Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Psychopathy as Art

or, "Are all writers psychopaths, or is it just me?"

It makes it a lot easier to be a writer if you're a psychopath. This is on account of the fact that you already have a lot of practice simulating those normal human emotions everybody's always talking about. Other people are too busy having emotions to worry about why and to what degree and then to take it one step further and try to describe them in a third party.

It also reduces the possibility that any "Mary Sue" character you write will be detected. The character would be so alien to the non-psychopaths (99% of readers) and so familiar to psychopaths (the other 1% and all the writers) that nobody would call you on it. The non-psychopaths because they have too much empathy to envision a psychopathic character as "real", and the psychopaths because they aren't going to call you out and reveal their secret. It's like being a vampire amidst a rash of amnesia about unexplained bites to the neck.

I can see two ways to harness psychopathy to inform a character and thus a story: Dark Comedy and Serious Horror. Let's use a classic scenario to illustrate. The villain has had enough of the character interfering with his nefarious schemes and so the character gets a phone call in the middle of the night and a muffled voice threatens: "We have your wife."

Dark Comedy:
Our Psychopathic Hero says "Eh, so what else is new?" and proceeds to do whatever it was the villain didn't want him to do, thwarting the plan and maybe getting his wife back at the end in one piece too. This can be overlap with the Smart Hostage Negotiator character who is not necessarily a psychopath but understands that she's probably screwed whether he puts the gun down or not. But the negotiator still cares.

Serious Horror:
Our character says "So? Well, [x]" where x is something so exponentially more selfish and out-and-out wrong that the original villain discovers that he isn't the real Villain of this story at all.  (Sample x: "she has the bomb.") And he says "Oh, shit..." as he comes to the realization that there is nothing whatsoever that he can do to stop the real Villain from completely destroying him. This is not the same as The Martyr Hero, because the only thing the psychopath cares about is himself and getting ahead. But what he doesn't care about is what other people think when they're in his way, which the former villain is. Boom.


Writers of Steam-punk get a lot of wiggle room when it comes to whether the final product is feasible or not. Nevertheless, when I describe a Victorian rocket glider, I demand that it make a little bit of sense. After I wrote the description, I took a look at some actual gliders. And lo, unto me appeared this image of what I had described, except with an actual undercarriage. This glider actually worked over short distances. What power will allow for long-distance gliding?

Just add a self-contained rocket tube that is jettisoned after take-off.

1000 words? Yes
Short Story "Timpani the Ostrich Rancher" - outlined, in progress (~2/3)

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