Writers talk about the oddest things. When Rebekah Lyn and I were on our way to the Indie Book Fest in Orlando, we were talking about our characters and the books we’re working on. I told her I thought my villain might be a sociopath. For some reason I had never known that there were people in the world who had no conscience, but once I found out, I slapped that designation right onto my villain. And really what better profile could a villain have?
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had been thinking about sociopaths, or psychopaths, as they are also called. To my surprise and delight, Rebekah Lyn said she had been doing research and had a book on the subject. She offered to lend it to me and when she came to visit, she brought it.
The book is called, The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, Ph.D. When I read the title, chills ran up and down my spine. Research has shown that about 1 out of every 24 people is a sociopath. That must mean that some time in my long and happy life I must have known a few. My dear husband and I have been talking about it for the last couple of days. Every hour or so one of us will say, what do you think about so and so? Was he one, or was she one? Am I one? Are you one? Believe me if you are able to ask that question chances are excellent that you are not.
Dr. Stout treats, I would like to say ministers to, people whose lives have been made miserable by those with no conscience. Can you imagine having one for a parent? Sociopaths can lie, cheat, steal, betray, and charm—oh, they are so good at charming people. Charming is their m o, as is making a play for pity. Dr. Stout kindly gives thirteen warnings, which I am going to heed assiduously. I pray for discernment and I know God gives it to me.
It would be good for you to get the book for yourself. Maybe it will help you with your villains, too. Here are a few notes:
1. Accept that the person really is a sociopath,
2. Rely on your instincts,
3. After three whoppers cut your losses and skedaddle.
It goes on from there, but that’s enough to give you a running head start and turn an insipid character into a thrilling personality-as in thriller. A small percentage are killers, but all need human contact so they can have the pleasure of seeing others in pain, otherwise they are as Dr. Stout says, bored and hollow.
I always wondered how anyone could be a career executioner, and now I know, though they can have ordinary jobs and yes, well, live next door as well. Only two out of ten imprisoned criminals is a sociopath, most of them are too wily to get caught. But as Martha Stout says, “I vote for the people with conscience, for the ones who are loving and committed, for the loving and generous souls.” That’s me, that’s my story, and oh, I thank God for my conscience I’d rather have that than all the gold or fame in the world, wouldn’t you? Without that precious inner guide there can be no joy, no love, no happiness, and no peace.