Sean Mactire says, in his book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think, that there are many reasons why a person chooses to follow a life of crime, and that statement is a treasure trove for mystery writers wanting to create awesome bad guys. Sure, we could come up with some great ideas on our own, as we writers have incredibly imaginations, but lets check out what Mactire has to say in Chapter 10.
It’s human nature to blame bad behavior on outside factors: poverty, child abuse, drug abuse, or the classic “Satan made me do it.” Humans don’t like facing reality when it’s horrible, and they certainly don’t like taking personal responsibility for their actions. Mactire says, “Criminal behavior has four basic characteristics: irresponsibility, self-indulgence, interpersonal intrusiveness, and social rule-breaking.” What causes people to become criminals can be these four characteristics combined with mental illness and any of the following:
2. Low intelligence
3. Poor parenting
4. Hyperactivity, which can be traced to a medical condition
5. Stimulation seeking
8. Learning disorders
9. Any untreated disability or one not coped with well.
No one is born a criminal, but when you combine the immature, self-centered sinner with impulse control issues with one or more things from this list, you’ve got a recipe for an antagonist. PLEASE don’t hear me say that this list, alone, can cause criminal behavior. It’s only when combined with the original recipe bad guy (see the quote above) that you have the potential. So, if you’re having trouble turning your antagonist from a two-dimensional stereotype into a well-rounded believable baddie, try adding some of these things from the list and see what happens.