As I mentioned a few days ago, I've been doing research for my novel. Not my favorite part of the process, but necessary. (It could be worse: my friend Amy's book Tethered had her researching how bodies are embalmed...)
The downside of research is that it doesn't always turn out to be helpful. Over the weekend, I read (okay, skimmed) three books on various psychological disorders, trying to figure out how to craft an evil--but interesting--bad guy. I read about sociopaths and narcissists, mostly, but dabbled a bit in disassociative identity disorder and something else I can't remember the name of. At the end of the day, here's what I'd learned:
1. Sociopaths/psychopaths aren't all like Ted Bundy. Mostly they're normal people who lack a conscience, and so go through life without thinking about how their actions or behavior could affect other people. They won't ever notice your feelings, because it doesn't occur to them. Life is all about them, all the time.
2. Narcissists are like sociopath-lites...but not by much. They know their actions affect others, but they're so self involved (and filled with shame) that they don't/can't care. They spend their entire lives manipulating others, insisting that everything go their way, isolating themselves from anyone or anything who might stand up to them or get too close to who they really are inside. They're loaners who see other people as pawns in their game.
3. Grim realization #1: Sociopaths/narcissists don't change. Ever. I didn't know there were any diagnostic catagories of people psychologists had just given up on, but the overall message of these books was that if you're involved in any way with someone like this, run. It's not ever going to change, it won't get any better. Your only hope is to get away.
4. Grim realization #2 (the author perspective): Unless your sociopath/narcissist does something specular with his/her life (Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright) or truly depraved (Ted Bundy)...they're REALLY boring to read about. They're simply mean, dull people that most healthy folks try to get away from. They manipulate, they have control issues, they throw fits and make unreasonable demands. But unless they're brilliant (and most aren't) they're not interesting in a way that will keep a reader turning pages.
So... it's back to the drawing board for me with my bad guy. I'm mulling over something Donald Miller just quoted from Robert McKee on Twitter:
"A character is revealed by the decisions they make under pressure."
I think this is true in real life as well as fiction. So today as I write, I'm going to turn up the heat on my bad guy, to see how he reacts.
Navigating these uncharted territories is a stretch, but a good one. And it's certainly never dull :)