I write mostly fictions. However, I am an apathetic-type narcissist, which means I cannot understand other people's feelings and thoughts easily, if at all.

As a result, all my characters who are not modeled based on myself are dreadfully unconvincing, and even I notice how improbable their motivations and actions are sometimes. However, characters who are built to resemble myself seem pretty well-developed and both reasonable and conflicted in interesting ways.

Aside from trying to improve my understanding of others, is there any way I can use narcissism productively in writing beside the character construction of the protagonist?

5 Answers 5


Absolutely. Write everything from the first-person POV, and state clearly that you do not give a damn about others (that is actually going to be my next writing endeavor), then write a prequel, in which you are five-year-old and describe in details what in the world your parents did to you to make you this way. Then a sequel...

Just kidding.

The actions of other people are based on logical choice more often than on pure feelings and unhinged emotions. Most people I know would back away from the edge of the rooftop, altruists and sociopaths alike. No one wants to be cold, hungry, and sick, and most of us want to get published and be held in highest regard for our efforts.

As for the feelings, you do not have to relate to them to understand them and their origin. You might not share an unconditional love which your crazy cat-lady neighbor exhibits for her 50 stinky cats, but surely there is something you treasure (not necessarily of a feline origin), so you can extrapolate.

Observe other people in real life, try to understand why they do things they do, even if you think you cannot be sympathetic and compassionate.

Use logic. Many people do.

  • 3
    "The actions of other people are based on logical choice more often than on pure feelings" – I learned exactly the opposite when I studied psychology.
    – user5645
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:03
  • @what You take a train to work, likely because you need to get to the office, not because you feel like riding in a subway car.
    – Lew
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:12
  • @Lew I wouldn't call that "logic" as I would call it "habit". If there is any difference.
    – user289661
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:20
  • @user289661 Yes. When you get a new job, you take a different train, not the one you was habitually riding for years before.
    – Lew
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Lew I don't think this is the place to discuss that issue. Here is a Wikipedia article for you to begin your research: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotions_in_decision-making Rational decisions have been shown to often be post-hoc rationalizations of more or less subconscious emotional decisions: skepticink.com/tippling/2013/11/14/…
    – user5645
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:39

People, I find, write best about what feels familiar to them. I can't relate to your personality, but given the details provided, it might be hard to get to know to know the motivations of others.

The advice I normally give is to read authors who write characters similar to how you structure your own, while noting their development and motivations. This, coupled with an intimate understanding of your own characters (through, perhaps ostensibly trite and cliched, writing exercises provided on many writing websites) is usually adequate in creating dynamic characters with clear, tangible desires. In your situation, perhaps staying true to your intuitions is best.

Think about, for example, how narcissism causes one to view others. This could be important in how your protagonist characterizes other characters. Narcissism could be used, for example, to call into question the way the protagonist views other characters, or how other characters view the protagonist. Are others in your stories narcissists, or do they loathe them? What I'm trying to suggest here is that you might utilize the protagonist's narcissism as a framing device. It'll depend on the point-of-view of the story. Seems obvious, but it is difficult to master

An exercise, as the previous answerer noted, involves observing people and writing your thoughts/impressions/structuring a scene involving these characters and their interactions. The way you describe others might give insight into how your protagonist views others. Hopefully this gives you some direction!


Get rid of all those characters.

I write novels that only have two characters: the protagonist and his love interest. The protagonist is me, the love interest is not a person but a function of the plot and provides the protagonist with both a motivation for action and an occasion to grow.

All other personell is just part of the setting and rarely gets more than a sentence or two.

  • This is a valid technique, of course, but what to do if he wants to have more characters, and do more then make love to the code in curly brackets?
    – Lew
    Feb 9, 2017 at 21:10
  • @Lew I think that you can either write what you can write or overcome your personal limitations. If you are limited by something you cannot write something that requires that you are not limited in that way. Happiness and occupational success, I believe, lie in choosing a career that fits your personality, not one that fits who you would like to be. I write from who I am for people like me. That's very satisfying. If OP wants to write as if he weren't a narcist, then they would probably need to start by overcoming their narcissism. If that is possible, I don't know.
    – user5645
    Feb 10, 2017 at 8:56
  • Amen to that. We all do what we are, not the other way around.
    – Lew
    Feb 10, 2017 at 18:23

I really doubt that you can. Literature rests fundamentally on the sympathetic observation of human life. Whether you are writing literature or pulp, your success depends on creating convincing characters and without the power of sympathetic observation, I don't see how you achieve that.

Writing is in many ways an odd vocation. It requires a high degree of sympathetic observation of human life, and yet its practical demands include long periods of solitary work. A writer must have great sympathy with and keen observation of human beings but also be comfortable with long periods of reflective solitude. Few writers are extroverts. They could not abide the solitude. And yet the writer much have the sympathy and sensitivity of an extrovert.

Writing, in short, requires a life live inwardly with a gaze directly outwardly. But narcissism seems to be the exact opposite of this: a life lived outwardly with a gaze directed inwardly. It seems the least apt starting point imaginable.

  • This is poetic and all, but there may be fringe examples that deviate from mainstream literature, such as the works by H.P. Lovecraft. I was asking with such exceptions in mind.
    – user289661
    Feb 9, 2017 at 21:53
  • Indeed, there may be fringe examples, meaning works that appeal to a fringe audience. The question then becomes, who might the work of a narcissist appeal to? Which is a different question from how might a narcissist learn enough about other people to write something that appeals to a mainstream audience.
    – user16226
    Feb 9, 2017 at 23:27

Have you considered using your narcissism to its fullest extent and writing a thriller novel from the psychopaths perspective. The 'protagonist' could be like the Dexter character on TV. He doesn't seem very empathic nor do others find him all that nice, but who cares. He had a hit show (I personally never saw it) so obviously not all protagonists have to be heroes. Professor Moriarty is another great example of a narcissist who in my opinion was more interesting than even Holmes. Why change what is natural for you, embellish it and good luck. Literature needs more bastards we all hate, way too many cardboard heroes already.

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