Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Writing Antisocial Personality Disorder Characters

Psychopaths, sometimes erroneously called sociopaths, are hard to identify, but, oh, my what interesting characters to write. Their smaller pre-frontal cortexes, regulating impulse-control and behaviors, means this is a condition not just “bad choices by bad people”. The sociopath and psychopath are victims of something they cannot control.

However, the general thinking is that psychopaths are born that way and that sociopaths are created out of extreme childhood circumstances and violence, sometimes even head injuries. The old nurture-nature argument surfaces.

Sociopaths tend to be reserved, inhibited and sometimes described at loners, whereas, psychopaths are confident, dominant, and even social. Whereas we might call psychopaths amoral, sociopaths do have a sense of right and wrong and might be martyrs or crusaders for causes that are skewed against normalcy.  

As to sex difference, three times more men than women are diagnosed as sociopaths or psychopaths. Identified women, much more often than men, reported sexual abuse, parental issues like substance abuse, or emotional neglect as children.

WebMD distinguishes between sociopaths and psychopaths, those who are clinically diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, as whether or not a conscience is operating.

The psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. The sociopath has a conscience, but it is a weak one. The psychopath has no qualms or regrets about shis behaviors or actions. The sociopath displays some guilt or remorse, but not enough to keep shim from the behavior. Self-centered and guiltless, they take actions fearlessly since they don’t accept personal responsibility for consequences for actions.

It is also pointed out that the majority of those with an antisocial personality disorder are not violent. The ones who make the news are, but thousands are walking around, living their lives without attracting legal attention. But for our books, we mostly make psychopaths or sociopaths our villain and perpetrator of violence. But it could be an interesting novel in which the sociopath next door is presumed guilty but somebody else “done the deed.”

I have a sociopath (although I leave it open to interpretation whether Cal is actually a psychopath) in my “Dinner is Served” series (first book Mission Impastable). Keeping him ambiguous is one way I have built tension in his relationships with others. Are they genuine or not? Is he capable of having a loving relationship with anyone?

In a study published a couple of years ago in Personality and Individual Differences,
researchers found that individuals scoring higher on an emotional detachment/disagreeable personality factor did not respond to yawning stimuli. You know what I mean. Someone yawns and then you do. It’s a sympathetic response. If one lacked empathy and sympathy traits, then that person did not respond with yawning.

Now think about that in a novel. A character could be unmasked as a psychopath by a clever sleuth. Or, your villain might know that non-yawning response is a characteristic and, thus, heesh tries to conceal it with a fake yawn, also detected by your clever sleuth.

Another study in Personality and Individual Differences found that narcissism and psychopathy traits predicted social media use. The more selfies men posted, the higher they ranked on the scale. Of course, taking selfies alone is not a predictor, but you could certainly have your villain obsessed with documenting shis life with selfies, Vine videos and the like, constantly documenting shis life on Facebook.

Interestingly, another study found a higher number of antisocial disorder personality people with a preference for bitter foods and drinks than the normal population. Maybe your villain likes shis coffee strong and black. Like me! Bwahaha!

Sociopaths and psychopaths are skilled actors. Manipulators who must win, who must dominate. I’d guess a good number, if not all, bullies could be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Try these tips and traits to beef up your antisocial villain.

If you enjoyed this post, I would appreciate you sharing it on Twitter and/or Facebook. 

Tweet: #Writers: Have a psychopath/sociopath in a novel? How are they different & alike? @RomanceRighter tells all http://bit.ly/1OLY0Cy

Facebook:  Writers who are writing characters with an antisocial personality disorder might pick up some ideas of how to do it right in this post by Angelica French Author.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Brooklyn and Ethical Characters

 I have to admit that I am not as discerning as many of my friends. Part of that is because, when I can, I choose friends who are smarter than I. When they’re smarter, I’m much less likely to get bored with the company or the friendship.

I carry that over to my writing critique groups as well. I want to work with better writers than I am so they can carry me along to the finish line of publication. So far so good! These people are also pretty amazing in book groups and as movie partners, as well.

I suppose it is not a surprise to those who know me that I went to see Brooklyn, a period movie, about an Irish immigrant. I am a real sucker for those kinds of tearjerkers. Even when I know I am being manipulated, the tears stream unfettered. Love it!

Now the fact that this movie was set in the 1950s, in my life time and yet is considered a period movie was enough of a shock. That brought on tears on its own!

Still, I settled in for a lovely transport to another’s life while in the company of a treasured writing crit partner. We both enjoyed the actors, the scenery, and the authenticity to the period (though we thought the heroine had too many clothes for her station in life).

The next morning, after our workout at Curves, we went for a pastry and coffee at the Basha’s grocery in the same strip mall. (I didn’t say I was without flaws.)

While licking my fingers of the cinnamon twist sugar, C.V. said something like, “I’ve been thinking about the movie, and the more I think of it the less I like the character Eilis. She was reared to have integrity, and she showed integrity early on, but her actions with both men were not ethical or moral.”

Wow! Deep. I was just enjoying the romance plot line, and dissing her for choices she made, but I never went that deep. I am far too forgiving of writers’ choices, I’ve decided. One can critique without necessarily being critical. Maybe that is a flaw of mine, too.
C.V. was right, of course. I, too, was uneasy with her actions and choices from mid-movie on, but I assumed it was an authorial decision to create a flawed character who finally did the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.

But are we to that point where we expect our characters to have less integrity and we accept that as long as it turns out right, it doesn’t matter how she got there?

I attended a panel on anti-heroes at the Left Coast Crime conference recently. Authors on the panel posited that our definition of heroes has been influenced greatly by the more interesting anti-heroes in film. Think Tony Soprano, Dexter, Walter White. The lines for morality and ethics seems to have shifted.

Is that why I didn’t notice, or at least didn’t wholly disapprove, of Eilis’ actions as much as my friend? Has my sense of right and wrong been gradually eroding? How can I still like a character who doesn’t live up to the standards I set for myself?

Please respond below. I will be coming back to this topic to explore how authors are writing characters and what that means for readers.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"It is meet and right so to do."

I am only one.
Still I am one.
I cannot do everything.
Still I can do something.
Because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
         Edward Everett Hale (a Unitarian minister)

Mindfulness came up again in a weekly phone conversation with my long-standing, long-distance BBF. She thought it a brilliant idea to focus on a word and live out that word in every aspect of one’s life. For me, it is encapsulated in a poem I have tried to live my life by since I found it in high school. It appears at the beginning of this post.

That led me to the quote as the title of this post. As a former Anglican church member, I am using the title quote in a way not intended in The Book of Common Prayer. I do so because I believe that one should live out one’s beliefs and not just parrot memorized sayings. Thus the conscription of the quote.
Our conversation led to the Pope asking others to be more merciful and compassionate. One element of mercy is not to turn away from others in need. Uncomfortable as it might be, we must look for and at the needs that surround us. Recognizing them as human beings who are struggling, who need our love and support, is an important step leading to action.

That discussion led to numerous related strands such as the Pope’s recent comment on what the faithful ought to give up for Lent. He directed them to give up indifference.

Think about that! It would change the world if each of us gave up indifference.

We immediately went to applications of giving up indifference. She expressed concern about the homeless at freeway exits who ask for food. She wants to give them money; her husband fears it wouldn’t go for food.

I told her my husband and I saw a woman give bottled water to someone, and so we were inspired to carry bags in the car with an energy bar and a water bottle to hand out. It is something we can do. And it is meet and right so to do.

And so it is with our legislators. With Justice Scalia’s death this past weekend, I felt moved to write to them as part of that commitment made earlier to be more mindful. I am in a very conservative state, with mostly conservative legislators, all of who want to delay a vote. It is easy to say that I can make no difference.

But that is giving in to indifference.

So I tweeted and e-mailed my federal legislators asking them to do the right thing, to vote on a new justice for the Supreme Court and not delay action for political reasons.

Vote yay or nay, but vote! The Senate is constitutionally required to select a new justice. Never have we had a delay of 11 months. That is unjustifiable on any grounds. The SCOTUS has work before it and the other justices deserve the respect of giving them a full court to do that work.

Why can’t we remove the partisanship and cooperate on doing the work of the people, all the people, not just those who voted for them? And I mean that for all flavors on the political spectrum.

A tsunami grows by gathering individual drops of water. The combined drops have enormous force and power. Be a drop of water. Call to other drops of water. Join together for change and to fight indifference.

It is meet and right so to do.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Never Make or Break a New Year's Resolution Again

I have absented myself from a good bit of social media engagement for many months. Personal and professional reasons caused me to limit interactions. But I'm back, with what I hope will be interesting and sometimes provocative posts about interactions among family, friends, and strangers. Titled "Romance Righter", these blog posts are about all kinds of love, including loving yourself, not just the romantic kind. So read on!

A dear friend and my bestest, long-standing crit partner and I were talking about making New Year’s Resolutions. I listed mine last year in a blog post. Sad to say, a huge number were (like most of Americans’ resolutions) broken. Some even shattered. Sigh. Same ole, same ole, right? Good intentions and the road to hell got more pavement laid down.

Sandy said she doesn’t “do” resolutions; she hasn’t done so for years. She was reacting to the negativity of the concept. Her point was that to make a resolution is to say “I must have stuff wrong with me if I have to identify ways to fix me. Ways, by the way, that I will likely violate and never resolve so what’s the point?”

Umm. She had a point.

Instead, Sandy chooses a word to live by for the year. A word that she reaches through meditation. A word that she can apply to the multiplicity of elements that make her, her.

In 2015, her word of the year was “Wisdom.”

In 2016, she chose “Harmony.” She will strive for harmony in the cells of her body, the balance of personal and professional activities, and in making choices that affect all areas of her life. She posts her word for the year beside the door leading to her garage so she sees it each time she leaves her home.

Is that brilliant or what?

Never one to be left behind when great ideas float into my path, I jumped on that right away. But picking a word of this import is not so easy. I latched onto a number of words, most of which were my former resolutions boiled down to one word. “Judgementaless” (huh?). “Write”. “Reduce”.

That kind of thing, and it just wasn’t working. I was stuck in the “broken me” paradigm. I wasn’t really getting the intent of Sandy’s progressive perspective. And then it came to me.

My 2016 word, posted in bold and large print next to my workspace, is “Mindfulness”.

The word reminds me (ha! See?) to thoughtfully consider my decisions and to be present in the moment instead of regretting the past or living in the future.

And you know that serendipity thing? The synchronicity thing? Once you latch onto a word, it's everywhere. It's amazing to me how many times I have encountered the term since January.

When I am mindful, I make eating decisions with awareness. When I am mindful, I make exercise decisions deliberately. When I am mindful, I choose to hold onto grudges or let them go. As a mindful person, I make choices about the balance between my professional-writing time and personal-connections time. It plays out in every aspect of my life so far.

And so far it is working better than my resolutions ever have. I chose to write about this, half way through February, because by this time most of us will have broken one or many more resolutions.

But with mindfulness staring back at me the whole time I am at my desk, I am more likely to take that break every hour so I don’t risk heart disease. With mindfulness in my sight, I am more likely to write when I am at my desk than get caught up in the social media blender. Mindfulness challenges me to consider implications of personal interactions and conversations. And even unspoken thoughts. I am more mindful of making judgments about people’s actions and motivations.

Am I perfect? Am I always mindful? Pshaw! You know that isn’t so, but each time I note mindfulnesses presence, I am reminded of what I promised myself 2016 can be. And I am more mindful than I have ever been. That’s good news for 2016.

What word would help you to move through this year more successfully?