Though one can write about many things unfamiliar with enough research, writing about what you know, especially the things you know fairly intimately, gives a certain amount of authority to your voice. My most successful endeavors thus far certainly fall into this category.
My short novellas Ashley’s Tale and Ashley’s Tale: Making Jake both do a cannonball jump into the deep end of the violence pool but not mindlessly so. They focus on a particularly violent man with a vicious past and a disturbing philosophy and psychology.
My novel Low, which was just picked up by Stitched Smile Publications, revolves around a police officer and shows some of the lowest and most violent elements of society in vivid detail.
I like my villains to be smart, genuinely disturbing, and multifaceted. An atypically shaped peg that does not fit easily into any round, square or otherwise commonly shaped hole. I want them to ride the fence between being polarizing at certain points and acting in ways that the reader may find themselves consciously or unconsciously agreeing with, or, perhaps, even, finding some common philosophical / moral ground with.
I want my villains to make people think.
But in order to accomplish that, they can’t be a simple machete swinging brute. There has to be more beneath the surface, layers like an onion. I need to discern and communicate their motivations, beliefs, desires, weaknesses, strengths, how they see the world, other people and most of all, themselves.
This means I have to craft a truly authentic person / entity that will speak to the reader, connect viscerally, and draw them into his madness and call their own morality into question or disturb them so badly they reject everything he stands for.
To do this one has to understand some basic psychology, and, in the case of villains, some aspects of aberrant psychology. Layman terms are preferable to me.
We’ll refer to the overarching concept as the Criminal Mindset. My intent is to proceed through several blogposts in the coming weeks that highlight different aspects of it and probe how violent people think.
I believe this material can be helpful to any author, but particularly those in the horror and thriller genre to help in creating villains that are highly real and believable. For readers it will provide insight into the workings of criminals in general and violent individuals specifically. I present this information to classes that I teach on Avoiding Violence as well, both to understand how predators think and also to help recognize bad guys as early as possible and take evasive action.
What I’ll be sharing is a compilation of personal experience as a police officer for almost 12 years, material from classes I took and information gathered from reading numerous books on violence.
For this first blog, I want to jump into basic human Motivations. The following is a fairly simple formula to understand how a person can become motivated to be violent.
Desire + Entitlement +Insufficient Moral System = Violence (as a viable option)
What does your villain desire? What affections grip his heart? What does he need to feel loved, respected, wanted, and / or feared?
How does he view the world? What is his ethical system of thought? Many are some combination of Narcissistic and Sociopathic or Psychopathic. Some may be pragmatic and utilitarian. Others may be Nihilistic like my character Jake. Others may have very ideological foundations for their view of the world and people. Religious? Political? Some form of deeply held prejudice? Many things can influence their general worldview and thereby the desires that drive them.
Expectations are shaped by upbringing, belief systems, and experience and tempered by our own moral codes. But the basic expectations of a violent person are that their wants are paramount above those of all other people. They are self-centered, selfish and possess an Entitlement Complex that insists that other people meet their needs or at least not interfere.
The basic progression of thought looks something like this:
“I want” leads to “I need”
“I need” leads to Expectations
Unmet Expectations lead to Anger
Entitlement + Unmet Expectations = Perceived Injustice
Perceived Injustice + Anger will usually breed violence – whether Intimidation, Manipulative and Controlling tactics, or full on Physical assaults
Essentially, once a person crosses from desire to entitlement what they are willing to do from there to get the object of their affections is limited or given free reign based on what level of moral / ethical system they have in place.
The angrier they become the more likely they are to choose violence as an acceptable option. Ask yourself, in this person’s view of the world is expressing anger openly ok? Is it fine to express that anger through some form of violence? What level of violence are they comfortable with employing?
And, ultimately, when needs and expectations go unmet in the presence of an entitlement complex there WILL be a perceived injustice which will provide a justification for the use of violence to punish those who didn’t provide what was “needed” or those who interfered with the acquisition of said “need.”
At the bottom of violence, it is arguable that the true goal is Justice. Twisted as it may be within the villain’s mental framework, it’s about what he perceives to be Justice and Injustice. What is “Due” or “Owed” to him. What he is “Entitled” to or perceives he has the “Right” to obtain or even be flat out given by others. The violence he then lashes out with becomes his method of Retribution, of Punishment for what “should” have been given to him without resistance or struggle and, also, his means of gaining Compensation for the Perceived Injustice. His way of seeing Justice completed on his behalf.
A Perceived Injustice can often result in a strong sense of Shame, inwardly, or, even more acutely, when the shame is public. Public shame particularly is a major motivation for people, even normal people, to use violence to regain their sense of honor and respect, both individually and on a larger social scale. And the use of violence for this purpose can even be culturally acceptable at times. People can only tolerate so much shame, especially public shame and exposure before they lash out in a desperate attempt to redeem or prove themselves worthy of respect and to cast off the burden of dishonor they bear.
With many violent men their shameful past experiences and memories are a main source of intolerable distress and the very violent means they choose to protect and / or avenge themselves by. In fact, often what they have seen or experienced becomes their own modus operandi, their method of delivering violence.
Physical violence is an especially significant source of tremendous humiliation and shame and, logically, becomes a major defense against shame. One can respond to scorn, ridicule and disrespect with violence and shut it down quickly. The use of violence can eliminate perceptions of weakness, impotence, lack of manliness or similar inadequacy.
Sometimes violence may be utilized pre-emptively as well to prevent a Perceived Injustice or to prevent harmful perceptions that might result in embarrassment or loss of respect. It may also be used pre-emptively to gain recognition and honor in certain circles or within their own point of view. Violence buys instant recognition. That can never be understated.
And, what must always be understood by the author and made clear to the reader, is that this makes sense to the individual committing violence, based on their Core Beliefs / World views, Personality, Ego, Ethical System, upbringing, etc. A combination of both nurture and nature is at work in shaping their whole framework of thought, motivations and beliefs with Justice, albeit disturbingly twisted, as their primary goal.
James Gilligan M.D., in his book Violence – Reflections on a National Epidemic, asserts that “All violence is an attempt to achieve Justice, or what the violent person perceives to be justice, for himself or for whomever it is on whose behalf he is being violent.”
Next time we’ll look at some other areas of the Criminal Mindset and in what ways their thinking process and core character are warped compared to normal people.
Some other good reading material is Facing Violence by Rory Miller and Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you come back!