Because story writing is about conflict, and many compelling stories deal with love and egotism, a lot of dramatic tension can be created by using a narcissist as a character. Frequently good-looking and charming, the narcissist, like the psychopath, has the ability to draw people in and use them for their own ends. This article examines the qualities that make up a narcissist and how these can be used to write a compelling story.
What is a narcissist?
Narcissus was a character in Greek myth. A beautiful young man, he rejected all potential lovers and eventually became enraptured with his own reflection in a pool. Modern use of the term 'narcissist' refers to a person who is in love with themselves, especially with their own physical appearance. The narcissist expresses this self-love through out of control egotism, self-importance, vanity and conceit. Like the psychopath, narcissists tend to lack empathy for others, seeing them as tools to further their own ambitions.
How does a narcissist think?
To understand the narcissist you need to understand that they are the centre of their own little universe. The world and the things in it are a playground that exists to provide pleasure to the narcissist. The central irony in the narcissistic way of thinking is that, although the narcissist has little regard for the opinions and feelings of others, they desperately crave validation from other people. This makes them vulnerable to flattery and other forms of deceit. Narcissists are also known for their inability to accept blame, which is a function of their predilection to step on anyone to climb to the top.
Ways to write about a narcissistic character
The selfishness of the narcissist creates a lot of scope for dramatic conflict. Characters who get to know them may come to hate them for their selfishness and egotism, especially if they consider that they have been fooled by the narcissist's charm. A narcissistic character may have exploited or disrespected someone in the past, and that person might now be seeking revenge. The theme of a grandiose character being brought back down to earth as a consequence of his past arrogance makes for a good story. Because narcissists have massive egos, they can be vicious when threatened. A story of tit-for-tat revenge can be made more plausible by having such a character in a central role.
If you write a story in the first person, you could write about a person who manipulates and deceives the narcissist, whether by flattery or by direct conflict. A character with a strong sense of justice might take it upon themselves to destroy a narcissist who they see as evil. If a story is written in the first person with a narcissist as a narrator, you could write a tragedy where the protagonist's vanity and ego prove to be his downfall in ways that they didn't foresee (but in ways that might be obvious to the reader).
The narcissist also works well in romantic tales: a character might be attracted to them because of their self-confidence, only to find that they have been manipulated.
In general, narcissistic characters make for a lot of dramatic conflict because of their blind selfishness. Whether you write a story of revenge, romance or redemption, a narcissist is a good choice for provoking strong reactions in the reader.
Vince McLeod is a research psychologist and writer from Nelson, New Zealand, who runs a free story generator to give people ideas for conflict-filled creative fiction.