Psychopathic Characters Without Cliches

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Definitions of psychopathy range from the mentally unhinged (insane) to a spectrum of mild to severe personality traits.  In common parlance ‘psychopath’ is itself a cliche, which makes it very difficult to not produce a character who is a cliche.

To create an interesting psychopathic character, who doesn’t pander to cliches, concentrating on your character’s personality traits. Pick out some personality traits that might be considered psychopathic and define what they mean with regard to your character:

  • How is she dangerous? Is it about power, pain, focus, skill? Why do others (psychopaths always consider themselves to be normal – don’t we all) consider her a psychopath?
  • How is she psychopathic? Is she uninhibited, does she have uncontrollable anger, is she egotistical, deluded? Can she turn the charm on and off like a tap, but have no underlying feelings of empathy?
  • What is her attitude to rules. Are they there to be broken? Applicable to everyone else but not her? Does she apply them ridgidly and unbendingly in all situations without exception/empathy. Or does she apply her own criteria as to which rules should be kept and broken – if so what is that criteria? Is she a good or a bad psychopath?
  • Does she stray more toward the Sociopathic or the psychotic (research the differences – it’s important)?
  • How extreme are these psychopathic character traits, and are there any triggers/situations that increase or activate those traits.

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For a nuanced, more subtle, and therefore less cliched, character, give her only a few truly psychopathic character traits, and some normal character traits – no one is ever stereotypically all bad or all good. The best psychopathic character I have seen recently is Jessica Jones in the Netflix series.


Next, work out where the psychopathic character traits come from. Why is she the way she is? What has happened to make her the way she is? Try to write some back story to show how she identified with these traits.

Finally, remember that every villain (if in deed she is a villain) is always the hero of their own story.

  • In her mind she is the one making the right decisions for the right reasons. You need to show this in your writing/scenes so your readers can understand where she is coming from, however twisted her reasons and thinking might be, and even maybe, has some sympathy for her.
  • Always plan out the villains story, from their point of view, as well as the hero’s story.

Now for the magical bit: Forget she’s a psychopath.  Just concentrate on writing a character who displays/shows all those character traits and you should end up with a rounded, nuanced, believable, character.

Have fun.


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