Researchers recently studied the language of convicted murderers who have been diagnosed with clinical psychopathy. The speech patterns they use and the words they choose betray their psychopathy to a surprising degree. They tend to speak in terms of cause and effect, as if nothing they do is done by choice or under their control. Ask them what’s important, and they’ll identify basic needs like food and shelter, whereas normal people will mention love and family, or even Star Wars. When asked questions about their motivation, they frequently pause, as if strategically putting on a “mask of sanity” (researcher’s words, not mine) before committing to a response. When discussing the motivations of others, they are quick to assume, and generally assume others are trying to balk their plans.
This research helps me immensely. A character in my WIP is something of a psychopath in that he would sooner see the world burn than see his plans fail. Research like this is helping me to round out my antagonist so he’s not just an old-school, mustache-twisting villain. I can have him come across as a well-intentioned servant of humanity while hinting at his true nature through his speech and mannerisms. I’m hoping that by the time readers become aware this guy is the villain, they’ll think they should have seen it coming all along.
Oh, but I’m still giving my villain a black goatee. I mean, come on, he’s the villain. How could I not?