Is your villain suffering from the dreaded Jekyll and Hyde syndrome? Does he appear to be Mr. Nice Guy before he suddenly morphs into a monster? Does it seem as though the Pod People have stolen his soul somewhere between chapters one and four?
Here’s a typical scenario: When the story opens, he’s every woman’s dream; charming, caring and so sensitive, he could probably watch an entire Lifetime movie without grabbing the remote. But by page forty-three, he’s become a predator, a dangerous psychopath, a born manipulator. Why didn’t the heroine see it coming? Why didn’t the reader?
The problem may be you! Did you remember to add some “red flags” to reveal your villain’s true nature, to hint at his warped personality? Did you add a few touches, early on in the story, to indicate that he is not what he seems?
It’s not hard to do, and you don’t need to reveal all his flaws at once. It’s much more effective to dole them out in bits and pieces. Think of walking into a dark room (your villain’s psyche). You want some illumination. Should you flip on the overhead light? Or should you switch on some table lamps scattered around the room? Go for the latter approach, think of revealing little “pools of light.” Subtle touches here and there.
Here are a few warning signs, some red flags to get you started. The psychopathic checklist from the DSM, the Bible of mental disorders, is a good place to begin. These are the symptoms of someone with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (shrink-speak for sociopath).
|He’s narcissistic, craving admiration, convinced he’s the center of the universe. Does he talk about himself constantly? Does he seemed bored/disinterested in other people’s comments? Does he crave admiration the way a vampire craves blood? You don’t have to make him a metrosexual, but you might be able to suggest he thinks he’s hot.|
|He plays loose and fast with the truth. In other words, he lies. Little white lies, fibs and whoppers. And the strange thing is, he lies even when it’s not necessary. He likes to exaggerate, embellish, make every story “bigger” than it has to be. Have your heroine catch him in a little white lie. Most sociopaths are “practiced liars.” They look you right in the eye when lying, with no tell-tale body language.|
|He’s a control freak. His concern about the heroine’s every thought, every movement seems charming at first, but it’s a bad sign. After a while this 24/7 scrutiny sends up warning signals in her head.|
|He can be moody and unpredictable. Called “emotionally labile” in shrink-talk. His moods go up and down and he is inconsistent. He can fly into a rage one minute, and then suddenly switch gears and turn on the charm.|
|He is impatient, abrupt, with a low tolerance for frustration. The tiniest thing can set him off–a slow driver, a careless waitress, a cold dinner.|
|He fails to plan ahead and shows poor judgment. Maybe he invites the heroine to a romantic dinner at a lakeside lodge. But he forgets the lodge is closed that month, and there’s nowhere else to stay in a fifty mile radius. They could camp out, but he forgot about the mosquitoes. You get the idea!|
|He never admits guilt, never apologizes and blames others. As far as he is concerned, he is never in the wrong–never!|
|He is manipulative. For example , he uses “grooming behaviors” on the heroine to convince her to do something she really doesn’t want to do. By getting the heroine to agree to small things, he eventually pushes his demands and she finds herself caught up in a situation that is not of her choosing. Sales people call this the “foot-in-the-door” technique. The idea is to get the mark to say “yes” to something small and inconsequential, and then she will agree on larger issues|
|Author Sylvie Kurtz came up with this final one. “ One thing that makes con men so effective is the way they can use the normal signs that something isn’t right and turn them around to make themselves look good and the logic of the person being conned defective. In PRIDE OF A HUNTER (Harlequin Intrigue, September ’05) Jill is upset because her sister warned her that she thought Warren might be taking advantage of her. When Jill confronts Warren about her sister’s fears, he tells Jill that Luci is simply jealous of Jill’s good fortune. By the end of the scene, Jill is sure her sister is wrong and Warren is the best thing that ever happened to her."|
Sheer manipulation, done by masters of deceit. Try my “red flags” when creating your next villain–it’s the easiest technique I know to capture a sociopath on paper!
Mary Kennedy is a forensic psychologist and a popular workshop presenter. Her latest Berkely chick-lit YA is "Tales of a Hollywood Gossip Queen", released this month.
*Originally printed in "Heartline Herald", the NJ-RWA chapter newsletter. This article was picked up by several other chapters.