea of how grisly his kills are.

    His back story is a little sad, but not outright tragic. He recalls no memories from before age 15. Doesn't know any family of his own. Him and his friends got abused by some of the staff in the orphan house. There are opportunities to explain a character that is a total sociopath with that back story, but this character retains some of his humanity.

    I am just wondering if I would leave too many hole with this kind of character with this back story and no further explanation.
     
  2. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,656
    Likes Received:
    5,137
    I think sometimes we can get too caught up in finding the 'reason' characters are the way they are. I mean, human personalities are complex, there are countless interactions and interferences and factors to consider - boiling down our characterization to 'he's X because Y' often feels too pat, to me.

    So you have a character who's desensitized to death and violence, it sounds like. Okay. He is. Make him consistent, but I don't think you need to explain, necessarily. He just is that way.
     
    daemon likes this.
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Don't explain it. Just portray it accurately.
     
    karmazon likes this.
  4. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    When I am presented with a character who shows those traits, my first thought is not "I wonder how he became like that." Generally, I accept without question that he is like that, and I eagerly await the compelling consequences of his decisions and the interesting ways his character is developed. Therefore, if you want to make him believable, then the key is more to show him acting consistently with his current motives than to show him acting consistently with some backstory.

    Now, if you do present a backstory and attempt to show how he became the way he is in the present, then I do pay attention to developmental realism, but only because you have focused my attention there. (Maybe that is why some of the most effective villains or antiheroes in fiction have mysterious pasts -- in those cases, "mysterious past" is not just a cheap ploy to make a character seem spooky; it is merely the absence of mistakes by the author -- refer to Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.)
     
  5. karmazon
    Offline

    karmazon Member

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2007
    Messages:
    66
    Likes Received:
    23
    ^ Sociopaths exist, and the disorder is a sliding scale and not a binary thing. Having the character as it is does not need to be explained by anything in his past, he was simply born like that.
     
  6. TheApprentice
    Offline

    TheApprentice Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2013
    Messages:
    1,198
    Likes Received:
    154
    But he is not a full blown sociopath. He has emotions and humanity. He is simply not afraid to get bloody.
     
  7. karmazon
    Offline

    karmazon Member

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2007
    Messages:
    66
    Likes Received:
    23
     
    BayView and daemon like this.
  8. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Born or built by circumstance doesn't matter, unless that IS the story.

    If it is the story, though, you need to do real research, not just asking a bunch of folks on a writing forum. That's when you need to sit down with experienced mental health professionals, read professional articles on sociopathic personality disorders, learn to navigate and understand DSM V, and collect case studies.

    The more in-depth your story, the more research you're in for. Even having a sociopath as a character without having to deal with how he or she became that way is a challenge that calls for significant research.
     
  9. marshipan
    Offline

    marshipan Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2013
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    28
    I'd consider that person/character more normal than a person not willing (and later remorseful) to kill a bad guy to protect himself and friends.
     
  10. TheApprentice
    Offline

    TheApprentice Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2013
    Messages:
    1,198
    Likes Received:
    154
    Would having him help his friend to the hospital and express genuine concern over the injuries one minute, but then set some bad dudes (who he doesn't know) on fire the next and have no feelings of regret or remorse cause the reader to lose interest? This was what I was wondering.
     
  11. marshipan
    Offline

    marshipan Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2013
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    28
    Well, I suggest just not giving him two extremes. A person like that might be a 'leader' type of person. Strong minded, loyal, but not very emotional. Concern over injuries isn't going to be "oh my god, are you alright?!". He would be more calm, and concern would be showed in attempt to asses the situation and do what needs to be done. What might can be described as more emotionally detached--which doesn't mean anything about emotional capacity or the desire and joy of being a good person.

    At least, that's what I see in people I've known like that. Overall, just make sure you have a good grasp on his personality while writing it.
     
  12. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    Not at all. My first thought is that his mind simply works differently from most. Your typical "decent human being" (I use the term sardonically) has a basic respect for all people, with some measure of unconditional altruism. Your character is different. The only thing that can get him to value another person is something he sees in that person, or something they share in common. He lives by his own code. Some of my all-time favorite fictional characters are renowned for living by their own code. (Walter White, Omar Little, etc.)

    And there is no need to justify that with psychology. He need not be the same kind of "sociopath" psychologists talk about. He simply is who he is: a fictional character you made up. Just make him consistent. Do not show him suddenly being altruistic to someone he has no reason to care about, unless something really changes his mind.
     
  13. Devlin Blake
    Offline

    Devlin Blake Member

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2014
    Messages:
    83
    Likes Received:
    31
    That type of character is possible. It's basically an extension of a 'butcher' but he kills humans, not animals. (I don't mean to sound anti-meat with that statement. I'm surrounded by farms, fishermen and hunters, so I'm not.)

    However, to a butcher, and an animal is food and business, nothing else. Livestock have no purpose in his mind beyond these two. That doesn't mean they don't have pets at home they care about.

    Your character sounds the same. To him killing humans might just be business' maybe he's getting paid or they're just in the way. He doesn't feel that way about his own family and friends, but to him, strangers are just like 'livestock'.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  14. Darkkin
    Offline

    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,758
    Likes Received:
    515
    Location:
    Following the footprints in the sand...
    This seems almost like a Spartan mindset. And if anyone knew how to compartmentalize it was the Spartans. Many who serve, or have served, in the military or law enforcement fields have this ability. They kill only to protect, not for pleasure. There is a world of difference between the two, and your character is sounding more like the prior, killing to protect. Is there fall out from killing, yes, but will it haunt your character, probably not overmuch.

    So here's a question: Is your character really a sociopath? He has real emotions and attachments, I would say no. He kills to protect, I would say compartmentalizing plays a role, here. Don't focus on archetypes. He's missing fifteen years of memories, was any warrior's training included in that? Could be an interesting plot device and a simple explanation.
     
  15. khawlaazwar
    Offline

    khawlaazwar Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2014
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    India
    Few words open many windows but one proper reason opens only main gate. Every action is result of some reactions. Your character must have one or few reasons for whatever he is today.

    As you said, he is normal and has normal emotions like any other common human being. But there is something stuck in his mind, which leads him to go beyond the boundaries.

    Whole psychology of character changes due to reason of killing.

    Its upto you what connection you link with past and how you narrate it.

    Hope, this may be useful to you.
     
  16. Michael Jeffries
    Offline

    Michael Jeffries Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2014
    Messages:
    39
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    You could have him make cryptic comments as a way of giving hints about his past and his motivation without ever explicitly detailing either. Keeping his history somewhat veiled would be consistent with who you're portraying him to be. Perhaps he could make unintentional double entendres which reveal an unconscious knowledge of what has helped him become who he is. Or you could only have others talk about what they think they know about him while he remain silent about it all. Some of what you reveal depends on how you're narrating the story.

    As some other members have mentioned, he doesn't lack empathy. He has a highly specific moral code. This is akin to a person who would passionately defend animals, but wouldn't hesitate to hurt a fellow human. Some people become attached to specific people while caring very little about the rest of humanity. This is atypical, but not necessarily sociopathic.

    I wonder if being a mage and possessing such power would have an effect on a person's ability to relate to others. This could be something to explore with all the characters. They might all have psychological experiences quite different from what less gifted humans know.
     
  17. TheApprentice
    Offline

    TheApprentice Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2013
    Messages:
    1,198
    Likes Received:
    154
    The problem is, he is like this because of his past, but I don't want to reveal anything about it until a lot later in the story. The book begins with him at age 19, remembering only as far back as waking up in the orphanage.

    It is also an urban fantasy that takes place in 2008, in the US, so the setting is a "civil" environment. Also, magic is not a "gift" in my universe that only a few people have. It is something anyone can do if they put in the effort and practice. It is the mages who seek the dangers of the supernatural world in my book, not the other way around.
     

Share This Page