Fantasy is filled with kings and queens, both kind and cruel alike. Today we will focus on the cruel ones and dissect what characteristics make a truly tyrannical leader and how to write a tyrant.
Narcissism & Selfishness
A narcissist is a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. It is a personality disorder, but nowadays it is used interchangeably to mean a self-centered individual. This can lead to confusion, but in this article I will use it to refer to the disorder.
Characteristics of of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include but is not limited to:
Frequent lies and exaggerations
Rarely admits flaws
Aggressive when criticised
They are emotionally abusive
Believe they are special and only relate to other special people
Only 1% of the world is diagnosed with NPD. The rest are just selfish individuals. Some psychiatrists, however, believe the disorder exists on a spectrum, verging from mildly narcistic to pathological. In order to write a tyrant I advise you showcase at least 3 of the above symptoms.
Not every hedonist is a tyrant, but most tyrants do give into their sexual urges. We can see this through multiple wives or concubines, and frequent orgies, such as is the case with Roman Emperor, Caligula. While such sexual pleasures can be healthy and consensual, we know that tyrants do not often accept the word ‘no’. Historically, practices like prima nocta existed which allowed rulers to sleep with subordinate women, often on the night of their wedding, before they slept with their husbands. While it is possible to sleep around and be an effective ruler, in order to write a tyrant, your tyrant should focus solely on their own wants and desires pursing sexual partners and leave matters of state to others.
Lack of Empathy
You forgot to ask one question! You forgot to ask me if I’m a liar! I’m afraid, I am. Everything I told you is a lie. This isn’t happening to you for a reason. Well, one reason; I enjoy it!
-Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones
Lack of empathy is a hallmark trait of those with ASPD, or Anti-social Personality Disorder. Those afflicted with it do not know how to put themselves in the place of others and feel what they might be feeling.
Characters like Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton are infamous for their cruelty. This is because they simply don’t know how to empathise. Of course, a character can have little to no empathy and not actively torture people. In this case the characterisation would have to be a bit more subtle. Perhaps your king or queen doesn’t spend much time with their children because they know they can never love them. Or maybe they don’t know how to say the right words to their partner when they are going through a hard time. My point is, not every person with ASPD is cold-hearted murderer. Sometimes they’re the CEO of a successful company, or someone who enforces the law, or yes, a king or queen.
Tyrants never allow for criticism of their governing. Emperor Tiberius infamously began a series of trials known as the Treason Trials, which meant that citizens were arrested and sentenced to die for simply saying something against the emperor.
Tyrants will disregard centuries of tradition in order to put into place laws and traditions of their own that will better serve themselves. A good example of this was Henry VIII. He undid centuries of Catholicism to become a protestant in order to marry Anne Boleyn, and so he could become the head of the church and amass more wealth.
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