Framing Shane Walsh

Having recently come down off a Punisher Season Two high and looking for a bit of a Jon Bernthal fix, I thought, hey – why not re-start The Walking Dead? I watched it as a tender 15-year-old back when it first aired, although I never saw it all the way through. I remembered being more of a Daryl fan than a Shane fan – in fact, I remember disliking Shane quite a lot. But hey, Jon Bernthal is Jon Bernthal, and I am writing a post-apocalypse novel.

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I started watching, fully expecting to appreciate Shane’s beauty and dislike his character thoroughly. That’s what I remembered doing back in the day – so I was taken aback to find that Shane was by far my favorite character by episode two. He had a rough start there in the first episode, but as the show picked up, so did his character. And I thought, hmm. I’m generally quite good at being objective, even if my feelings are involved, but maybe I’m too biased. Maybe Frank Castle is skewing me toward Shane Walsh. So, to keep track, I began a list, simply titled ‘Things Shane Does,’ where I listed everything of significance Shane did during the two seasons he starred in.

And the more things I listed, the more infuriated I became. Shane Walsh is literally listed in the Villain Wikipedia.

I’m an empathetic, diplomatic kind of person. And I was agreeing with almost every decision Shane made.

Now here’s the thing: Shane is not a perfect character. As far as I’m aware, nobody likes perfect characters. They’re boring. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of people adoring characters who are genuinely abusive, like Rhys from A Court of Thorns and Roses, for reasons I can’t fathom. Shane is neither perfect nor a horrible person. He’s a pragmatic one. He knows what needs to happen for people to survive, and he doesn’t need everyone to love him for it. And yet he’s not without empathy, or care – and in fact, he cares a lot.

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Not only does he care, but he consistently puts his life on the line to care for others, is the first to jump into action when things go south, and consistently attempts to do the right thing no matter the personal cost. He’s constantly dissed for a few major mistakes, the only legitimate two of which I find is the time he gets dead drunk and comes onto Lori (although nothing happens and he leaves as soon as he comes to his senses) and leaving Otis for the zombies (which was a h a r s h thing to do, but also in all probability necessary for the most people to survive). People say he left Rick for dead – but we clearly see in flashback that he did everything he could. People say he tried to kill Rick – which he did. And while I don’t condone that, I stand by his reasoning for doing it.

But everything in-between those points is generally disregarded, not only by viewers but the Walking Dead fandom in general. People tend to come away with one of two views: Shane was a badass, or Shane was a villain. And while I agree, Shane was a badass, that’s doing him a disservice. He was more than some guy running around killing zombies. He was making difficult decisions with efficiency. He was carrying out the actions that needed to happen. He was living in the present, post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world and trying to keep everyone safe while they were attempting to live in a vague blend of the old world and the new.

More than that, Shane is framed more and more frequently in opposition to Rick, the main character and the character the show most wants us to root for. But FRAMING a character in opposition to the protagonist does not a villain make. Disagreeing with the main character, even on important life-or-death situations, does not mean you’re wrong.

And in fact, the majority of the time Shane disagrees with Rick – it turns out he was correct. The show frequently presents us with a situation like the following:

  1. Sophia, Carol’s twelve-year-old daughter, goes missing. The group sets out to go find her. After days, that turn into more than a week, they still haven’t found her.
  2. Shane points out that even before the apocalypse, after 72 two hours of searching for a child, you were searching for a body. It’s been well over a week, the rest of the group is in constant danger from attempting to search for Sophia, and by every logical conclusion, Sophia is dead.
  3. Shane is vilainized for pointing this out, despite the fact he does not do it out of some gleeful desire to hurt everyone or abandon Sophia.
  4. They find Sophia, who has apparently been a zombie for quite some time. Shane was correct.
  5. Shane is still villainized.

This touches on a large problem I see this frequently in fiction.

Any character who behaves in opposition to the main character is labeled an automatic antagonist. A character points out the truth and other characters don’t want to hear it because the truth isn’t kind, or nice, or pretty. Would I expect that to happen in the real world? Yes, I would. But that wouldn’t make it any less frustrating. Books, movies, and TV shows love to label a character ‘antagonist’ because that character is practical and willing to do the hard thing. The character often opposes the main character, and the writers assume that because somebody opposes said protagonist, the opposition is now ‘a bad guy.’

There’s a scene where Shane decides to kill the walkers being kept in a barn near their camp before the walkers can harm anyone. Dale – an excellent man, but whose views tend to rely on the world revolving like it used to – threatens to shoot Shane if Shane tries to take the guns. In response, Shane walks up against the barrel of the gun and tells Dale he’ll have to shoot him. Dale, unable to shoot anyone, relinquishes the guns but delivers this line – “This is where you belong, Shane. This world, the way it is now. This is where you belong.”

He says that line as if it’s an insult, something Shane should be ashamed of. One can see where Dale is coming from – but in the end, ‘this world’ is the only one they have. Shane didn’t make it what it is, but he’s the only one willing to accept it for how it is, and act accordingly.

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I don’t know about you, but during a zombie apocalypse, I wouldn’t want the man ignoring reality to lead my team. I would want the man who acknowledges what’s happening and does his best.

Does Shane always make the best decisions? Not always. He can seem cold-hearted, but he is never without sympathy or empathy. The decisions he makes are never about keeping himself alive. They’re about keeping others alive. Shane has very little regard for himself, and there’s the irony – people often come away from The Walking Dead with the concept that Shane is a terrible person. A selfish person, because he always angles to get what he wants.

They tend to disregard that what Shane wants is to keep everyone alive.

My fury with the general concept of Shane as a terrible person (including my own past belief that he was) was the culmination of years of frustration with ‘that character.’ The one unfairly framed as a villain for trying to do the right thing – and for not doing it ‘nicely’ enough.

(And if I may go off on a brief tangent, Shane actually does even the most pragmatic things with as much obvious care and empathy as possible. It takes a lot to push him to a place of harsh behavior, and it’s clear that every time he would rather go the path of least-resistance and keep everyone happy as well as safe.)

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So this is my plea – please don’t unfairly frame your characters. Don’t treat your characters like The Walking Dead treated Shane, unless you have an intentional reason for doing so. Allow characters to do the hard thing, to disagree with the main character, to act on what they believe is right, without being automatically viewed as some kind of monster for doing so.

Because if the apocalypse happens, apparently you may not like me very much. Yikes.

If you want to read the 95% unbiased list of Things Shane Does, I’ve uploaded it so you can read it here and see that what Shane does doesn’t always align with how he’s framed by the show.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN – who is your favorite widely-misunderstood character, and why?

 

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Ye Stars That Shudder | snippets

It’s been a hot minute since I posted anything about novel-writing (which is usually what I do around here). I took Ye Stars That Shudder, my post-alien-apocalypse retelling of King Arthur, back to the beginning and re-started it, as pieces had come together and the tone had shifted into ore of a finalized form. So, since I have almost three chapters completed in the new version, I thought I would post some pieces and re-introduce you!

Note: I get asked about the who’s-who re: casting choices and so the dramatis persona in these snippets include –
Arthur: Cole Sprouse
Hec: Jon Bernthal
Kay: Jai Courtney
Gareth: Charlie Hunnam
Archer: Garrett Hedlund

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Kay jogged down the stairs, his boots heavy on the bare wood. “Jackpot.” A dozen orange pill-bottles nestled in the crook of his arm, and he dumped them into the canvas bag on top of the gold necklaces.

“Guess it wasn’t a total loss,” said Hec, hitching his gun over his shoulder by the strap.

“Except they don’t have anything in there for crazy,” said Kay.

Hec gave him a questioning glance, but it was already fading into a knowing expression as Kay added, “Sorry, man; maybe next time we’ll find something to help you.”


After a few more seconds the door opened the rest of the way. The woman in the doorway was younger than Arthur expected; early twenties, his age. She was dressed in boots, jeans, and an oversized plaid shirt, like she had raided her father’s closet, but her hands holding the gun looked steady.

“Leave your weapons outside,” she said. “But you can come in.”

Kay got out of the van and walked up behind Arthur.

“Sorry,” said Arthur. “She said we had to leave you outside.”

Kay shoved his head forward in response.


“You hanging in there?”

“You bet I am. Don’t worry about me, kid, I’ve had a lot worse. You know that.”

“I know, you’re a badass,” said Arthur, with an extravagant roll of his eyes. “But you’re bleeding all over that girl’s couch, so I figure it’s an okay time to ask about your welfare.”

“You weren’t always sarcastic,” Hec remarked, a faint grin playing on his face. “Kay’s being a crap influence on you.”

“Oh, I don’t think we can blame Kay for that,” Arthur retorted.

“Heh.” Hec grinned wider, without looking up at Arthur. “Yeah, that’s all me. Do me proud, kid.”

“I try.”


“My name is Gwen.” She took a pair of scissors from her back pocket and began to cut at the shirt, pulling it away from the quills puncturing Hec’s side. “What about you two?”

“Hec.”

“Kay.”

“Your mothers were very original.” Gwen picked up the tweezers as soon as she had the blood-stained fabric out of the way.

Arthur pointed down at Hec. “Hector Vance, but he doesn’t really look like a Hector so nobody bothers.” He pointed at Kay. “Kay Sawyer. Don’t call him Sawyer.”

“He’s right,” said Gwen, looking briefly at Hec. “You don’t look like a Hector.”

“’Preciate it,” he replied.


Arthur obliged, backing up a few steps, lifting his hands in surrender for the second time that day. This woman wasn’t much older than Gwen, but she looked a lot more likely to do damage.

He didn’t need to turn around to sense Kay had appeared behind him. “Lower that thing before I shove it in your eye.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. Instead of lowering the arrow, she only shifted it again, pointing it at Kay this time. “Gwen, who’s the guy with the attitude?”

“I don’t know,” Gwen called from the other room, “I think they all have attitude. That one’s Kay. He’s my least favorite.”


‘Control’ was the Vees’ name for the large, square building that took up a half-mile of Seattle. The building was five years old – one of the Vees’ impressive overnight additions to various skylines. It was nothing fancy to look at, but the inside was a different story. The first time Gareth had walked in, he’d felt like a comic book character, suddenly transported into superhero headquarters.

Yeah, that feeling had faded pretty quick.


“All Metroids are armed,” said the Vee flatly. “He is Zi-Class. He is, of course, deadly.”

“Right on, right on. Anything I need to know?”

“He stole a piece of our technology when he left. We require both the technology and the Metroid fully intact.”

Well, that made things more fun. “Understood. Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the tech is?”

“A sword,” said the Vee.

Gareth blinked again, but this time it wasn’t to clear his vision. “Right,” he drawled. “Robot with a sword.”

“Zi-Class Metroid.” The Vee sounded almost indignant, which amused Gareth. Of course calling a Metroid a robot was like calling a megalodon a goldfish, but as far as he was concerned, a robot was a robot.


The rogue Metroid’s designation was printed at the top of the page: MR-1-LN. “That’s a mouthful,” Gareth muttered, his eyes drifting down the page. It didn’t list the Metroid’s strength, everyone knew it was that of five or six men, if not more. They could use guns – any weapon they wanted, probably – but they came equipped with a weapon unlike anything Gareth had ever seen.

He had seen a Metroid corner a civilian before; the robot had clenched its right fist and pulled its hand back. The civilian’s body had gone from standing and alive to dead on the ground in less time than it took Gareth to draw in a breath – no visible weapon fired, no nothing.


| to be continued |

Still My Sister: A Prompt

still my sister

Kazariah Henge was a merciful man. You could ask anyone, and they would give you the same report – even-tempered, thoughtful, slow to wrath. Good qualities in a leader, anyone would agree. He was careful not to leap to a conclusion without thoroughly studying all aspects. He held the support of his vizier and the ephorate, all wise and knowledgeable men. Especially his vizier, who wasn’t as prone to polishing Kazariah’s words to make them brighter than they were.

Stepping back and looking at himself, Kazaria could understand, he supposed, why some people might not agree with him. Stars, they might not even like him very much – he was all right with that, as long as his conscience was clear. After all, doing the right thing was always met with opposition from people with dark intentions.

He just hadn’t expected the opposition to come from Linnet.

He sighed deeply and dragged his hands down his face, his fingers tracing every sharp angle, every little scar. It might not be the face of a saint, but it was the face of a good man. That, at least, he could say with confidence.

It might be the only thing he could say with confidence, now that he knew what Linnet had done. It was the sort of event that shook the very stones beneath his feet, the kind of thing that shot a tremor underneath the very fabric of the kingdom. Everyone would feel it. It would leave the entire populace unbalanced as soon as they heard about it – but Linnet was intelligent and clever, she would have known that before she did it.

Unless it was due to an uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, which he thought unlikely. “If only you were an idiot,” he said aloud to the dungeon door facing him, closed and inscrutable. It was a thick, well-built door, because quality was important. Besides, hearing screams from the dungeon really rattled the servants.

Kazariah shook his head and hauled on the heavy wrought-iron ring. The door opened with a hollow, reluctant groan, and the emperor began the slow descent down the long, twisted staircase. You had to be careful on these steps – they were worn and uneven with age, and a misstep could send you hurtling to your death, or at the very least a broken limb or two.

He reached the bottom and shifted his jaw, thinking. He could go back up the stairs. He didn’t need to confront Linnet about her actions – not today, at least. He could put it off. Eat dinner, sleep, wait until he was calmer and his head was clear.

But for all his virtues, impatience was a fault he had in spades. He lifted the ring of keys from the wall and strode to the farthest cell. His movements sped up; he twisted the key in the lock and shoved the door open, his blood seething in his ears.

Linnet sat on the floor, both ankles chained to the wall, her mouth twisted to the side and her arms folded over her chest like a petulant nine-year-old. “About time you showed up.”

Kazariah frowned and snapped his fingers. The torches on the walls burst into flame, roaring zealously for a few seconds before dimming to as steadier, warmer glow.

“Thank you,” said Linnet. “I was about to go blind down here.”

Kazariah couldn’t bring himself to walk any closer, so he remained where he was. “How can you sit there,” he asked, his voice hard and quiet, “and act like you did nothing?”

“Well, I got tired of standing after the first couple days, so I decided to risk your annoyance and sit,” she snipped.

“Linnet!”

“Don’t ‘Linnet’ me! I’m not pretending like I did nothing. I’m chained up in a dungeon cell awaiting your royal verdict on my guilt, what do you expect me to do with my spare time? Draft an apology?”

“Did you?”

“Of course not. I’m not sorry.”

He felt his shoulders sag and forced himself to straighten them. Broad. Strong. Confident. These were his attributes, and he wouldn’t let her steal them. Not even down here, where nobody could see. “You’re not sorry,” he repeated. “Why not?”

“Because.” Her eyes flashed in the firelight. “You and I disagree on certain policies. Sometimes, they can’t be reconciled.”

“So you come to me! You tell me your disagreement. You don’t—” His voice caught, and he paused to regain control of himself. Evenly, he continued, “You don’t rush off in the middle of the night and assassinate someone.”

“Of course not. I don’t assassinate just ‘someone.’ It had to be really special,” she said dryly.

“I genuinely don’t understand how you can be flippant about this.”

She opened her mouth to respond and he waited for a quip, but none came. Instead her gaze lowered to rest on her knees, and said nothing.

“Are you sorry?” he asked softly.

Silence.

Then, she shook her head.

Kazariah swallowed past a cold lump in his throat. “If I had known you disagreed with me so strongly, if you had only told me, we could have talked, Lin. We could have worked something out.”

“I know what your idea of ‘working something out’ means,” she said. The spark had gone out of her, a candle blown out in a sudden gust of wind.

“It has a better outcome than you chained up in the dungeon of our castle, awaiting a trial,” he snarled, his anger flaring. He gripped his face again, with both hands, to keep himself from lashing out. His nails, pristine and filed to small points, dug into his face.

She giggled. It sounded entirely wrong in these surroundings. “Yeah. Maybe. But you know, I kind of have the feeling I might have died mysteriously in the middle of the night, too, so.”

He stared at her, horrified, and sank down to one knee so he could meet her gaze directly. “How can you say that?” he asked hoarsely, the question twisting painfully out of his throat. “Whatever you do, you’re still my sister. We have a bond. A disagreement can’t break it.”

“No,” she agreed. “It can’t. But you can.”

She could not have hurt him more if she had thrown a javelin through his stomach. He rose to his feet, numb. His chest tightened, made it hard to breathe. He shut his eyes for a long moment. “The ephorate will find you guilty. You assassinated General Thur-Azaroth, there were witnesses. You didn’t even deny it.”

“I know. It wasn’t my stealthiest moment.”

He kept his eyes shut. He couldn’t bring himself to pry them open and see her sitting there, defiant. Stubborn.

Dead.

“Apologize, and I can forgive you. You know what happens if you don’t.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said, in a tone that implied she had already thought about it, and given her final answer.

He nodded and turned his back to her. As he lifted his hand to extinguish the torches, her voice stopped him.

“I’ll take whatever comes my way tomorrow. I can live – or die, I guess – with my actions. But how can you?”

“Excuse me?” The question caught him off-guard, like a punch in the face from a friend. “How can I?”

                “Just asking.” Her voice was cold. “I’m not the one who sent a brutal general and a warlock to make an example of an entire coastal city.”

He didn’t turn around. “They shouldn’t have committed high treason.”

“You’re the one who made it high treason.”

Her words fell on his amazed, horrified ears. She was so far gone she couldn’t discern left from right, right from wrong. “I am not looking forward to tomorrow,” he said stiffly. “But the kingdom will be the better for it.”

Nobody could insult him, call him a coward, and get away with it. If it took burning a city to ash to prove it, then it was the right thing.

He was the emperor, Kazariah Henge, and he had said so.

He snapped his fingers, and the flames blew out.

 

 

Walking Stick: A Prompt

Last week I wrote a brief scene (probably inspiration for a series of short stories – I’ve never been a prompt person before, but I’m finding it a good way to get writing in when I’m lacking a lot of energy) based on the common prompt:

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“He is a weapon, a killer. Don’t forget that. You can use a spear as a walking stick but that will not change its nature.”


Varlet didn’t bother looking up. “That’s a lot better than your last opening line.”

“I was talking about the creature.”

“Oh, him?” She patted the side of the enormous black dog lying underneath her, like a living rug. He was an impressive specimen, no matter what kingdom you hailed from – one of the last Ceberi, a three-headed creature, dog-like if not for the burning red eyes, hellish voice, and the fact it was the size of a king-sized bed. “He’s comfortable. Stop calling him a walking stick.”

“I didn’t call him a walking stick,” said Archimedes, his spectacles sliding down his aristocratic nose.

“Yes, you did.”

“I called him a spear, being used for—” He squeezed his eyes shut and sighed. “Nevermind. You know full well what I meant. And it wasn’t an opening line, just an observation.”

“Ah.” She rolled over on her back, thick swaths of Dionyro’s fur warm and soft against the bare skin of her arms. “Well, you should stick to writing plays. I really liked that last one you did – what was it? Smiling Without Teeth?”

“Varl – no!  A Sharp-Toothed Smile, and it wasn’t a play, it was a historical retelling of the murder of Praetor Chanice.”

“Oh, right! Sorry. It was excellent.”

“You didn’t even watch it.”

“I did so.”

“You fell asleep eight minutes in. I noticed.”

She sighed and sat up, leaning back on her palms. The monster under her rolled slightly, but didn’t knock her off. All three heads let out a tired grunt. “You have my deepest apologies. I trained all day that day.”

“Naturally,” said Archimedes, tweaking his glasses.

His eyes were twitching, Varlet noticed – they did that when he tried not to roll them. “You might as well just groan and call me hopeless before you give yourself a seizure,” she advised.

He snapped shut the book in his hands and straightened. “Bear in mind what I said, young lady.”

She scoffed. “I’m three years your junior. Should I start calling you Grandpa?”

“Spear,” he said tartly. “Walking stick.” And with that he swept out of the room, his scholar’s robe crinkling like tissue paper as he shut the door behind him.

Varlet rolled off the Cerberi. “Don’t listen to him,” she said.

The massive black shape shifted and shrunk, growing smaller, though still a good bit larger than her. The humanoid figure, still covered in glossy black fur, stretched his legs out next to her. All three of his jackal-heads grinned at her, red tongues caged by white teeth the size of her thumb.

“I won’t,” he said.


My favorite prompts are intriguing + angsty + probably a little foreboding, something with a lot of potential. Do you have any favorites?

How to Write a Psychopath

Fiction is enamored with psychopaths. The concept of an emotionless, calculating genius is a fascinating one, and one I’m always down to see – except it’s almost always wrong. Off the top of my head, I can think of one good example of a Hollywood psychopath, and it is Cillian Murphy’s character Jackson Rippner in the movie Red Eye. (I love that movie. If you haven’t seen it go watch it. I’ll wait.) But enough preamble, let’s dive into what a psychopath looks like in real life.

• Psychopaths are inherently manipulative. This is one point Hollywood usually gets right, at any rate. A psychopath, however, is far less likely to be a mastermind genius than they are to be the freeloader on your cousin’s couch who always has another grand scheme, another excuse, another seemingly good reason you should let him keep living off your good will. They don’t tend to be glamorous. They tend to be That Person You Can’t Stand.

• Psychopaths are charming. Most people who encounter psychopaths describe them as extremely charming, talkative, and interesting. They will keep you dazzled and entertained as long as they want, but you can’t trust anything they say. Interestingly, many of the people who described their psychopathic conversation partners as ‘charming’ indicated they felt the charm was insincere and more snake oil than truthful.

“What makes psychopaths different from all others is the remarkable ease with which they lie, the pervasiveness of their deception, and the callousness with which they carry it out.”
— Robert Hare, criminal psychologist and creator of the Psychopath Checklist
Psychopaths are unable to work on a team. This is a fact of how they operate. They either have no interest in ‘making it’ and are content to live without effort, or they thrive in competitive, get-to-the-top situations. Wall Street is full of psychopaths. Many psychopaths also choose to become surgeons, or engage in another job where they will be seen as the Top Dog and be able to either give orders or work alone. A while back they tried an experiment, placing psychopaths on bomb squad teams (I would cite this except I can’t remember which book it was in – I’ll list all my favorite books on this subject at the end of the post, however) and it turns out it was a terrible mistake. Psychopaths didn’t want to listen to orders, employed ‘cowboy’ behavior that constantly endangered not only themselves but their teammates, and the idea was quickly put out of practice.
Psychopaths do not learn from their mistakes. They will either blame others for those mistakes or refuse to believe a mistake happened in the first place. While not all psychopaths are criminals (and indeed many are not), the major percentage of Maximum Security Prison inmates are psychopaths. The usual cause of their being caught is their inability to learn from their mistakes. They have almost no concept of consequence, and will continue to repeat the same behavioral patterns over and over again until they are unable.
Psychopaths do not care about you. The concept of ‘a psychopath with a heart of gold’ is what I like to call Actual Garbage. Brain scans of psychopaths reveal an atrophied amygdala, among other things – they cannot feel the feelings you might want to project on a psychopathic character. They will act out of their own best interest and nothing else. It might sound harsh – but it’s also the truth. Korean Dramas are full of psychopathic characters who are not, in fact, psychopaths – they can be the BEST characters and I adore them, but they don’t hold up whatsoever against the reality of what a psychopath truly looks like.
“Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the center of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules.”
Robert D. Hare, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
Psychopaths do not believe anything is wrong with them. There has been one program (still fairly new in the grand scheme of things) attempting to see signs of psychopathy in children and treat them in unconventional (i.e. actually good + helpful) ways and they have a fairly high success rate, but there has been no success with any teen-or-older psychopath. You cannot treat someone who doesn’t believe anything is wrong with them, and psychopaths will staunchly refuse to believe they have a problem. They are extremely happy existing how they are, which brings us to the next point—
Psychopaths have no empathy. The subtlety of human emotion is something psychopaths have to learn and pick up on, and when they do, they exploit it in others. Sometimes they simply refuse to learn, leading to a life of social dysfunction. A psychopath is never going to ‘feel sorry’ for you, ‘understand what you’re going through,’ or ‘want to change.’ They are incapable of feeling guilt.
“Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others. Often they are completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the pain and destruction they have caused, and that there is no reason for them to be concerned.”
Robert D. Hare, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
Psychopathy and sociopathy are not the same thing. The words are often – incorrectly – interchanged, but there are distinct differences between the two. When asked whether they would rather be sociopaths, psychopaths have been known to show distaste toward sociopaths as ‘lesser’ and more emotive (again, I can’t recall which book this was in but they’ll all be listed below).

Psychologist Kelly McAleer says of the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, “

“The psychopath is callous, yet charming. He or she will con and manipulate others with charisma and intimidation and can effectively mimic feelings to present as “normal” to society. The psychopath is organized in their criminal thinking and behavior, and can maintain good emotional and physical control, displaying little to no emotional or autonomic arousal, even under situations that most would find threatening or horrifying. The psychopath is keenly aware that what he or she is doing is wrong, but does not care.

“Conversely, the sociopath is less organized in his or her demeanor; he or she might be nervous, easily agitated, and quick to display anger. A sociopath is more likely to spontaneously act out in inappropriate ways without thinking through the consequences. Compared to the psychopath, the sociopath will not be able to move through society committing callous crimes as easily, as they can form attachments and often have ‘normal temperaments.’ . . .”

When in doubt, align your fictional character with the PCL-R. This twenty-item ‘psychopath test’ is now used in the criminal justice system (and now anywhere this determination is needed) to determine whether or not someone is, in fact, a psychopath. It’s not a list of attractive traits, in case you were wondering. Here are the traits it measures – all of which are accurate to clinical psychopaths.

• glib and superficial charm
• grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
• need for stimulation
• pathological lying
• cunning and manipulativeness
• lack of remorse or guilt
• shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
• callousness and lack of empathy
• parasitic lifestyle
• poor behavioral controls
• sexual promiscuity
• early behavior problems
• lack of realistic long-term goals
• impulsivity
• irresponsibility
• failure to accept responsibility for own actions
• many short-term marital relationships
• juvenile delinquency
• revocation of conditional release
• criminal versatility
Honestly I should have titled this blog post ‘How NOT to Write a Psychopath,’ but it’s a little less catchy. I hope this helps you in your quest to write accurate-to-life psychopaths (and maybe even be able to spot them in real life).

RECOMMENDED READING LIST

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us, by Robert Hare m.d.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Paul Babiak m.d. and Robert Hare m.d.

The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, m.d.

The Mask of Sanity, by Dr. Harvey Cleckley

Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas

The Wisdom of Psychopaths, by Kevin Dutton Ph.D

Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion by Kevin Dutton Ph.D

(A NOTE ABOUT KEVIN DUTTON: Much of what is contained in his books is pseudoscience and anecdotes. I highly recommend them for both entertainment and insight, but they can’t be wholly ingested as perfect truth.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Schriver (this book is fiction, yes, but provides an extremely accurate look at not only raising a psychopathic child, but dealing with the aftermath of that child’s horrific criminal actions.)

AND my personal favorite,

The Psychopath Whisperer by Dr. Kevin Kiehl (a protege of Robert Hare and longtime maximum-security prison psychologist)

See you all next time!