Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: How Many Ways Can You Kill Someone?

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: How Many Ways Can You Kill Someone?

I was thinking about this today as I wrote one of Tara's many visions. I was also thinking about it as I wrote the piece about my search history (found here) and the one about the things I really shouldn't know (found here). As a crime writer, there are some things that cross both of those subjects and then there's others than come into their own little bubble. Working out a myriad of different ways to kill someone is one of those things.

I wasn't always someone who would look at a case on TV and wonder how to describe that kind of murder. I was always someone who liked crime and mystery media - both books and TV shows - but I like to think that I didn't always wonder about death and destruction and the many different ways you could inflict harm upon a person. Of course, my parents would probably disagree as I was always kinda fascinated by death. I would probably have called it childhood intrigue, but it was rather unhealthy.

So, I decided that when it came to writing my own books, I would delve into the dark recesses of my mind and exploit my own little "hobby" and start to put fictional characters through these things. I know that makes it sound like I'm both a psychopath and a sociopath in that I'm admitting that I enjoy putting people through pain and eventually killing them. I'm not, and I can assure you that I'd never actually do this to a living soul.

My biggest problem now is not that I can't get creative with death, murder and all other kinds of grisly things, more that while I am creative, I have my limits. There is only so much torment a human body can bear and bringing someone to the brink of death and then pulling them back is something that you can only do a handful of times before it starts to get a bit ridiculous. I know that when writing the DYING THOUGHTS series, I have sometimes found myself struggling to make Tara's cases both unique yet believable. I don't like to repeat myself too much, but at the same time, these are generally cases that I'm saying regular people in the police force would see and sometimes, let's face it, murder repeats.

For me it's not just about finding a new way to kill someone, but it's also about the killer's motives behind choosing that manner of death. Is it revenge? Spur of the moment? Are they actually a serial killer who has chosen their own mode of operations and stuck to it? How much forensic evidence are they leaving? Why is Mike calling on Tara? Is there another way it could have happened? What would the victim feel and see at this point? These are all valid questions that I have to answer on a case by case basis and sometimes, it's hard to know the answers until you're actually writing the story.

That said, when it comes to the regular cases that Tara works, I usually have them all planned out before I even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard in my case). I'm a meticulous planner as mentioned before (a piece about my planning can be found here) and so once I've done the chapter plan and know exactly how many "normal" cases she'll work, I make a note card with all the details about it there ready to be used when I come to that point in the story. However, like I said, some details about it all don't come to me until I've got to the point writing where she's about to have the vision (and sometimes it's WHILE she has the vision) and for those things, it's back to my old friend - Google.

Of course though, there are only a limited number of ways to kill someone even when you do get creative. Shooting, stabbing, poisoning, bludgeoning and suffocation are just a small selection of the ways a person can be killed, but if you're going to do all of those things, pretty soon you'll have a dead person with whom you're just going through the motions. As Tara's gift only works until the person expires, I find that there is little need for me to work out all the details of the crime. Mike's job is to find all of that and mine is to plant the seed, which I have to admit is one of the perks of the job.

When it comes to the overall plot and "case of the book" as it were, that's when things can start to get creative. It's not always a murder that runs through the book and sometimes it's not even a crime that Tara can solve on her own with her visions. As she's developed as a character, I've found other ways to keep her focused on what matters - catching the bad guy without getting killed herself. If you look at some of my other books, BLACKOUT or LYNNE & HOPE for example, they both have crimes that would have been outside of Tara's purview and so while I like to give Tara a good murder or two to work through, I also enjoy putting other characters in situations that don't involve blood and gore.

I think it was a friend of mine who said that one of the perks of being a crime writer is getting to kill people for a living...I don't disagree, it's just that with me writing young adult fiction, people kinda look at you sideways when you say you enjoy torturing teenagers! Can you really blame them?

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