Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Crime Fiction. Psychology for Writers: Part One

Crime fiction. Criminal Psychology 101

As a physician, I have gotten a special glimpse into abnormal psychology. I have treated convicted, but sane, criminals in my office; I have treated not yet convicted criminals; and I have treated unincarcerated people with every flavor of psychological abnormality.
I received training in the largest inpatient psych facility in the southeast, and Georgia's largest maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. (You know, where they go when the lawyer gets them 'off' on insanity pleas.) In England they sent people to Bedlam. In Georgia, we send them to Milledgeville. We may not like to deal with them in real life, but we LOVE to examine them in fiction, so what makes the crazy people tick?  (I will be using examples that have been in movies so as to be recognizable by the widest audience.)
 First, we'll look at the most famous fictional malady. The serial killer/psychopath. These are best represented by Hannibal Lecter. Their fictional defining characteristics are generally that they are brilliant, cannier than most of the criminologists assigned to them, and absolutely sociopathic. These are fortunately extremely rare in real life. Regular, non-wunderkind sociopaths are far more common.
The important thing to remember about them is that they do not care. Sociopath means that a person is completely separated from societal and cultural norms. They do things that you and I would avoid because it is frowned upon, or because we live so far inside the lines that we would never think of doing them. A sociopath does not even know where the lines are. Or he does, but the concept that these rules might apply to him is completely alien. These types are fun to write about, but there are a few things that are necessary when writing about them. You must first have an idea of what happened to them to make them sociopaths. This disease is a product of nurture, or lack thereof, not nature. Second, you will have to invent a world from the sociopath's point of view. This can be as complex as inventing a sci-fi or paranormal world. You must delve into his set of rules, and the traumas/motivations leading to these rules. These rules will be as foreign to a normal person as those of Tolkien's middle-earth would be, yet the organized sociopath is very strict within his rules and is bound by them. To draw a good sociopath, you must learn his rules, and why he has them.  He will take you from there.

Next time: Schizophrenia