Writing The Psychopath (10 Examples & 10 Scripts Inc.)

Monday 15 July 2019

While watching a documentary about a psychopath who brutally killed his little sister to spite his mother, I started wondering about fictional psychopaths.

When creating a character, writers draw inspiration from many different sources, I wondered how this differed from writer to writer and what traits fictional psychopaths have.

Here are my top ten fictional psychopaths, a bit about how they came to be and a quick tip on what makes them tick.

It should go without saying but just in case **SPOILERS**

1. Hannibal Lector – The Silence of the Lambs

Creator: Thomas Harris

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” 

What is it about Dr. Lector that draws people in? His charm? His wit? It’s probably not his culinary skills; well, not if you know what he’s serving up. 

The inspiration for Hannibal the Cannibal was drawn from a real person. 

In 2013 Thomas Harris revealed that his character was inspired by a doctor he met while visiting a prison during a trip to Mexico in the 1960s. 

The doctor was serving a life sentence for murdering a young man, mutilating his body into several parts, and putting them in a very small box.

Quick Tip: Cannibals are often depicted as savages or desperate people in survival mode but here is a classy man, a doctor, who is intelligent, articulate but also enjoys eating people. 

The fact that he seems normal and well-adjusted is what makes this character intriguing.


2. Annie Wilkes – Misery

Creator: Stephen King

“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodee car!” 

One of the most memorable lines from the book/film Misery which follows the story of a writer being ‘saved’ after a car crash by his “Number one fan,” who then kept him captive and forced him to write for her. 

Psycho nurse, Annie Wilkes, is every writers’ worst nightmare; even more frightful is the fact she’s based on a real person. Genene Jones (also a nurse) was the inspiration for Annie. 

She injected lethal doses of drugs into babies so she could be the heroic person trying to ‘save’ them. 

Stephen King also revealed that Annie was a personification of his addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Quick Tip: Nurses are normally nurturing and caring. Annie projected this ideal on the surface and was often sweet and soft spoken. 

Then when she showed her true colours, her actions and aggressive nature was shocking. 

This contrast in personality makes her as unpredictable as a wild animal.


3. The Joker – Batman Franchise

Creator: Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” 

A classic line for a classic villain but where did this iconic character come from? 

It seems he was inspired by a silent film called: The Man Who Laughs which was adapted from a novel in which a nobleman is sentenced to death in an iron maiden and a surgeon, Dr. Hardquannone, is ordered to disfigure the son’s face into a permanent grin. 

The King condemned him “to laugh forever at his fool of a father.”

Quick Tip: The Joker exudes magnetism. 

His playful persona breaks down barriers and lures his victims into a false sense of security. 

How can anyone who smiles and laughs all the time be bad? 

This ‘happy-go-lucky’ attitude mixed with his insanity is what makes him a super villain.


4. Patrick Bateman – American Psycho

Creator: Bret Easton Ellis

“I like to dissect girls. Did you know I'm utterly insane?” 

A yuppie banker jerk who moonlights a sadistic serial killer. 

There’s really nothing to like here, so why do we find this unlikable man fascinating? 

It might be that he is such a big psycho jerk and is unapologetic about it. 

There’s very little information on the creation of this character, the only information offered is that the name "Patrick Bateman" is an homage to Norman Bates, Alfred Hitchcock's killer in Psycho.

Quick Tip: The fascination with Bateman is that he is someone with so much money and power that no matter what he does, he’ll get away with it.

He’s cold, calculating and above everything and everyone. 

Going from jerk to psycho jerk feels like a natural next step, and that’s what makes him especially scary.


5. Michael Myers – Halloween

Creator: John Carpenter

“…” No quotes from Michael because he’s mute. 

Norman Bates is mentioned in the creation of Michael Myers and although I have not chosen Norman as one of the top ten, this character seems to have influenced a number of other character creations. 

Michael was created from a love of horror movies, with Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre both providing inspiration for the masked murderer.

Quick Tip: Michael is mute and this makes him terrifying. 

He hides behind a plain mask, always wears overalls and seems like an empty shell of a person who kills indiscriminately. 

No one knows who will be next or when he will strike. These unknown elements are what ramps up the fear factor.


6. Hedra Carlson – Single White Female

Creator: John Lutz

“Allie, he came in my mouth, and then he tried to beat the shit out of me because I wanted to tell you. You know... It was an accident. But... He deserved it.” 

I couldn’t find any information about what inspired the creation of Hedra Carlson, the obsessive and possessive psychopath who creepily takes Allie’s identity. 

The film was based on a book called, ‘SWF Seeks Same’ and the idea of unwittingly inviting a sadistic killer into your home is a skin-shivery concept.

Quick Tip: Hedra looks and seems as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, she has a sweet childlike persona but as time goes by the cold, calculated, crazy person that she really is begins to emerge. 

This gradual transformation from quirky flatmate to uncontrollable psycho killer makes her super scary.


7. Dexter Morgan – Darkly Dreaming Dexter/Dexter

Creator: Jeff Lindsay

“What was sleep, after all, but the process by which we dumped our insanity into a dark subconscious pit and came out on the other side ready to eat cereal instead of our neighbour’s children?” 

Manuel Pardo is said to have inspired the character Dexter, however, this is unconfirmed. Pardo was an ex-cop who claimed that all nine of his victims were drug dealers who had no right to live and that he was doing society a favour. 

The author of the Dexter books has said he got the idea while pondering the notion of whether it was ever okay to kill anyone and could a killer’s actions be justified. 

Dexter kills bad people; he has a little voice inside him called ‘the passenger’ who feeds his urge to kill.

Quick Tip: Dexter kills in the name of ‘good’. 

His victims were bad people doing bad things and the conundrum here is whether or not we should be rooting for a killer. 

Killing is bad but Dexter is killing bad people, ridding the world of them so they can no longer hurt others. 

This moral tug-of-war is what makes this character so interesting.


8. Villanelle – Killing Eve

Creator: Luke Jennings

“You should never tell a psychopath they are a psychopath. It upsets them.” 

Villanelle is a hit-woman for hire who likes to play games with the detective (Eve) she’s obsessed with. 

She enjoys making a statement when she kills. 

Flamboyant and devoid of empathy, she is easily bored and this always leads to trouble.

Quick Tip: The lack of female killers who murder for money and fun makes Villanelle a stand-out character. 

She is unapologetic in her desires and doesn’t care about anyone but herself. 

Just when you think she’s going to do something kind she flips it and does something monstrous. 

The hope that she will eventually change her ways is what keeps us invested in the character.


9. Ghostface – Scream

Creator: Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson

“Movies don't create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!" — Billy Loomis. 

The killers in the first movie are teenagers Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. 

The concept was inspired by the Gainesville Ripper who went on a killing spree in a quiet Florida town. He would break into apartments, sneak up on female students, put tape over their mouth, tie them up, rape them and then decapitate and pose their bodies. 

Scream follows a similar theme. Ghostface, a costume consisting of a ghost face mask and black robes, was worn by Billy Loomis while he killed. 

His excuse for murdering and mutilating his fellow students was because he was screwed up over his parent’s divorce and so ‘naturally’ he killed his father’s mistress. 

Stu, Billy’s accomplice, who also wore the costume to murder his victims, had no excuse.

Quick Tip: Teenagers killing teenagers after being inspired by horror movies, is not only frightening for other teens but also every parent’s nightmare. Rap creates gangs, computer games create zombies, horror movies create killers. None of this is fact but

young people with no moral compass, living in a sadistic fairyland of their own creation, is a recipe for some great characterisation.


10. Gogo Yubari – Kill Bill

Creator: Quentin Tarantino

“How about now, big boy? Do you still wish to penetrate me? Or is it I who has penetrated you?” 

There wasn’t any information on the inspiration for Gogo and though she had a small amount of screen time, she leaves a big impression. 

“The young girl in the schoolgirl uniform is O-Ren's personal bodyguard, 17-year-old Gogo Yubari. Gogo may be young, but what she lacks in age, she makes up for in madness.” 

Gogo gets a thrill from killing. 

It’s a hobby for her. She enjoys her job and is loyal to her mistress. She dresses in a school girl uniform, which makes her look innocent and harmless. 

This is a clever disguise.

Quick Tip: Children are thought of as innocent and pure of heart. 

When a child is presented as a psychopath this creates a sense of alarm. 

Children are to be protected but how do you protect a young predator with a lust for bloodshed? 

A teenager hired specifically for her murderous skills makes an unforgettable character.


In conclusion:

A great fictional psychopath is mysterious and unpredictable. 

Someone who can read others like a book, while they themselves are unreadable. Someone who wears a disguise, literally or figuratively. Someone who is missing the basic emotional components of a fully functional human being.

Thank you to all those who shared their favourite fictional psychopaths with me. Sorry if yours didn’t make the list, there were so many great characters to choose from.

Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She also dabbles in screenwriting.

You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. www.emmapullar.com


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