I’m building believable antagonists using Sean Mactire’s book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think. In it, Mactire offers three factors in creating a great antagonist: the Four Basics (irresponsibility, self-indulgence, interpersonal intrusiveness, and social rule-breaking), a mental illness, and one or more characteristics from the list I posted on June 22, 2012. So far, I’ve covered a bunch of the thirteen mental illnesses Mactire covers. Today is the Malignant Narcissist (MN), which is number 10 in the list.
Mactire says, “These are the Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam Hussein types.” (You’ll remember from my last post that wiki.answers.com
identified Hitler and Stalin as suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is slightly different from MN. Since I’m not a mental health expert, I’ll let ya’ll decide which of the two personality disorders fits Hitler and Stalin). Anyway, here are the for major characteristics of the MN sufferer:
- Strongly suspicious, bordering on paranoia
- Extremely inflated sense of self, often grandiose
- Exhibits sadistic cruelty directed toward a “higher goal”
- Absolute lack of remorse
He’s not someone you invite to your Christmas party, that’s for sure. When applying MN to a bad guy, you have to be extremely careful or you’ll come up with a character so thoroughly evil he will be unbelievable. The key, in this instance, is to make sure your character has sufficient motivation for doing what he does. It’s not enough that he’s sadistically crazy and wants to strangle kittens for the fun of it. There must be an underlying motivation. Think back to the post where I outlined the four categories of serial killers: vision killers, mission killers, pleasure killers, and power/control killers. Maybe your MN killer is targeting prostitutes because he’s on a mission to wipe out women who remind him of his horrible mother. Or maybe your MN killer targets people who are small and weaker than he is because he finds pleasure in having power over the victim.
You can be extreme here, as this disorder definitely results in extreme people. An antagonist who’s paranoid of alien abductions might go around killing people he thinks are targeted for snatching. It makes sense in his mind, he’s found his mission, and he knows he’s the perfect guy to “fix” whatever the problem is. Or he finds joy in the feel of warm blood on his hands, much the same way Cleopatra bathed in warm milk. (I’m starting to gross myself out, here).
Whatever you come up with, it need to fit his background, and the motivation has to be something a reader will understand (not agree with, but understand). Without that understanding, the character will be cartoonishly evil. Can you come up with a believable character suffering from MN? Share it in the comments section, please.