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:
- Traits of a sociopath (ICD-10 diagnosis information at md-health.com; note that having only 3 of the numbered traits qualifies for an official medical diagnosis.)
- 16 Questions That Might Tell Whether You’re a Sociopath (Business Insider made a slide show!)
- 11 Signs You May Be Dating a Sociopath (Huffington Post article: not trying to be click-baity, but #11 is my favorite.)
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?).