Human Behavior

In an effort to multi-task, my next series of posts will contain information from the Howdunit series, a book called Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think by Sean Mactire. Sounds uplifting, doesn’t it? Getting inside the mind of your antagonist can be oodles of fun, especially when you have such a great resource. I also have my husband, a crime analyst extraordinaire who happens to study serial killers and criminal profiling in his free time. But ya’ll don’t have my husband, so you’ll have to buy the book. Or read my upcoming posts, because I’ll cover a lot of the great stuff that you need.

The first step in understanding a criminal mind is to know what governs basic human behavior. Abraham Maslow figured out five categories:

1. Physical – needs of the physical body, like food and clothing

2. Security – the need for shelter (sounds like a physical need to me, but Maslow singled it out as separate)

3. Belongingness and love – while grammatically screwy, these needs concern the desire for roots and the desire to be wanted and loved (including sex, of course)

4. Esteem – the desire to be liked and respected

5. Self-actualization – the need to know and understand the world around us, to invent and create, and to discover the joy of solving problems

Mactire goes on to say that the average citizen is governed by these needs. When hungry, you think of nothing but finding food. To a homeless person, life is a constant pursuit of food, clothing, shelter, and maybe enough liquor to ease the pain of suffering. After meeting the physical and security needs, you seek to satisfy sexual needs, the need for affection and emotional security. Next, you direct your attention to the need to be liked, the need for self-esteem, and seeking admiration from those around you. Self-actualizataion is the last need to be met, and many people never get to this stage, especially if meeting those first four needs take all their time and energy. 

Criminals have these needs, too, just like ordinary non-criminals. So what makes the criminals different from the law-abiding citizens? They give in to their darker sides, their sins. We all sin. We all lie to our spouses and yell at our kids and take pencils home from work. But there’s something else going on inside the criminal mind. Mactire identifies three basic traits that signify the “criminal personality.”

1. Weakness – emotional and/or physical, lacking in discipline
2. Immaturity – childish egocentrism
3. Self-deception – distorted sense of personal reality, severely narcissistic

When creating a villain for your novel, keep these things in mind. He’s got the same basic needs that your hero has, but the villain is lacking emotional maturity and impulse controls. Sounds simple enough, but that’s just the start–it goes much deeper than that. Stay tuned for more on this fascinating topic. 


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