Writing a Psychopath: A Journey into Kamal’s Mind

Cover for Backdoor Politicsby C.L. Mustafic

Getting into Kamal’s head wasn’t easy for me. He’s cold and calculating, in a way so foreign to me that writing him was like having an out of body experience. Every time I thought he couldn’t get any uglier or nastier, Kamal surprised me by doing just that. The thing I learned about writing someone like Kamal was, think of what a normal, sane, caring person would do, and do the opposite.

Staying true to his character was extremely important to me. There were times during the stay in the cabin with Zijad where my instincts were for Kamal to show some sort of humanity, but thankfully his will is stronger than mine and he refused to soften. Any normal person would have felt some empathy for Zijad, but that is the thing missing in Kamal that makes him who he is.

I’ve had readers tell me they couldn’t understand why Kamal is the way he is. Why has he lost his humanity? Plenty of people have lived through horrific things and have come out the other side of them more or less normal, normal being subjective of course. I can’t tell you what makes one person break and another not under these circumstances, but for Kamal, I believe Orhan’s betrayal was just one step too far. Piled on top of all the other things he’d been through during the war, it was just too much. I can’t fault him for that, really.

People have asked me how I could even think up a character who was so inhuman. I take this question to mean people think that some part of me is broken enough to relate to a character like Kamal. It’s not true. It makes me laugh that someone would think that to write a psychopath, the writer must share some of those characteristics. I assure you all, I’m not anything like Kamal. I’m probably his exact opposite, feeling others’ pain sometimes more acutely than my own.

Living with Kamal for the time it took me to write Backdoor Politics wasn’t easy. There were days when I wanted him out of my head. Many times, I had to stop and do something else just to cleanse my thoughts when the going got particularly dark. I have to admit, Kamal sparked some truly crazy ideas for stories of a lighter nature, just because I needed the time away from the murderous thoughts running through his head.

Do I regret giving a voice to someone others might find truly vile? No, not really. I think there are lessons to be learned from even the darkest corners of the sickest minds. Don’t ask me what lesson you can learn from this story because everyone will see something different when they read it. I don’t personally know anyone like Kamal, but I’m sure there are people out there like him. I tried to make him feel as real to the readers as he did to me while I wrote about him. I put him out there into the world, but I claim no responsibility for what happens now.

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