Spot the difference: hero or villain – Clare Chase

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By Clare Chase

Heroes and villains come in many shapes and sizes, but when I was writing my debut novel, You Think You Know Me, I became fascinated by the potential overlap between the two. It all started when I watched a series of programmes about psychopaths a few years ago. ♥

These documentaries pointed out that they aren’t necessarily violent, and often climb to the top of their professions because of certain favourable characteristics. Their combination of fearlessness and emotional detachment under pressure can make them excellent lawyers, surgeons and soldiers, amongst other things.

On the downside, their emotional coolness affects their relationships, both with employees and personal connections. However, in an article on psychopathy and leadership, Forbes magazine noted that their charisma and skill at manipulating social situations can help mask these shortcomings.

Presumably then, a psychopath can seem like a pretty appealing character, until they do something that gives away their skewed outlook on life. This was a chilling thought, especially when applied to those who have the potential to be violent.

A quiz developed by Channel Four also got me thinking. It assessed several famous and infamous figures for certainYTYKM_Kindle 150dpi (2) - Copy psychopathic traits: narcissism, fearlessness, emotional detachment, rebelliousness and coolness under pressure. The results pointed to the fact that most of these can be positive, so long as they’re displayed in the right situations and balanced with other characteristics.

If you can become emotionally detached enough to be efficient when trying to revive a heart attack victim, that’s great, so long as you can then empathise with that person’s family if you have to pass on bad news. Narcissism seemed to be the odd one out.

It’s hard to see how an excessive admiration of oneself can be a good thing. But on the flipside, I’d argue people tend to be more appealing and successful if they have a reasonable amount of self-confidence.

All these conclusions provided an interesting angle on the book I wanted to write. I’d already decided to face my protagonist, Anna, with a dilemma: who to trust? She knows someone’s lying to her, and believing in the wrong person could cost her her life. I decided to put her in close contact with two characters displaying the classic traits some heroes and villains share: charisma, bravery, single-mindedness, and detachment when required.

Both the hero and villain could even be ruthless, but the hero’s ruthlessness had to be driven by a desire for justice, and operate within limits. And ultimately, he also needed the crucial levels of conscience and empathy to put my heroine on his side by the end of the book.

I’m now anxiously watching the feedback on You Think You Know Me, to see if I’ve managed to make it hard to spot the hero/villain difference!


Clare Chase writes mysteries and suspense. Her novels are inspired by what makes people tick, and how strong emotions can occasionally turn everyday incidents into the stuff of crime fiction. Her first novel, You Think You Know Me (Choc Lit), is set in London and the Lake District. Clare wrote dodgy whodunnits in primary school, read English at London University, and honed her creative writing skills whilst working in PR.

clarechase.com

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