Sociopath Characters

One of the biggest challenges for newer writers is to develop characters that would do all the things the writer would never do. It may be as simple as mountain climbing or sky diving. And it may be as heinous as rape, murder and pillaging.

How do you write about a character who commits acts you struggle to even imagine?

When it comes to sky diving or mountain climbing, you can interview people who’ve done those things. Or you can learn to do them yourself! What a rush, I would guess.

But when it comes to writing about characters who harm others, what is required is the ability to turn off your humanity, your reason, your moral code, and imagine the character doing things the way a predator would.

We go through phases or stages of innocence, wherein we gradually release long-held beliefs about what people are capable of doing. You hear about a Cosby or a Weinstein or a Trump allegedly touching people inappropriately, and you may still allow yourself to file these supposed events under Social Anomalies. You still believe most people would never compromise another person’s integrity like that. Maybe a Rose surprises you, but that man looks creepy, so the accusation fails to move your needle, so to speak. We prop up most celebrities in ways that can, at times, lead to excessive temptation. Some people fail to resist those temptations, and corruption occurs. Nothing new here.

Then you read about a Franken, a Takei and a Lasseter–things they are accused of doing–and you start to wonder if there really are people who would never harm another person simply for their pleasure. You start to re-classify what it means to be a decent human being. So maybe an ill-advised grope for an attempt at humor gets a lower bad guy score than, say, firing a subordinate who refuses to engage with her boss in sexual acts. Where does forcing a kiss on someone land you? How do you classify a lusty comment about someone’s figure? Where do you draw the lines?

For sociopaths, there may not be lines drawn anywhere. The rules do not apply to them. In many cases, they may not even consider rules of personal comport to exist.

So when you must write about a character who commits treachery or acts that personally or financially violate others, close your eyes and start to see the world through their eyes. To your serial killer or terrorist or rapist or spouse abuser or villainous boss character, imagine that they have an agenda–perhaps relating to money, influence or pleasure–and no code of conduct gets in the way of them pursuing their goals. See things like law, order and social norms as processes designed for lesser creatures. Institutions like businesses or government agencies are designed to keep dogs and sheep in line, to define their boundaries. Not yours. You have no boundaries.

Your fictional character is what I mean, of course. Not you. You would never grope someone or force a kiss on them, or try to copulate with them while they sleep, or drug them into stupor to take advantage, or lie to Congress, or make powerful deals behind closed doors with foreign powers that threaten your country, or hide your fortune from the IRS, or publicly say the words many people want to hear, and then act against those same people in private. You would never murder someone, or hire an assassin.

You’re a good person. We’re just talking about fiction here.

Right?

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Mock-up Cover for Wrapt

This is just an attempt to bring together visual elements that would make the book compelling on a bookshelf or an Amazon listing.

Please feel free to comment on your first impression. It’s a work in progress.

Choosing Beta Readers for Your Book

Once you’ve finished writing a first draft of your book–or maybe a second if you’re really self-conscious–it’s important to get some people to read your book, see what you missed, see how it flows, see if it makes sense. Their impression is more important than whether you used their, there and they’re correctly. That’s what editors are for!

You don’t need a ton of beta-readers–maybe four or five people. But choosing who beta-reads your book is extremely important. First, they have to be within your target demographic. What kind of people read the kind of books you write? Also, they have to be enthusiasts of the genre you write in. Not much point in having a romance enthusiast read your sci-fi thriller about a demon-possessed velociraptor. And lastly, if you write anything disturbing, you have to make sure they aren’t offended, and that they don’t judge you to be a freak after reading your book.

Unless you don’t care about being judged a freak.

I recently sent out my serial killer thriller Wrapt to beta-readers. I’ve had one really helpful response so far. But I am looking for two or three more people to read it, because I want to make sure it does what I want it to do. I want it to send chills up a reader’s spine, and I want it to compel readers to keep turning the pages!

I also want them to tell their friends to buy the book!

You can find my Amazon author page, and links to buy my first three books here.

Reading Your Book

A few days ago I finished the first draft of my new serial killer thriller called Wrapt. When you finish writing a first draft, it’s easy to think, “Man, that was random.” Because you have to include every tid-bit you think might fit into the book. You know a lot of it is going to be garbage, and you’ll cut a lot on the second draft. That’s normal.

But I think it’s good to have your computer (or a live person, if possible) read the first draft back to you. Microsoft Word will do that for you. There are lots of other programs that will do it. But have it read back to you. Listen to it. How does it sound? Yes, yes, the computer lacks a joie de vivre. It’s okay. Let it roll. It’s good to hear the words.

I’m in a the middle of doing this now with Wrapt, and I’m really enjoying the story. Yes, I paid myself to say that. But it’s real.

Indie Author Services

Independent authors are a lot like baby sea turtles. I’m not saying they move slowly or that they carry a burden on their backs. But they must cross the exposed sand. They are yummy to seagulls and other predators. There are tons of them, but only a few will survive.

Yet somehow, they just know they are heading in the right direction, despite watching their sisters and brothers getting gobbled up.

Indie authors don’t have Random House or Penguin copy editing, formatting or marketing their books. So they must rely on independent author services, like developmental editors, copy editors and proofreaders, formatters, cover artists, printers and marketers, maybe even publicists, and definitely third party advertising sites for promos.

Many who provide these services do a great job, are honest, and add significant value for their writing clients.

But some are predators. And it’s not always easy to spot them in the tall grass.

In addition to writing novels, I provide a variety of editing services for indie authors. And one of my clients was recently offered a publishing deal with a small publisher. I asked what this publisher was selling her, and it wasn’t clear what they would actually do. They said they had a small store and would carry copies there. They would create a cover and help my client develop an online presence, and they indicated they would market her work.

After several months, they had provided her with a very nice book cover, but she told me the font they used for the book was too light. I ordered a copy and agreed. It was practically unreadable. She complained, and they responded by saying she was impossible to work with, and that, because of her lack of effort, not a single copy of her book had sold, other than the one I bought.

They said they would not work with her, but she could not get out of the contract with them unless she paid them more than $1000.

Be sure you know what you are getting. If you are being offered a book deal, find out who else they represent. How are their sales working out? Contact the authors they currently carry. Did they have a good experience? Make sure any contracts are clear and concise. Make sure you understand what the expectations are on either side.

If it sounds too good to be… well, you know.

Damsels

I would love to hear from women on this, but men are welcome to chime in.

Do you get tired of damsels in distress? Do you read a book or watch a movie and wonder why the women have to be the victims before a story can wrap up?

If the villain has cornered the heroine, do you want her boyfriend or brother or a super hero to rescue her, or would you love to see her kick ass and get out of her own mess?

Thanks, Mark!

I’m halfway through the final chapter of Wrapt, and up to 57,000 words. It’s kind of weird writing a murder thriller on Halloween.

I expect to finish the first draft tomorrow.

As I was telling my wife this morning, the hardest part now is backing away from the book for a week or two so it isn’t so fresh when I start editing. If you start editing right away, you can easily miss details that should be there but aren’t. You know they should be there, so if it’s too fresh, you might assume the details are there. Weird way to look at it. Also, because I rearranged the structure of the book a few times to set up the right pacing, it’s easy to forget that a section has already passed, or is it coming up soon?

I want the final draft to be over 75,000 words, so there’s a lot of work left to do.

Thanks for reading my posts, Mark!