Every good novel needs more than just the classic hero and villain archetype. They also need side characters that provide depth, especially in psychological thrillers – which happens to be my genre. My current work in progress has a side character who is stalking my main character, but this stalker offers much more than a creepy physical presence. Their psychological impact on the story makes for quite an interesting plot point.
Let’s face it, this is a very en trend word right now which gets thrown about a great deal. But after doing my due diligence and exploring the topic further – plus receiving a book about narcissism as a gift – I find myself enthralled with the psyche of such people. Specifically, when it comes to building up villains for narrative purposes.
Narcissism is a psychological trait that, at extreme levels, can be a personality disorder. Many of us have encountered someone with these traits in life. Features include:
- A sense of self-importance – believing they are ‘right’ and above others.
- Preoccupation with power, or success.
- Feeling entitled.
- Recruiting others for their needs and ego.
- Being interpersonally exploitative for their own gain.
- A smug Attitude
- A complete lack of empathy.
- The need to be admired.
According to Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D., LMFT, in her blog post on narcissism:
1. A narcissist’s personality is split into good and bad parts. Any negative thoughts or behaviours are blamed on you or others, whereas they take credit for everything that is positive and good.
2. Narcissists have to be the best, the most right, and the most competent; do everything their way; own everything; and control everyone.
Read more from her blog post here:
Writing your Narcisisst
I hope it’s only a character you want to profile and that you have not been personally exposed to a narcissist in real life because they are highly destructive people for those around them. Also, dangerous! However, reading up on traits and doing your homework will give depth and dimension to your character, creating a superbly ‘despicable’ antagonist for your novel.
So, let’s take a brief look at what this type of character is like, with some ideas you can incorporate as you indulge in understanding their warped psyche. For the sake of clarity in this post, I refer to the narcissist as male and his victim as female.
Why Does a Narcissist Make a Good Baddy?
Choosing to put a narcissist in your body of work can be a very good choice. He can take the form of an unfaithful lover, a workaholic, a family member, a professional person, and many more. But guess what? Not all of them are murderers, although some are. So, this makes him a very flexible type of profile to add to your story.
A narcissist is known for projecting their faults onto other people and accusing them of the very things they themselves are guilty of, even going as far as to make them out to be the ‘narcissist’. They cannot accept their own mistakes and will go to great lengths in order to offload all of their pain and anguish on the shoulders of their victim by blaming them for everything.
And now to the purpose of this post…
The Narcissistic Stalker
So, to the classic ‘stalker’ in a thriller. This could be someone that your main character knows personally and has perhaps tried to go, ‘no contact’ with. This refusal would drive the stalker crazy since they don’t like the word ‘no’! They will NOT be pushed off the side of the earth and will try and make contact via any other means if they have been blocked.
Your stalker could be an undesirable suitor, someone incompetent in relationships, lonely, and definitely unfulfilled in his own life. He may target strangers and casual acquaintances, turning them into his object of desire. Or, perhaps, he may be so delusional that he believes he can make his target learn to love him.
Additionally, there are resentful stalkers – these stalkers feel like they’ve been mistreated in some way. They often have some form of mental illness, experience feelings of paranoia or persecution, and can be self-righteous and self-pitying. Stalking their victim can be a way to get revenge for their perceived mistreatment. Consequently, they like to feel that they have a certain amount of power over their victim and stalking fulfils this. It regains their control in a situation where their perception is that they have been mistreated.
Technological stalking can take many forms these days, from phone calls and emails to social media posts and other digital communication. Generally, we often tend to think of stalking as the cliché man waiting in the shadows outside the home, but modern stalking may look very different to this. The online stalker can be a great plot device for contemporary fiction since it is an unfortunate result of our technological age; people often feel invincible when they are safely tucked away behind their screens.
The source of the stalker’s obsession could be anyone: a complete stranger or someone with whom they were formerly acquainted. They may start out monitoring online, perhaps with admiration, only to later spiral into an unhealthy fixation.
The Silent Stalker
According to Anthony Ehlers blog (listed below)… silent stalkers are written so that the victim is mostly unaware of the unwanted attention. Perhaps, they retweet things the victim writes and stare obsessively at her pictures and posts without liking them. They may set up bogus accounts to watch her and will know where she works, lives etc. They know everything, which gives an added sense of suspense.
Always Find their Motive
In most cases, a narcissist will stalk, harass, or intimidate to get something that they want from their victim. It could be her self-esteem, lifestyle, relationship, or anything else that might seem threatening in some way. If asked to stop, this won’t be understood by the stalker’s narcissistic personality; they are more focused on what they can get rather than following healthy emotional boundaries like normal people would. In other words, it’s like a dog with a bone—they will never give up until they have what they want.
Every character needs a backstory. It can help the reader to understand why this type of narcissistic character acts the way they do. This doesn’t excuse their behaviour but provides insight. Interestingly, these characters often lack emotional growth which stopped developing at some point in their lives for reasons you can freely create. Just like drug and alcohol addiction, they have a need, an obsession which in their case is to stalk your protagonist.
The victim becomes an object to the stalker, a possession, and she belongs to them! If she walks into their trap, she will become like a Christmas gift from decades back. Perhaps not a shiny new toy, or a set of golf clubs, but she belongs to them. Of course, in reality, she doesn’t, but your stalker believes she does!
When Your Main Character Takes Back Control
It’s easy for a narcissist to lie to themselves, just as they do to everyone else. They can be very convincing and will convince themselves, and the victim, that she has done something wrong. By stalking, they can enjoy poking at the cracks, shaking the chains and rattling her cage in the hope they can get closer. They want chaos. They want drama. They want confrontation. Their ultimate goal is to gain full control over the person they are obsessed with and punish them.
Ultimately, when you reach the climax, your narcissistic stalker should feel he has lost control of his victim in some way. This drives him crazier than crazy! Why? Because narcissists refuse to allow themselves to grow emotionally and don’t know when to stop. Also, to admit to himself that he may be doing wrong by his victim is to admit to himself he was wrong or is wrong in something. It won’t happen. Nor will acceptance of his own failings. Instead, he will intensify his mission.
Show Not Tell
If you want a great story, we need to see the effect this man is having on your female protagonist. She needs to be slowly pulled into his web of deceit and feel trapped. The greater her pain and suffering the more your reader will root for her! Show her fear, feel her heart rate, the chill in her spine; imagine all the senses through her experience. The more we feel pity for your protagonist, the greater the downfall of your stalker!
For further reading, here are some great novels with stalkers:
- Stalker, by Lars Kepler
- I know Who You Are by Alice Feeney
- Watching you by Lisa Jewell
- These Toxic Things bu Rachel Howzell Hall
Whatever path your antagonist takes, read up on the mindset of this kind of person; get inside his head! Don’t just look at the actions he presents, but think about what makes him tick, what background he comes from, and what it is that he wants.
NB . If you are ever unfortunate enough to encounter a bully like this in real life, I encourage you to ignore them. Ensure you make ‘no contact’ a priority. Like a wild bear rummaging through the rubbish bins, he will eventually find nothing to eat and hopefully wander back into the woods! If he can’t get supply out of you, sadly he’ll find someone else. Pray for that person!