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Symptoms of a Sociopath

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Average Everygirl #14: Average encounters the Seductive Billionaire, Part 2 | Panel 1: The narrator says, "Average has just sprayed an impossibly rich, hot, would-be lover with mace." The Seductive Billionaire rubs his tightly shut eyes, yelling, "Are you crazy?!" Average, scowling, replies, "You tapped my phone. You stalked me. You broke into my house and watched me sleep." | Panel 2: The Seductive Billionaire, red bags under his eyes, protests, "But I'm hot! And rich! And HOT!" Average says, "And your behavior is still CREEPY." | Panel 3: Still bleary-eyed, the Seductive Billionaire resumes his smirk and says, "You just need a little more persuasion. Care to join me for dinner on my yacht?" | Panel 4: Average, deadpan, again sprays a cloud of mace straight into his eyes. The narrator concludes, "In his defense, these tactics usually work for fictional hot, rich guys."

If book sales in the past decade are any indication, there exists a significant faction of readers out there who view stalking, obsession, and controlling behavior as oh-so-sexy… as long as said behavior comes from a handsome leading man. Give him fish eyes and a jumble-toothed grin, and suddenly the heroine is a victim instead of an envied avatar.

As I said in my last post, this trend in literature is nothing new. That it persists is what I find so disheartening.

I’ll be blunt: if the hero lies, manipulates, stalks, coerces, entraps, or performs any other act from a known spectrum of creepy behavior, and especially if he does it for his own benefit (usually to gain power over the heroine), he’s no hero. Those traits aren’t characteristics of a brooding romantic. They are symptoms of a sociopath.

(The same goes for female characters, of course, but when such traits occur in women, the book immediately shifts over to its rightful genre, thriller, and everyone recognizes her for the crazy that she is.)

Putting this character type in its proper frame

Sociopaths make for fascinating characters. They can drive a plot forward, provide compelling tension, create seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Their detached, rational thought process and meticulous intelligence can strike terror in a main character and the reader both. One might say that sociopaths make the very best of villains.

They make horrible love interests, though. Mostly because, from a normal perspective, they’re dangerous and emotionally destructive.

And yet, they keep getting cast in that role, where often their only positive traits are wealth and a handsome face. A prevailing social narrative right now idolizes intelligence and rational thought, characterized by career success and a calm, detached demeanor respectively. Smoldering stares are prized over affability any day of the week.

“Just because a character smolders a lot doesn’t make him a sociopath, Kate.”

Yeah, okay. If he smolders a lot, can he also turn on the charm when he wants to? And maybe that makes the smoldering all right?

Haha. Guess again.

Because I’m a giver (and because I’m too lazy to paraphrase when I’d have to cite the sources anyway), I will here provide some resources on sociopaths. Click the following for links:

If you’re really ambitious, measure your favorite character on any one of these scales. Measure other characters. Create a character or two or five and plop them into a lovely world they can manipulate to their shriveled hearts’ content.

Just, if you’re not writing thrillers, don’t give any of them a love interest, mmkay?

(Unless it’s another sociopath, I mean. Voldemort/Bellatrix, anyone?).