Monday 14 May 2018

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Crafting A Killer


If there's one thing I've learnt since I started writing crime fiction back in the day it's that killers and criminals come in all different shapes and sizes. They can be pretty much any age and can have a wide variety of motives. When you sit down to plan out your crime novel, you're gonna be looking at ways to craft a killer that both leaves everyone guessing until the big reveal, and makes sense for your story. I thought I would do a piece on five tips to remember when you're plotting out your killer and their backstory and what have you.

I know that it's the big thing that people talk about on crime shows, they want to know the "why" someone does something. Now while it's not always needed to prosecute, it is needed in a book. In my experience, if you can't give a good reason for why the killer does something, then you've missed a pretty important step. The other issue is that the motive needs to be believable. I know sometimes coming up with a convoluted motive can be fun, but it has to make sense. It can't just be "because they're evil". That's not a motive, it's an excuse and it doesn't really jive with how things work in the real world. While yes it can be a reason for some of the motive, it's not the whole motive.

If you're writing a serial killer, which y'know, happens in crime fiction, then who they kill is important. While serial killers are rare in the real world, there is still a lot known about them, and that knowledge can help you in the fictional world. Even if you're not writing a serial killer, who they choose to kill can be as important as their motive. If you're writing someone forced by circumstance to kill someone to save their family, that's going to be a different experience than say, someone who got into a fight with the intent to kill. Their victim is important and how you portray them is too.

This is where people go overboard sometimes. It's not always relevant to include every little detail about your killers childhood, including the time they were called mean names in primary school. Some details will be relevant and it's always good to have some idea about it all even if you never use it. However, I would warn to try and avoid the tragic backstory trope. Not all killers have a tragic backstory and even if they do, it doesn't explain or excuse the way they're behaving now. They are, after all, a killer. But this is also a place where you can have a little fun with your imagination. Because the majority of it won't make it onto the page you can go big and even if you're the only person who knows everything, it's still pretty cool for those snippets to share with your fanbase should the time arise.

Now as someone who writes dark fiction, and is pretty damn unapologetic about it, I know that some of you will be looking at this and thinking: huh? My point isn't that you can't have dark scenes, but that the whole book doesn't have to be dark scene to dark scene and on and on it goes. There can be some light, and that is also true when it comes to crafting a killer. You don't have to depict every violent step they take, you can leave some things for the reader to imagine. In doing that you create different scenes depending on the reader. You also create darkness without having to describe it. When a killer is doing their thing, you can leave some of the grisly details for the reader to interpret.


I know that sometimes it feels like you have to kill a ton of characters otherwise you'll lose the suspense and that's just not true. You can build the suspense by doing other things than dropping a new body. On top of that, considering point one, sometimes the motive is only going to apply to one person. Sometimes killers are driven by more than a body count, like jealously and rage and anger and fear. There are so many different reasons to cross that line, but just because they did it once, doesn't mean they'd do it again. That's a big point to remember. If your motive is one thing, you can't change it because you want to add a new victim and up the tension.

So those are my five tips for how to craft a killer. Usually when I post a piece like this, I get emails telling me that I shouldn't write on this subject because of the effects it has on the general public. And while I get it on some level, I just want to say: guys, it's fiction! I am not, and never would be, writing about my own murderous ways! So you have any tips or tricks on crafting a killer? Leave them in the comments below!

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