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Character Study: Why Sociopaths Make Great Male Leads


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , , ,

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When I talked about alpha males, I mentioned Dominic, the "stalker." He is possessive; he won't go anywhere for fear that his lover might get attacked (even in vampire dramas, this gets a bit old), and he'd rather watch her sleep than do something healthy and normal. Like watch the football. Do a crossword. Or, you know...sleep himself. You'd think that in order to defeat the minions of hell, he'd want to keep himself in tip-top condition -- but no, you never see him slug down a protein shake or complain that the tied up captive in the cellar prevents him from getting his eight hours a night.

This woman is EVERYTHING to him and all he thinks about is her (well, her and work. A needy stalker needs to bring home the bacon lest anybody else do it, and thus pose a challenge). He's everywhere, and a lot of category romance specifications suggest that we should write this type of character because women actually like him.

Why do women like reading this guy, and how does he get away with such obsessive behaviour?

I think question two leads into question one. How does he get away with it? Usually:

1) He's gorgeous. Why would you send away the eye candy?
2) He's great in bed, which is always useful (ahem).
3) He's a vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter/demonic soduku champion. It's in his blood; he's just primal like that (because he's strong enough to take down an army, but not so much to deal with his own murderous urges. And there's our line of conflict -- again).
4) We want him to want us this much. It's a measure of how completely awesome we are; the more masculine and broody he is, the more feminine and delicate we feel. If he's tortured, we can fix that too -- that is the measure of our supersonic special...ness.

As women, do we want to be possessed? Owned? Or do we just long for a man who wants that, for the thrill of the chase? Is this guy one big refraction of our fantasy bedroom games, and if so...how would he function in the real world?

This fascinates me. I love twisting archetypes; I love getting beneath the skin of a character, finding out what makes them tick and then winding them like the proverbial clockwork (funny how a metaphor for being human makes one sound like such a robot, hmm?). The point is that Mr Stalker is, for want of a better word, a sociopath. That makes him ripe for all kinds of fun.

When I think about sociopath fiction, I don't go back to category romance (although I am reminded of Edward Cullen, twitchy and vamp-sexed as he is. Ahh. Sorry -- where was I again?). I think more along the lines of Humbert Humbert, Dorian Gray or Patrick Bateman: guys who seem completely normal until you get inside their heads, and then they're a carnival of paranoia and fantasy. Does he sound like a guy I'd want to marry? No. Do I want to write him? Hell yes!

This brings me to Adam, my new anti-hero. He's been "awake" in my head all night, marinating in cynicism and loathing. He's jaded and sharp and generally quite unpleasant...but he's in love. Naturally, the only way he can express it is in a generally unpleasant manner, and he does some very nasty things in the course of my new novel -- he does them, so he says, for love. He's like Iago and Othello rolled into a ball and sprinkled with dramatic irony. Granted, I'm not writing a romance. I'm writing a quiet, literary character study (hell, I suck at romance anyway. Happy ending? Where's the fun in that?!) but the switch in genre allows me to cut down to the question: why is he so fixated on a woman*? In romance, it's a given; delve in too deep and he'll look weak.The alpha tag slips away. In lit fiction, it was transient to begin with. His weakness is the playground and "love" is the wind that makes the swings creak all by themselves in the moonlight, like the intro to a seventies horror movie.

I can't wait to see if a reader will redeem him because of that love. They do it for much less, after all. I can't even say that it's a female trait; I've seen men redeem other men through sympathy and envy. There's a lot of talk of readers who want somebody to cast a villain, who want somebody to hate; when nobody's wearing the obsidian crown of doom, it's funny who ends up in that role.

It comes down to this: until the happy ending -- when you're on the precipice, wondering if it will come -- what's the difference between the hero of a love affair and the victim of a tragedy?  Does our stalker-sociopath-ideal-lover walk the fine line in between? It's a dangerous place to be as a writer.

And I love it.

*Or in the case of Dorian Gray...fixated on himself. Metrosexual alphas. Le sigh.

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