Attributes a Writer Should Consider to Craft a Realistic Criminal

Flaws make us human

Character building or development can be a tedious yet rewarding process. When setting aside the key role your character supports within the story, you will find personality, actions, and physical characteristics are just as important.

When developing characters, the small quirks, personality, and mindset are the primary attributes we grow attached to and love. Yes, even the antagonist. Perhaps you want to develop key attributes as you go, or gather these before writing. Both are okay when perfecting a character and are always a preference of the writer.

Hair color, height, favorite music, gender, well-spoken or broken communication, nickname, age, eye color, clothing style, and full name are basic characteristics first developed.

For those fiction writers creating the ultimate criminal (bad guy or girl), there are a few attributes to consider throwing into the pot of interesting ingredients. These attributes are the difference between a flat and boring, to a fascinating and realistic character. What better way to find these attributes than the study of real criminal legends.

Whole person-criminal concept

For a realistic character, consider the mindset, personality, and actions. Each criminal is as unique as the crime. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, criminal is defined as “a person who has committed a crime or been found guilty of committing a crime.”

Criminal does not always mean a violent person. If this immediately came to mind, shake that out. Other terms for criminal may be: wrongdoer, crook, culprit, outlaw, offender, villain, felon, etc. Ultimately, someone who commits a crime.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, crime is defined as “an action or activity that is against the law, or illegal activity generally.” Some general differences in the severity of crime include petty, serious, violent, and sometimes just unacceptable types of crime.

Character attributes

Writing about a character that did something terrible, committed a crime, or hurt someone, may not be enough to develop a character that a reader can connect with.

When building the perfect criminal character, consider incorporating the following attributes into your character’s profile for a realistic feel. Even a tiny injection of natural human flaw can be powerful; flaws make us human.

  • Mind: justified behavior, blaming of others for actions, minimal or no remorse for actions, normalizing the abnormal, intelligent
  • Personality: quiet, shy, loud, outspoken, desensitized, obsessive behavior, depersonalize with people, fantasy control, empowerment over others, manipulator, social isolation, sexual control
  • Action: seeks an opportunity, holds on to mementos, flaunting crime, lying, stealing, fighting, anger outbursts, violent toward animals and people, impulsive, lack of thinking through actions, lack of fear from consequences, failure to express emotions
  • Other: unassuming career choice, not necessarily a dark childhood, peer influence to commit a crime, no community involvement, family involvement is minimal, failed communication within a family environment, lack of problem solving within a family environment, planned criminal activity, unplanned or heat of the moment criminal act

Below are real examples of incredible criminal profiles or behaviors and intelligence levels. Consider learning more about these criminals to inspire a realistic fictional character:

  • H. H. Holmes, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Gotti, Ted Bundy, Byron De La Beckwith, Aileen Wuornos, Brady and Myra Hindley, Zodiac Killer, Aldrich Ames

A fictional criminal profile should dive into the psychological tendencies behind that character. Go ahead, take some of these attributes and build them into the profile of your bad-ass criminal character.

Happy writing and creating!

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