Are crime writers psychopaths? by Pauline Rowson

The relationship between writers and their characters takes many forms. Some of my characters irritate me, others entertain, some make me feel cuddly and comfortable, while others I positively loath. And some I love warts and all even my alpha male Detective Superintendent Steve Uckfield, head of the Major Crime Team, with all his disgusting habits.  But whatever the relationship between the creator and characters it should never be dull.

It’s easy to become a little bit obsessed with your characters. Oh, alright very obsessed and more so when writing a series because the main cast of characters are with me all the time, they are as much part of my life as real people, they occupy my thoughts throughout the day, but strangely enough I never dream of them. Perhaps there is hope for me yet and I’m not about to be carted off to the insane asylum.

I think about my characters a great deal. Where are they? What will they do next?  How will they react to this or that situation?  What is happening in their private lives as well as in the job?  What is their relationship with their colleagues? This is all good stuff because their actions, feelings and motivations drive the plot, which can be annoying especially if I think I’ve got the plotline all nicely worked out. They have the habit of throwing me right off course even to the extent that often when I thought I knew who ‘done it’, I discover the killer is someone completely different.  Do I hear the distant siren of an ambulance approaching?

Thinking about your characters is not the same as thinking about your ‘real’ friends or the people you know because with your characters you are in control, you create their lives. Although, as I said, they can develop a habit of doing something that surprises you. Many writers are familiar with the old adage plot is character and character is plot, which makes it almost impossible to answer the question readers often ask me, what comes first plot or character? The two are inevitably and intrinsically intertwined.

So before you call for the men in white coats I assure you I am quite sane, well as sane as any writer (and especially a crime writer can be – after all we kill people for a living). Creating characters and their lives is a fascinating game, as many children know, and perhaps that’s what a lot of us writers are – kids at heart. It’s either that or we’re closet villains or psychopaths. I know which I’d prefer.

Pauline Rowson is the author of two thrillers and the contemporary series of mystery novels featuring the flawed and rugged DI Andy Horton set in the Solent area on the South Coast of England. Her crime novels have received critical acclaim in both the UK and the USA and have been hailed as the ‘Best of British Crime Fiction’. They have an International readership and have been translated into several languages including Chinese.

For further information visit Pauline Rowson’s Official Website. You can also follow Pauline Rowson on Twitter. Undercurrent, the ninth in the DI Andy Horton series, was published by Severn House in the UK and Commonwealth in January and will be published in the USA in May 2013.

9 thoughts on “Are crime writers psychopaths? by Pauline Rowson

  1. Wyn Snow

    Ho ho! Sociopaths — I suppose that’s the wider term than psychopaths — fascinate me. Since about 1 in 25 of people are sociopaths, I keep wondering which of the people I know fit into this category. One of my started-but-not-finished books has a sociopath in it. Yes, the villain. And writing his chapters is a lot of fun. But being fascinated by something is different from BEing something. I know a bunch of mystery writers, but they are all empathic. But yeah, getting inside the skull of one of these critters is an interesting exercise in what if…

  2. Sandy Penny

    I sometimes wonder about Dean Koontz and Steven King, but especially Dean Koontz, because his characters are so horrible and violent and whacked out crazy. I’m not sure I could spend time with them in my head. I’ve only read a couple of his books, but they are very frightening. Some people I know say actors who play psychopath roles are at risk for that kind of behavior. Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, and Anthony Hopkins come to mind. Frightening portrayals.

    1. Barbara Backer-Gray

      Yes, Sgteven King and Dean Koontz must have the darkest minds in writerdom. Or just more imagination than the average person. I think we all have our dark side. As for actors, Heath Ledger comes to mind, who committed suicide after playing the Joker in Dark Knight Rises.

  3. Edward Fadden

    Ah, that’s the key. I always dip into the feeling that I am the protagonist. And I tend to write people I loath as the villains.

    Is that being a writer or being human?

  4. Michael A Herr


    In my first mystery/thriller I killed eight people, in a variety of ways. But am I a psychopath? Well, no one has locked me up yet. I have gone looking for someone to do harm to a couple of times in my life. I do collect weapons (pointed, blunt, etc). And I do read up on murders, research I call it. So . . . I’m not a psychopath . . . but harm one member of my family and you just might produce one.

    I also do dwell at times on thoughts of how I might get revenge on people who strongly irritate me. But until I act on those thoughts . . .

    Ciao for now.

  5. Suzanne Brandyn

    Hi Pauline,
    I enjoyed your post. I laughed at your title, and it has left me smiling. I said something similar to my mother the other week.
    We invent characters are are fictitious.

    Suzanne 🙂

  6. KT Banks

    Hello Pauline,

    I had to chuckle when I read your title. I’ve often wondered that myself. This posting has certainly done it’s job, as now I know I must do some research on you, and find your work. Just that easily, you have a new fan.

    Looking forward to knowing you better.
    ~ KT