Writers love their killers. Readers love hating them. Me? I empathize with them. That’s why I usually give my killers some long involved twisted motivation. Like, oh, guilt combined with a torturous childhood and a good measure of contorted and distorted religious perceptions and maybe just a dash of crazed, buried repressed anger with a superiority complex tossed on top.
Sounds like a salad doesn’t it? Who doesn’t like salad, especially those of us on a permanent diet? It is like a recipe in a certain sense where you’re adding ingredients and tossing them up in the air to create a personality salad of mixed emotions and thoughts. If you cook your recipe correctly, all the strange ingredients influence the taste of all the others. Some are more intense (torturous childhood, religious guilt) than others (superiority complex) but they all cook up like some sick stew of mental illness and twisted perceptions of life and its literal worth in the world.
Now as you know, or should, that no one is completely evil, especially those killers with compound personality disorders. You don’t have to be as twisted as your killers in order to empathize a little with them—who has not experienced guilt, repressed anger, and on the rare occasion a little feeling of superiority? Come on, you know you do. And that is my job as the author. My goal is to make you feel the interior horror going on in some killer’s brain to a far lesser extent. I guess you could say that I’m the interface between the reader and the killer character.
Another part of my job is to take that insane killer’s motives and make them appear – operative word, appear – justified a tiny bit. Not that they ever are, but what I want is for my reader to think “OMG, I can imagine how horrible that (fill in the blank) must have been!” Imagine being kept in a dark cellar since childhood and beaten twelve times daily and you’ll see what I mean. That’s gotta create some kind of anger somewhere. The difference between the reader and the killer is how they handle that anger or fear or whatever. The reader isn’t going to go out and kill fifteen people. The killer is. For one the experience is imaginary. For the other it is all too awfully real. That’s my interface interfacing.
Now before you run screaming away from the horrifying depths of the killer mind, there is another type of killer. The one that really is evil. However, this type of killer is the opposite of the one mentioned above. This killer has no remorse for what she/he has done or is going to do. Again, I have to go back to the psychological aspect once again. I promise this one will be less…painful.
Most of the time killers are sociopaths in fiction and reality. What makes them differ from the reader is the exact opposite effect than the tortured soul killer mentioned earlier. The reader can’t understand or even imagine no guilt over the most horrific act of murder. Think BTK or Ted Bundy. Most if not all serial killers lack the emotion of guilt and/or recognition of doing something wrong before and/or after the killing.
But, in my opinion, remorseless killers can also be regular people. Regular people can kill from any number of motivations, fear or survival being the ‘best’ of them. How many news stories (not to mention movies, TV series and novels/non-fiction) have been told of people who kill for the simple motives of greed, anger, jealousy and/or that biggie, power? These are the killers who murder for simple, usually singular motives like those mentioned above. These types can be the worst of them all. They don’t have crippling psychological scars or lack the normal brain processes. They can also be the most fun – instead of fearing or feeling the ‘crazy’ killers’ motivations – readers can gleefully hate them and get the most satisfaction from their getting their “just desserts” to use both a cliché’ and culinary term!
Which type of killer would be the best for your plot or characterization? Personally, I like to mix them up (there goes that culinary term again!) and put one type of killer where another would be expected. It takes a little practice to become deft at changing things around, but if you practice like a good chef should, you might just create a masterpiece. Voila!
P.I. Barrington, after an extended detour through the entertainment industry, has finally succumbed to the career of writing that has chased her down over the years! She lives in Southern California and is an avid ancient history buff, a determined gardener, and occasionally dabbles in art and music.Miraculous Deception Book Two of her Future Imperfect series through Desert Breeze Publishing continues the story of a tattered and torn 2032 Las Vegas and Homicide Detectives Payce Halligan and her new partner British ex-DCI Gavin McAllister as Payce goes missing from Las Vegas General Hospital ICU and Gavin must partner with a rival to solve yet another murder connected to the cult The New Creation and find Payce in time.Book Three: Final Deceit is due out January 2011.