Creating a Killer: Psychopath, Sociopath or Just Evil?

Today is the official launch of THE LEGEND OF JACKSON MURPHY. Join me on Facebook for the virtual launch party and win some shit while you’re there. I’m giving away an assload of e-books, and you can have your choice of IN THE BONES or JACK if you win. I’m also giving away goodies, gift cards, e-books by fantastic authors, and some paperbacks. Prefer Twitter? Well you’re in luck. Katrina Monroe (@AuthorKatM) and I (@ReneeMJ) are also tweeting throughout the launch. Join us by using hashtag #WWJMD and you could win there as well.

As I shared interviews with each of the characters of Jack’s story this week, I realized they all had their little psychological horror stories, but none as disturbing as Jack’s.

In most of my work, there’s always a character that turns the stomach of most readers. He or she is beyond likability and seems evil to their core. In IN THE BONES, it’s Carroll Albert. Sociopath, for sure… well mostly. However, in THE LEGEND OF JACKSON MURPHY, that character is actually likable. You root for him. You want him to succeed while knowing what he’s doing is so very wrong.

Why is that? Well, he manipulates you into doing so. He’s charming, witty and so good at getting what he wants. Although I didn’t know it while I wrote the rough draft, I wanted to create a psychopath. It wasn’t until later, on rewrite six or seven, maybe even rewrite ten, I pondered whether his actions were even plausible. So I researched and found it disturbing that I’d managed to unwittingly create such a good little psychopath.

Here’s a condensed checklist of traits you’ll usually find in a psychopath:


Psychopaths have an amazing ability to be smooth, engaging, and glib. They’re never coy, their charm is not shy, and they are never self-conscious. Psychopaths don’t have that filter in their head that causes them to worry about offending someone by saying something. On the other hand, they’re equally adept at appearing to be a great listener. They feign empathy and have an uncanny knack for picking out your vulnerabilities and your hopes so that they can better manipulate you to suit their needs and goals.


Pathological lying is a common trait among psychopaths, but the manner in which they lie can vary. For example, a moderate pathological liar is shrewd or sly. Omitting information or twisting facts to tell “white lies” is common. An extreme pathological liar is unscrupulous, manipulative and downright dishonest. However, he’s so damn charming and smooth he’ll often have you believing him in the end.


The use of deception and trickery to con others for personal gain is common for psychopaths. They lack concern for the suffering of others and will do whatever is necessary to see their personal needs and wants are met. Psychopaths can be ruthless in their exploitation of the vulnerabilities of others.


A psychopath is arrogant; having an over-inflated sense of self-worth. You’ll find them to be opinionated, self-assured, and perhaps even cocky. This is because psychopaths truly believe they are superior.


A psychopath needs constant stimulation. He wants constant thrilling and new experiences or stimuli. Psychopaths take chances and do things that are risky for the sheer elation that comes from doing such things. In terms of work or relationships, this tendency leads to problems carrying things through because they get bored before the task is done.


Actually, a psychopath may not even be aware of his own guilt. If he is, he has no feelings or concern for the loss or pain his actions may have caused. It’s not that a psychopath wants to hurt others or that he gains pleasure from it, a psychopath just doesn’t care. He tends to be unconcerned, aloof, and cold-hearted. Instead of remorse, you’ll often find disdain for the victims.


Basically, as you’ve probably gathered from the above traits, a psychopath has a limited range and depth of feelings. They’re empty inside. Although outwardly they’ll seem friendly and warm, this is superficial. They do not feel friendly or warm.


Psychopaths are selfish and they won’t hesitate to use you for their own gain.


It’s common for a psychopath to be visibly irritable, annoyed or impatient. They deal with these feelings with threats, aggression and verbal abuse; because they have poor control of their anger and tend to act impulsively when you piss them off. Their impulsivity may be why many tend to lead nomadic existences. Psychopaths don’t have the ability to set long term goals or take responsibility for their lives. Actions or behaviors that aren’t premeditated get them into some hot water now and then. The inability to resist temptation and urges comes from the inability to foresee consequences. This impulsivity can make psychopaths unpredictable, erratic and reckless. However, a psychopath quickly learns from his mistakes and he doesn’t often make the same one twice.


Numerous brief, superficial relationships and sexual partners are nothing new for the psychopath. It’s all about their needs and their wants. They’re often indiscriminate in their choice of partners and have multiple relationships at the same time. Some may have a history of trying to sexually coerce others into sexual activity (aka: rape) or you may notice they discuss sexual exploits and conquests with pride.

Some have called Jack a sociopath, and they’re sort of accurate. You will find all of these traits in sociopaths as well. It’s easy to be confused as to which one you’re dealing with. However, there are small differences between a psychopath and a sociopath.

First, let’s look at intelligence:

A sociopath doesn’t care about the rights, feelings, and safety of another human being. Like a psychopath, they don’t even consider these things. However, a sociopath sometimes has no regard for their own safety either. The psychopath is a little smarter. While they’re risk takers, a psychopath is less likely to get caught. A sociopath will do something, get caught, and carry on without examining the mistakes in their plans. A psychopath on the other hand, will take the risk, look at how close they came to getting caught, or if they were caught, they’ll examine how that happened, and then they’ll do whatever is necessary to avoid the consequences the next time. In other words, a sociopath keeps doing the same thing over and over again. No matter how many times a plan or behavior leads to negative consequences, the sociopath repeats it in the same manner. Psychopaths have the intelligence to change the behavior or plan to avoid the consequences.

Psychopaths and sociopaths also differ in terms of remorse. A sociopath feels no remorse for the damage they cause because they lack the part of the brain that processes feelings for anyone but themselves. They might feign regret or shame, but often it’s not felt. Sociopaths can’t feel much of anything. Now, a psychopath will sometimes feel remorse after they have been caught, but this is usually because they were caught, not because they feel bad for the damage caused. The difference is that a psychopath has the ability to regret their actions, although the reasons tend to be shallow or self-involved; a sociopath does not.

A brief look into the history of a person can also reveal whether he is a sociopath or a psychopath. A sociopath usually has a history of problems with building and maintaining relationships, both romantic and platonic, repeated juvenile behavioral problems, poor performance in school, and problems with anything that requires responsibility and accountability on their part. They’re rebellious and narcissistic, and feel entitled to have or do whatever they want. They seldom respect authority or anything resembling it. Now, the psychopath doesn’t have much regard for authority either, but he may show limited respect for the law (because he wants to avoid consequences) and his school and juvenile record may be spotless (due to his manipulation of people and facts to elude detection). Because of his charm, and expert manipulation, a psychopath may have been quite popular in school and in later social circles. This is because psychopaths can cover their “illness.” They can force themselves to put on a friendly, “normal” mask when they must do so. A sociopath has no self-discipline and cannot usually do this. Psychopaths are impulsive, but they do have the ability to control urges when the need arises.

While neither can tolerate boredom, psychopaths and sociopaths differ in how they deal with it. Psychopaths can find productive ways to deal with it, primarily because they’re often highly intelligent and creative people. Sociopath relieve boredom by causing drama (know a few of these?). They’ll spark conflict between friends, coworkers or family or break the law, disturb the peace, etc. just for shits and giggles. They engage in inappropriate behaviors just to get attention. Causing conflict in someone else’s life is entertainment for the sociopath. Psychopaths can cause drama too, but it’s due to the selfish acts they do to get what they want. It’s not usually intentional. In other words, psychopaths have a purpose behind their destructiveness, and the damage left behind is simply a by-product. Sociopaths LIKE causing shit storms. They intentionally set out to hurt others.

In THE LEGEND OF JACKSON MURPHY, you might notice that Jack is almost entirely psychopath, but now and then he shows sociopathic traits. For example, his actions and thoughts in the final scene with James or Whitney shows a definite sociopath. It is possible for a person to be a sociopath AND a psychopath. The traits overlap from time to time. They come and go, changing as the person adapts to his situation or surroundings. Basically, there’s no sure way to distinguish one from the other unless you’re a professional who is given the time to dissect the person’s history and actions. But neither one is likely to cooperate long enough for someone to study them.

Now, how many of these traits apply to you or someone you know?


7 thoughts on “Creating a Killer: Psychopath, Sociopath or Just Evil?

  1. Certainly none to me, or someone I know in real life (I’m good at avoiding crackpots since I can spot them quite well), but one of the characters in my book is also a psychopath. He’s only a secondary character, but nonetheless, he fits the mold perfectly.

    Great post, btw. 🙂
    What I’d add to sociopaths is that they are antithetic — they love opposing things, other people, belief systems, political systems, authority, rules, basically anything. They find strength in standing against something, and hate being part of a group since they associate that with lack of personality & strength. So each time society tries to integrate them or force them to comply, they lash out, from disobedience to vandalism to murder.
    Psychopaths, on the other hand, are not antithetic. They don’t even consider the others worthy of their opposition or sustained attention, unless they can be of use. Psychopaths see themselves as superior per se and don’t bother demonstrating it to others. They find no satisfaction in displaying their beliefs and attitudes openly, they find satisfaction in hiding them and manipulating everyone into thinking they’re different than they really are (which you also explained quite well).
    So basically, sociopaths define themselves with the help of society (by opposing it), they need that in order to reaffirm their identity, while psychopaths don’t give a fuck either way.

    I can’t wait to meet Jack. I’m certain he’s a fascinating character!

    CONGRATS for the launch!!!

    1. Yes, EXCELLENT point, Veronica. I condensed in the interest of not writing a book, but this is a crucial trait of the sociopath and a big difference between the two.

      Have you not met Jack yet? I am a terrible friend for not introducing you.

      1. Yeah, I haven’t read Jack yet, which is why I avoided reading your “meet the characters” posts. I don’t like starting to read a book (or watch a movie) with specific expectations, they rob me of my fun. 🙂 But I’ll definitely meet Jack sooner or later, he’s got the biggest mark on my to-read list by far.

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