Real Villains

This month’s issue of Author features an interesting interview with medical suspense writer C. J. Lyons. Lyons spent over fifteen years in pediatric medicine before becoming a fulltime novelist. Her work as a doctor included time in emergency rooms where she came into contact with not just victims of abuse but abusers themselves, men and women who were, by her description, sociopaths. “Sociopaths,” she told Jeff Ayers, “aren’t very interesting people.”

She mentioned this because as a writer of suspense fiction she could not really use her direct experience with sociopaths when creating villains. We have to love to hate our villains; we have to want to watch the villains. Hannibal Lecter, for all his flaws, is a pretty interesting guy. Cruella Deville, Captain Hook, Gollum – all deliciously, fascinatingly evil.

But according to Lyons the real sociopath, the real villain, is rather blank. And why would that be? Probably because interesting people are people who are interested in life. After all, a sociopath must withdraw from life in order to retain his connection to the meager and nihilistic satisfaction of murder—an act, I would imagine, that connects him to life only in the flicker of a moment he watches it end. Were he to become interested in life itself, he would not wish to end it.

I am fine with writers creating interesting villains. We don’t want to watch our heroes and heroines triumph over deadened ciphers; we want to watch them triumph over themselves, over their darkened halves bent on building happiness by controlling everyone and everything. These villains are interesting because we are interested, and the satisfaction we gain watching them die is the familiar relief of finding safety in our own skin.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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