adventures in dysthymia

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Psychology and Donzalo's Destiny

Sojel, top henchman of the ‘big bad’ of my Donzalo’s Destiny books, the sorcerer Lord Radal, is probably a sociopath. I say probably because he is a fictional character who acts in ways that would suggest such a diagnosis but I did not create him with the thought ‘sociopath.’ I created him as a person.

But he does tend to act like a sociopath. He can be erratic and impulsive at times, unlike a psychopath who typically is more methodical in his evil. He completely lacks empathy but has a deep devotion to his master. As many sociopaths, he is not well-educated (he neither reads nor writes) nor can he ‘pass’ in normal society. This does not prevent him from rising to the top among Radal’s hirelings (mostly mercenaries) and commanding them competently, thanks to his natural intelligence. Given a task and adequate instruction he can ‘do the job’ — but he needs that direction from someone.

There will be no more opportunity to analyze Sojel, as I killed him off at the end of the third book. His successor in Radal’s service is quite a different sort, a rather straightforward mercenary who simply drifted into his current situation and life. Dovolo is not really either sociopath nor psychopath, only a fairly normal sort who has been corrupted. This actually makes him more interesting but he didn’t get that much on-page time and now he’s gone too.

As far as true psychopaths go, we have the diplomat-turned-spy, Benawis. He is entirely willing to serve Radal and just as willing to betray him. He wouldn’t mind possessing the wizard’s daughter, either, in part for her physical attractiveness but more as a way to power. He is a schemer who even after he is found out thinks he will be able to run off somewhere else and find his way to the top. People are to be used. He probably thought so until the moment an assassin garroted him.

Then we have Lord Radal himself. Radal is, to use a technical psychological term, bonkers. It’s a fairly common occurrence among those who use magic, who open themselves up to the voices of the infiniverse. He is also somewhat of a Faustian figure, a man who sold himself for power early on and has no choice but to follow the path he made. That he was already a bit unstable even as a child seems likely, that he suffered bouts of depression is certain. He sees existence as hopeless and meaningless, and wishes only for total extinction, even though he suspects it is impossible.

But he is devoted to his daughter and her future, and many of his actions stem from this. They are not always the best nor the most logical of actions, but he believes he is doing the right thing. His greatest fear is that Fachalana will be drawn into the same fate as he. Well he should fear, as the dark gods he serves would like nothing better (except they don’t actually like anything, strictly speaking). Radal’s final battle and death concludes and resolves most the action of the entire epic, but we may not be quite done with him. I shall, in time, write a sequel centered around the daughter (probably to be named Fachalana’s Fortune) and the legacy of her father. Let me say that Lady Fachalana will not be a villain in any normal sense (we all do a bit of wrong here and there). But she will struggle against forces that would turn her that way.

I know some authors like to ‘build’ their characters, using psychological concepts or even checklists. I find this completely backward. The people in my stories exist as people first, people I try to make feel true to life, and their ‘psychology’ is extrapolated from this starting point. This, I think, creates more realistic characters. Trying to fit them to some theory of personality or psychology will always result in simplifying who they are. It is better to look into ones own self to find understanding and motivation. Yes, even for sociopaths — to understand those without empathy, we need empathy ourselves!

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