Today I'm delighted to introduce our third Character in the Spotlight. This guy is not a hero or a vigilante. Nor is he a police officer or detective, but he's an evil predator, a murderer that will most probably give readers nightmares. This is Obadiah Stark, created by the brilliant David McCaffrey. But I suspect that my description just scrapes the surface of this character. Read the author's fantastic, in-depth study of his creation and see if you agree with me!!
With HUGE thanks to the author for his brilliant contribution. After reading this piece of writing I've decided to read this author's books ASAP!!
Obadiah Stark - created by David McCaffrey
We have all seen and read about characters who were supposed to be the epitome of evil, real and fictional; Hannibal Lector, John Doe in ‘Seven’, Harold Shipman, Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and there is no doubt that, real or otherwise, you certainly felt the intensity of their resolve when you read their exploits and heard their sound bites. But something I always found equally fascinating is whether they have a conscience or the ability to feel remorse. Or more importantly, could you ever sympathise with a serial killer if they were made to suffer?
That is where Hellbound’s Obadiah Stark was born. The literary world is full of serial killers created by authors more accomplished than I. So I knew if I couldn’t do better, I would do different. Give readers a serial killer they had never before encountered. Take them on a journey into the psyche of a murderer and allow them to emote with him, suffer with him…learn with him.
Obadiah Stark is someone I was and remain immensely proud of, not only for what he gave me i.e. an opportunity to entertain others through my stories; but because he is unique. Not in what he does, but in who he is and the journey he goes on in Hellbound.
There is always an interesting debate to be had about criminal acts and how they affect the public consciousness and accepted rules of morality. Serial killers rarely generate feelings of sadness amongst the public, stimulating only anger, suspicion and perhaps disappointment that, in some way, we as a society let these people down. That somehow the world took children and manufactured monsters. It was this theory that fueled the genesis of Obadiah.
If I were to view him as a real person (and who says he isn’t?) Obadiah Stark is cognitively intact, possessing an above average intelligence (IQ estimated at 120-130). His vocabulary, sentence complexity, capacity for conditional thinking, memory, perceptual complexity and capacity to view matters from multiple perspectives all support this assessment.
To keep him interesting and relatable for the reader, Obadiah had to have elements of his character that were routine and well known to supply him with his sociopathic behaviour. I took these basic psychological elements and coupled them with traits that would illustrate his propensity for impulse control and good organisational and planning skills. All of this had to try and make him leap off the page so that readers would immediately know he was more dangerous than the average sociopath.
A review of Obadiah’s previous crimes indicated that his primary source of pleasure and personal security comes from his desire for the power and control torture and murder bring with them. If you were to apply the DSM – IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and Hare Psychopathy checklist (a psycho-diagnostic tool incorporating a clinical rating scale to assess factors of an individual’s personality such as superficial charm, grandiosity, need for stimulation, pathological lying, manipulating, lack of remorse, callousness, poor behavioral controls, impulsivity, irresponsibility and failure to accept responsibility for one's own actions), you would see how the autistic spectrum could be applied to the psychopathology of Obadiah Stark. Paradoxically, though he meets some of the criteria for autism (namely impaired social interaction skills and a repetitive and stereotyped pattern of behaviour), he doesn’t score highly enough on the Hare PCL to be clinically labeled a sociopath.
This had to be atypical of Obadiah Stark. Despite his narcissistic lifestyle and attitudes, he is culturally sophisticated. This dichotomy was intended to make him more sinister, dangerous and less subject to his immediate environment, and hence less predictable.
A loner with an ever-present potential for explosive violence, Obadiah Stark will readily impose his will onto others, with violence his primary problem-solving device. He is someone extremely defensive in his manner of thought and quick to take offence, whilst at the same time careful and calculating with his responses.
So, taking all of that as a given, how would you make a truly evil person suffer? Do they feel anything? Are they capable? Expose them to more darkness and you run the risk of simply hardening their resolve. But what if you expose them to light? What if you expose them to love? Would they be able to learn to feel, learn to care? And then what if you tore it all away? Would they understand, even remotely, what it meant to lose something you care about?
Running parallel to this is the idea of what constitutes justice and at what point does it become revenge? ‘Hellbound’ begins with Obadiah Stark aka The Tally Man, being executed for his crimes. Because of this, the death penalty and the debate of its morality plays a large part in the storyline, though never to pass an opinion one way or the other but rather to provide certain ethical scenarios which hopefully allow the reader to form their own opinion of just how far justice can be taken before it becomes something more, something dark and immoral.