Those Naughty Psychopaths, and the Writers Who Love Them

One of my main characters just threatened to skin a man alive. Threatened? Promised?Well… more of a two pronged offer. As it turns out, the guy took what was behind door number two, and kept his skin. The thing is, I’m certain the Captain would have done it. He wouldn’t have made the threat offer, if he didn’t intend to follow through.

Obviously, I don’t condone this kind of behavior in real life.

And in my character’s defense, he really is trying to reform himself. It’s just that sometimes, extreme violence can expedite matters. Particularly when dealing with other psychopaths.

So, thinking about this, and what I want in a violent character, and whether there are any rules for a violent character, I came up with:

The Reprobate Typewriter Guide to Characters Who are Capable of Extreme Violence

  1. He can control himself. He’s not a mindless force of nature, or an animal running on instinct. If he does something violent, it’s a choice. Every.Single.Time.
  2. He does know the difference between right and wrong. He may choose the wrong path, in the belief that he’s serving a greater good, but his goals… His ideal world… are things that normal, psychologically healthy people can identify with.
  3. He has something to lose, and something to gain. Usually, with every choice he makes. Money, power, human decency. Whatever.
  4. He’s likable. I want my character to be the guy you’d watch threaten a man’s life one moment, and still want to have a beer with him, the next.
  5. He has a purpose. Goals. A recognizable intent. He’s not just there for the explosions.
  6. He’s trustworthy. He’s not a danger to his mother, his significant other, or random old ladies walking down the street.
  7. He’s rational. If he does something, there’s an excellent chance that it will result in the outcome he’s looking for.

I pull some of the violence in my stories out of world history, and some of it comes from my imagination. No, we can’t talk about that.

So, what about you? What raises a violent character above empty gore-for-gore’s sake violence, and makes him worth reading about? Or writing about?


  1. Reply

    …Funny that this should be your post for today! I’ve been watching Hannibal all week and wrote a little review on it. So, what makes him worth watching for 39 episodes? He hits your point 3 with a yes and your point 6 with a resounding no, and all others with a definite “sort of”. So why is the show worth watching? Because… well, he’s not alone. It wouldn’t work so well if it weren’t for the cat and mouse between him and Will. It wouldn’t work if he were perfect and invulnerable. It wouldn’t work if he didn’t have a twisted loyalty to Will that gives us at least a small edge of empathy. It wouldn’t work if he were the worst person on the show.
    As it is, it does work, and I’m gonna go back to watching, 😉

    • Reply

      In the TV show, I think you almost have to look at Hannibal as a part of Will Graham’s psyche. There’s a sort of Crawford/Will/Hannibal thing going on. In the books, I do think Hannibal’s family was safe from him–or would have been, if they’d survived, but the timeline got scrambled when they modernized and took him out of his WWII background.

  2. Reply

    I think the ones we like. The ones that use their minds to out think or see the world differently that even makes sense and make deliberate choices because whatever sense of twisted right or wrong ,or as you say for the greater good, the scariest.

    Nice list,

    • Reply

      I’ll just say thanks for stopping by, and get back to work piecing together my next experiment chapter. 😉

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