On October 16, 2021, Kasie and Rex took on Serial Killers as the scary topic for the third weekend of October. Here are the show notes:
Theme for the day
Scary Series: Serial Killers
- SCWA Upcoming events and goings-on
- It’s October! Let’s Halloween!
- What’s up with Serial Killers?
- How to write a convincing serial killer
Last October we did a single episode on horror, scary stories, and the like. This year we’re doing three. Last week was vampires (because YES!), this week is serial killers, and next week we’re doing a thriller special that focuses on writing the tension, the surprise, the stomach-butterfly-inducing anticipation of a truly scary scene.
October 30th Kasie’s out of town, so we’re recording a special LGBTQ+ episode in honor of Columbia’s Pride festival (October 23rd). That episode will air on the 30th.
It’s fall and SCWA is in board recruitment mode so if you’re an SCWA member and excited about all the work we’re doing and want to lend a hand, consider joining the Board of Directors for a two year term beginning in January 2022. Send Kasie a note — firstname.lastname@example.org — and let her know you’d like more information.
SCWA has also announced an upcoming “Diversity in Publishing” event that will take place November 11th at 7 p.m. and feature Felice Laverne, Agent, Author, and Editor. Register here.
Ready to admit you’re a writer and want to be an author? Find a local chapter. Get your work critiqued. Live all of your wildest authorial dreams.
Lastly, I want to mention Taffeta.com and our new partnership with them. Their audience — GenX women — is my audience. So find them on Instagram and Facebook and follow them. The editor, Laura Ellsworth, and publisher, Tom Lynch, attended my livestream session in Northern Virginia and it was awesome to get to know them and swap 9/11 stories.
Okay. Let’s talk serial killers.
I’m reading You right now which is a thriller about a stalker / serial killer that was made into a Netflix series. It’s crazy good. The narrator is so compelling I’m having a hard time putting it down. And the violence is so matter-of-fact and seemingly the next-logical-step that you don’t even have time to anticipate or dread it.
Thing is, I (Kasie) don’t know anything about how to do this. And Rex had done it before, so this might be a “how to” and it might be a general explanation of why a writer would take this on.
I googled “Writing Serial Killers” and found this awesome article. So let’s start there. Essential elements:
- The killer — who is s/he? What do they want?
- The victim — how do the two know one another? What was the last interaction the two had?
- The location and condition of the body — direct quote from the blog: Where was the victim killed? Was the body transported and dumped? Was there and attempt to hide the victims identity? Why? How were they killed? Was it overkill? Rage?
Here’s the link to the second post in Rick Reed’s series. And the highlights:
- Your character(s) will perceive the crime from their own perspective — victim, killer, bystander, investigator.
- Law enforcement categories: 1) justifiable homicide, 2) excusable homicide, 3) murder – premeditated, with malice, with intent, on purpose, 4) manslaughter – accidental, no intent, 5) mass murder – groups of people killed at one time, murderer usually caught right away or kills themself, 5) spree murder – kills multiple people in separate incidents, makes little attempt to cover them up, they’re impulsive and reckless, 6) serial murder – premeditated, orchestrated, three or more victims over a period of days or weeks.
Let’s talk motivation:
- Some element of sexual contact or gratification
- Money or theft
- Game-playing or taunting investigators / law enforcement
Other important factors:
- Body count — how many victims?
- Mobility — spread over a distance or localized?
- Access to the victim(s) — Uber drivers, taxi cab drivers, business travelers, hotel owners
- Disposal of the corpse — what resources does the killer have to hide the body?
Some U.S. definitions for serial killers (from Reed’s third blog):
- Premeditatively murders three or more victims,
- Victims are unknown to the killer,
- There is a ‘cooling off’ period between murders.
- The cooling off period can be hours, days, weeks or years.
- This differentiates them from mass or spree killers.
That blog also has an interesting historical timeline of world-wide examples of murder which is (maybe?) compelling for murder buffs. I didn’t read it (cuz … murder).
So how do you do it? This blog has a list (of course!)
- Give them a system of logic — they have to have a code they love by and the less sense it makes to the reader, the better
- Give them contradictions — they’re not all weird recluses; some appear relatively normal
- Make them relentless — they need an objective and they must pursue that objective even as it becomes harder and harder to do so
- Give them quirks — is there a ritual to their build-up before murder? Is there a ritual to their come-down afterwards? What behaviors do they exhibit that set them apart in the “creepy” category?
- Give them somewhere to go — in crime novels investigators will say the killer is escalating, you need to think of what the character’s arc is and show their change-over-time and in response to challenges.
And here’s another list of five:
- Make the murderer powerful — certainly more so than the main character, the threat of the MC’s imminent danger will up the stakes
- Give the murderer a good reason to kill — even if that reason is entirely self-serving, the reader and the killer should be aware of it; this is a per-victim thing, right? Why did the murderer choose this victim?
- Reveal their ultimate motivation — are they protecting someone or something? Removing obstacles between themselves and their desire? Is it hatred? Resentment? Do they feel they’ve been mistreated?
- Read, read, and read some more — like all genre, murder stories have precedents. What have other writers done? How did they do it? Keep a list of what you liked and didn’t.
- Have fun being clever — design the mystery, design the winding path, and have fun being clever about what you’ll reveal and what you’ll hide from the reader.