How Do i Write a Serial Killer?
The book i’m working on right now, is a crime thriller with a serial killer at the centre. And like any good story, you need a good villain (Antagonist). Otherwise you just have a one sided story of a cop chasing an idiot he can’t seem to catch.
I start with my main character, the protagonist, in my case a middle aged cop. And write a very brief history. Something like a paragraph, nothing to crazy like a year on year biography of the guys life.
The killer however, needs this process to be more detailed. Why does he kill? Who does he kill? How does he kill?
This is kinda important. You’re writing a character that kills and you have to justify that killing to your character. Killing in itself doesn’t make sense to most of us. We can’t comprehend why someone would go that far, let alone like it, or feel the compulsion to do it over and over. So clearly, we like to think that there is something wrong with them. Something not right. And for the most part, you’d be right. Now don’t get me wrong, not all killers are psychopaths. And not all psychopaths are killers (about 1 in 25,000). Writing your character history will determine whether or not your antagonist is a psychopath or not, though it is easier if you decide before hand. Trauma seems to be the underlining reason why people common serial homicide, and the younger they are, the bigger the impact it will have in their future. The trauma will also influence the how (Modus Operandi or MO) and the who (Victimology). People have argued the Nature Vs Nurture aspect of killers for years, but the fact is, it’s both where psychopaths are concerned. Psychopaths are pre-disposed at birth to be the why they are. A prenatal flood of serotonin causes damage to the frontorbital cortex (Brodmann Areas 10-11-47), also the Amygdala. This alters their moods and emotions. Psychopaths have no compassion or empathy for other people. But they are masters at mimicking the characteristics of both. For non-psychopathic killers, all you have is Nurture/Environment, so make it bad, like there is no other choice. But try not to impose your own logic, because in the end, it only needs to make sense to them. And killing is illogical, by imposing your own logic you’re missing the tragic nature of these people. The killing could be impulsive, he feels like he needs or has to kill those people. Or he might like the killing and kills for the sake of it. Psychopaths would also have a huge ego and be an incredible narcissist.
Or the Victimology. This could be all over the map, or people of a very specific (i.e. female, blond, tall, brown eyes). If the trauma/abuse in your killers past was caused by a parent, that parent could be the template for his victims, the trauma itself could be the how. So the trauma will tell you who your killer is killing and how. If you’d like a killer who isn’t specific, then the early trauma needs to reflect that. The trauma might not have been physical abuse of any kind, just the way he was raised. This psychological abuse wouldn’t be normal. Normal being what is socially acceptable in the environment you live in. Someone raised by racists might grow up to be racist, even though that is against the social and environmental normals of where he lives. We could look at this as a form of psychological abuse. The kid doesn’t know any better. So, this child would probably be raised and schooled at home, because any social interaction at a young age might thrown they mentality off, they’d ask why there is a black kid in his class. So, in understanding your killers past, you can understand who they kill and why. And again, leave your logic outside in the garden, it won’t help you here.
This would consist of Modus Operandi and a Signature. The M.O. would be the way in which your killer kills. This could be directly influenced by the trauma/abuse your killer suffered as a child. So, which ever way you go, figuring out his history or how he kills his victims, one might correlate to the other. I start with how he kills his victims and how and where he dumps/buries them. Then i build the history. A brief paragraph on his childhood, one on adolescence, where he works, if he works, his first victim, enough to get me moving, i build it up to where it all appears in the book. Then the Signature, that thing that defines who this guy is, it could be something subtle like a trophy, a stolen item that belonged to the victim, or a finger or other body part. Hair, nails, anything that differentiates your killer from everyone else. For a book, the weirder the better, like Buffalo Bill in ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘, he would cut off sections of skin to make a body suit he would wear, hair and all. Creepy. Though in the the context of a novel, creepy is good, crazier the better. How does your killer first deal with the victim? If he is charming/handsome/strong he could control his victims without having to bash them over the head. If he is average or unsure of his own abilities to seduce women, if he is weak or immobile or disabled, or just small or weak, he might need to ‘Blitz’ his victims, “creep up behind them”, bash them over the head, get his control that way. Does he kill them where he finds them, or does he take them some where else, if so, how?
To build a great villain, try to understand their psychology. A smart, organised killer wouldn’t kill near the place he lives. A less intelligent, disorganised or impulsive killer, might kill within a few miles or where he lives, his home being at the centre. A Geographical profile will determine this. This is something i still need to study in order to create a great, realistic killer for a book. How o you determine whether your killer is organised or disorganised? The devil is in the details of the crime scene and the M.O.
This is not a lesson on what psychopaths are or how they work. It is just my thought process on how to go about building a great villain for a crime thriller.
Soon, i might do a blog on how i create my main characters, the people who have to catch the bad guys.