As I started writing Child of the Night Guild, I knew I wanted to take my character along a journey from innocent child to cold, hard criminal. The things she will end up doing in Books 2 and 3 are definitely not the sort of thing a well-adjusted person does—makes sense, given all the things she endures.
I considered whether or not to make her a sociopath or psychopath. In a way, that would almost give her an excuse for doing what she does, and would add an interesting new dimension to the character. In the end, I didn’t go down that route, but I learned a lot of fascinating things about psychopaths.
For example, did you know that you can often spot a psychopath from a pretty young age? In doing my research, I came across this article on Psychology Today that pointed to some interesting signs:
- Bullying other children
- Abuse of pets (family and otherwise)
- Engaging in petty thievery and criminal acts
- Lack of empathy
- Superficial charm
- Shallow and short-lived emotions
- Manipulativeness and tendency to lie
- Punishment doesn’t affect their behavior
- Inability to show remorse
Of course, these things aren’t the only indicators of psychopathy from a young age. And parents DEFINITELY can’t look at these signs and think, “Oh god, my child is a psychopath!”
However, it’s interesting to note that though behavior and personality isn’t usually cemented until a much later age (30, according to psychologists like William James), there are these signs that can be seen at an age as young as two years old. They’re more than just the “Terrible Twos”—they may actually become serious social disorders if the child doesn’t outgrow them.
I found this fascinating because it goes to show that “nature” and “nurture” are equally important for personality and character development. Children can show psychopathic traits from a young age, but parents can help to nurture them out of it.
As a writer, I’ve come to understand that MOST of my characters’ issues come from their childhood. If I’m going to write a psychopath, I have to start developing the character (in my mind, if not on paper) from a very young age. All these traits are perfect signs to show readers that the character is a psychopath even at the tender age of two. If the parents took steps to correct their child’s behavior, his/her psychopathic tendencies can be thwarted. But the real psychopaths (the ones who become anti-heroes and villains) are the ones whose parents didn’t nurture them out of it, but instead did things (violence, verbal abuse, subjection to over-strict discipline, sending them off to harsh martial/magical training, etc.) that encouraged them to continue down the road to becoming a full-blown psychopath.