In the post, we offer seven types of narcissists to use in your next story, whether it’s a short story, screenplay or novel. We’ve included exercises and prompts to get you started.
When Ego Turns Ugly
Let’s be honest. The term ‘narcissist’ has become over-used, a catch-all phrase for any selfish behaviour.
Yes, we can all be selfish at times. A careless remark that hurts a spouse’s feelings. Putting too much pressure on a colleague. Wanting only the best for our children at school.
But, these behaviours pale in comparison to the narcissist. The true narcissist has taken the art of self-obsession to the next level.
These people seldom show empathy, shame, or regret. They don’t consider anyone’s feelings – only their own. Often this can make them difficult to live with. Sometimes, this type of disorder makes them downright dangerous.
While a sense of self-importance is healthy, the narcissist suffers from delusions of grandeur. Often, they experience fantasies of fame and glory. They want to be admired for perceived talents or good looks.
The typical narcissist is a master at manipulating and exploiting others. They create anything from financial ruin to sexual devastation.
Prominent American psychiatrist Dr James F. Masterson once wrote that, for the narcissist, other people exist only the way a hamburger exists for them – to make them feel good. They may charm you and manipulate you to see how wonderful they are, he said, but as soon as they get your admiration, they’ll drop you.
We find these ‘garden variety’ narcissists in real life. In fiction, however, they have to be a little more over the top. Not only must they be extraordinary, but they must also match the theme or genre of your book or script.
- Think of the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The handsome young Wall Street broker’s singular pursuit of violence and sex becomes an unrestrained metaphor for materialism. In other words, author Bret Easton Ellis argues that our culture celebrates and promotes the narcissist.
- What would you do differently if you knew there was no consequence? This the powerful premise of a classic novel. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde creates a character who remains ageless while his portrait withers in an attic. He uses this ‘device’ to allow the main character to act out his pleasures and indulgences – even murder – with immunity. The portrait in the attic is a convenient scapegoat.
Of course, the narcissist isn’t just used in thrillers or moral fables.
- The camp and vainglorious Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast adds a dash of humour to the story. Luke Evans played the character in the live-action remake.
- The miserable and selfish mother in August: Osage County, is a character many adult children can relate to.
7 Types of Narcissists To Use In Your Next Story
As a writer, adding a narcissist to your tale can be irresistible. If you’re looking to create an unforgettable antagonist, try one of these seven archetypes.
1. A Smooth Criminal
The criminal narcissist is a fascinating character. How do you get inside their head – and see the world from their viewpoint? Their lack of conscience makes them perfect for the role of ‘baddie’.
It could be the rapist who sees his victim as an object there to experience their power. An ice-cold and remorseless assassin. A feared and notorious mafia member. Or a possessive husband who kills his spouse in a rage – and then covers his tracks.
Example: Hit man Vincent in Pulp Fiction, whose manic-slash-comic sense of self-absorption makes his actions seem even more violent.
2. What Lies Beneath
The covert narcissist hides in the shadow. The character uses stealth and cunning to manipulate events and characters in the story.
On the surface, they appear quite ‘normal’. In fact, they can be charming and successful, or appear to be shy and sensitive. But, soon the passive-aggressive nature comes through. Highly sensitive to criticism, they tend to hold a grudge.
Example: The mayor in Gary Devon’s psychological and erotic thriller Bad Desire. This married narcissist lives a secret life at odds with his public image. It includes an obsession with a beautiful teenage school girl.
3. Mommy Dearest
The danger of the narcissist doesn’t have to be a stranger or romantic interest. The parent as narcissist is another character to explore.
The narcissistic mother, father, or caregiver is a dominant character in the fictional family. Often this character will have no boundaries when it comes to their children. They see them as extensions or their own personality. Sometimes they will use words as weapons in cruel warfare.
Example: Josephine in Mother Mother by Koren Zailckas. A matriarch’s cheerful exterior hides a dark narcissist. She is determined to control the narrative of her daughter’s life. She even turns the family home into a prison.
4. Child’s Play
Evil or unbalanced kids make for great stories. As children we must learn to separate from our parents and forge independence. The narcissistic child doesn’t do this. They will cling to their mother or father at all costs.
Often they can be the golden and adored only (or adopted) child – and their parents unintentionally foster the child’s narcissism. In fact, the parents themselves may be narcissists.
5. Romeo Stalks Juliet
Say hello to the romantic narcissist. The character suffers from the Don Juan syndrome – man who must conquer many lovers to validate his worth. But, you can have this type of narcissist in any gender and sexuality.
In a story, you could have a narcissistic girlfriend or boyfriend. Their traits may show in emotional manipulation or physical abuse. They are masterful at deception – and will often try to gaslight their partner.
[Suggested reading: Use These 7 Gaslighting Phrases To Make Your Antagonist More Manipulative]
Read more in 5 Ways To Write About Stalkers.
6. Horrible Bosses
The narcissistic boss or leader is often overlooked in storytelling. However, most of us spend eight hours a day in the workplace – so there is opportunity to create a nasty manager or power-mad CEO.
The character can be a misogynistic man or a female megalomaniac. In short, they will use their authority to subtly torture their underlings. In some cases, they use their power, charm and success to seduce an employee.
7. Famous & Dangerous
The celebrity of fame-hungry narcissist is a great character to explore. Whether it is the movie or music studio, the political or sporting arena, this character feels a sense of self-importance and entitlement.
The danger is that they are shielded from the consequences of their selfish behaviour – by legal muscle or real muscle in the form of a bodyguard. This type of narcissist often seeks fame on social media and spends a lot of time posting selfies on Instagram.
Example: The radical preacher TJ Luther in Thomas Thompson’s novel, Celebrity. A petty criminal and womaniser, he transforms himself into a white-suited Southern messiah for the masses.
Sometimes the narcissist doesn’t act alone and teams up with another character who is equally self-absorbed and dangerous.
In the movie, Rope, Alfred Hitchcock took the real-life case of Leopold and Loeb to tell the story of two students who conspire to commit the perfect crime. Similarly, in the 2018 short film Pimped, two misogynistic friends play cruel games with the girls they meet in bars.
Here are five exercises to help you explore the narcissistic archetypes discussed.
- Find a picture of Caravaggio’s Narcissus, about the man who falls in love with his own reflection. Write an interior monologue for the figure in this iconic painting.
- Write about a character who is obsessed with their appearance. Describe how they will use plastic surgery to achieve this sense of perfection. Write in the first or second person.
- Create a scene from a screenplay where a narcissistic movie star walks into a Hollywood party held in their honour. Remember to include dialogue.
- Write about a parent who punishes their child for not being perfect.
- Create the backstory for a narcissistic criminal character – include trauma or a pivotal incident from their childhood.
The Last Word
We hope this post helps you understand the seven types of narcissists to use in your next story.
More Posts From Anthony:
- 5 Ways To Write About Stalkers
- 12 Months, 12 Inspiring Ideas For Writers
- The 4 Pillars Of New Adult Fiction
- How To Write The Outsider In Fiction
- 5 Ways To Find Your Way Back To Creativity & Writing
- 5 Famous Writers On Writing A Villain
- 7 Ways To Sustain Emotion When Writing A Romance Novel
- What Is Imagination & Why Is It Important For Fiction Writing?