Writing Sociopaths and Psychopaths

Many people find psychopaths and sociopaths just as charming in fiction as they can be in real life. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

But Sociopathy and Psychopathy are actually two social labels applied to people who suffer from the same psychological condition: anti-social personality disorder. They disorder is splint in two, when there really should be more of a spectrum. But today, i want to talk about these labels. 

Some consider the labels ‘sociopath’ and ‘psychopath’ derogatory, whereas to others they are still a valid and necessary diagnostic label. It’s a fairly mutable field. 

And I’m going to try and help you right a sociopath or psychopath who will be a fully rounded character, and realistic to the disorder that effects their relationships, persona and actions. Because, though Psychopaths and Sociopaths believe the rules don’t apply to them, the rules of writing unfortunately do. 

  1. Know why you’re adding a sociopath or psychopath. Is it just because the terms are cool? Or because you are enamored with the concept of them? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all write about what inspires and interests us. But the usual ‘manipulative, charming psychopath villain’ is a little overdone, and not entirely representative of the condition of those who have it. Remember that Sociopaths and Psychopaths don’t always have to be criminals, or villains. They are not inherently bad people. Instead think of a morality system not motivated by empathy or guilt. 
  2. Know the difference. While they are two halves of the same disorder to many Psychiatrists and Psychological researchers, the two terms exist for a reason. It is widely accepted that Sociopaths are made from their environment, whereas Psychopaths are born. Psychopathy, then, is an abnormality in the part of the brain concerning emotion. Sociopaths often detach from their emotions early on due to a negative environment. Both are charming, appear confidant and have an inflated ego. Both believes they are above the social or political law. Both have the potential to manipulate, for they lack a broad or deep range of emotions. 
          >   Psychopaths tend to be the more cunning of the two. though not every Psychopath is dangerous, they are considered the more dangerous of the two groups. This is mostly because they tend to think more calmly and cleverly. Most psychopaths can fake emotional connections and exploit them for their own benefit. They get bored very easily, and seek thrills that may or may not involve using other people. 
          >   Sociopaths tend to be more chaotic in their thrill seeking, and thus often get caught out more easily, for example, in a lie. They do not see a need to fake emotional connections for the most part. Many sociopaths are happy to be away from society. However, some Sociopaths have been seen to be able to form relationships that, for their condition, seem meaningful. This is why we say emotionally shallow, and not emotionless.
  3. Control their arc. A person with antisocial personality disorder is not likely to have an arc where they learn to ‘be kind’. They’re not going to magically renounce their apparent negative behavior and learn to love people. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t develop. As mentioned before, they can have positive relationships. They can also learn. They can learn from their mistakes, learn hobbies, or learn — well, just about anything. It isn’t likely to be a traditional arc but it needs to still happen. 
  4. Have them make mistakes. Just because many sociopaths and psychopaths have an inflated ego and can be cocky, doesn’t mean they can back it up. Understand that they are only infallible in their own minds. Mistakes, big or small, are also a great literary tool to build sympathy, especially for characters where sympathy might be hard to build in other areas. Mistakes are also great learning tools, Psychopaths especially aren’t likely to make the same mistake twice. 
  5. Give them a life. Everyone is human. Everyone came from somewhere and is going somewhere. Everyone has hobbies, everyone had parents or guardians when little - even if they weren’t there long. Give your character a family and/or friends and/or co-workers and/or partners. Have them interact with them. Explore how your character views them and their connection to them. Give them hobbies, and goals. Remember, both Sociopaths and Psychopaths get bored easily and seek thrills. Sociopaths especially take a lot of risks. 
  6. Do research. There’s only so much you can learn from me, and my background in psychology, I don’t have this condition. It’s best to read as much as you can. Talk to people with antisocial personality disorder and get their experiences on it, and what they think of common depictions in the media. Read studies, diaries, case reports. Ask people for their view on your character, if you like. This way you can learn first hand what might be important to them, what types of situations have arose in their lives, etc. 
  7. Things still phase them. You’d think it would be hard to phase someone who’s heart could, theoretically, never be broken right? Who never had a lot of self doubt? Who seeks thrills and has extraordinary goals? Not true. Psychopaths especially love to be in control of situations. Taking away control can be distressing. Physical pain is also something that is easily felt, and no one likes that. There is also pain in failure, especially with the destruction of the ladder leading to goals your character has been perusing.