Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Murderous Musings

I killed someone last night. Well, not me exactly, but my character. And it wasn’t murder either. There would be a strong case for self defense… if, of course she wasn’t in an awful hurry and likely to try to cover the darned thing up so she can get to the things she urgently needs to get to. It got me thinking…

To Kill or Not to Kill

I’ve been thinking about things like… genre… lessons… character changes… In all of life, there is probably nothing larger, short of dying ourselves, than killing, yet it is all over the media—TV, movies, news… and yes… books. .

The Genre Question

Mysteries typically need a murder, but you know something funny? They don’t often have one. What they have is more often, a BODY (or a few). The deed has been done… off screen… even when it happens in real time, the person whose perspective we are getting typically stumbles upon it after the fact—oh sure, sometimes in gruesome detail, and some of the murderers are twisted freaks, but it is a step removed because the focus is SOLVING the murder.

Romance doesn’t have it… Chicklit is pretty devoid of it… I guess I’ve seen some in Sci Fi and Fantasy, but because those are removed from reality, it sometimes seems… well… removed from reality.

I think the place we actually SEE it in literature—less removed from reality, is in thrillers… which I suppose is why I’ve come to this point. CONFLUENCE was mainstream… too much character and relationship stuff to be a straight thriller, even though that is the closest genre, were I to be forced to choose one, underlying the plot. But the trilogy I’m writing is definitely thriller material. They are faster paced and more about twists and turns… I mean sure… there is character there, that’s who I am, after all… but it is more story intensive.

Best Murder in Literature

There are an awful lot to choose from and I have by no means read every book in existence, but my favorite murder in literature was committed by Ellie in Tomorrow When the War Began. Why? Because it truly and deeply changed her and how she looked at herself. Her sense of right and wrong underwent intense scrutiny. She was a leader of sorts, however unofficially, of a group of teens when Australia has been invaded by an enemy. She and her friends are running for their lives, being chased by people who are shooting… she devises a simple explosive out of a riding lawnmower, and guess what… it works. She and her friends are safe. The book, wisely, instead of glorifying her success in keeping her friends safe, sends her into a tailspin about the enormity of this one event—the change it makes of her. It was incredibly moving, and one of the reasons I love the series so much. Something like that WOULD change a person. But it doesn’t make them a monster—she was forced into doing something awful, but arguably for the right reason. It doesn’t remove her humanity. I think this is true of more murders in the world than it is NOT true for. Murder is more often done by loved ones for a reason—murderers aren’t all heartless psychopaths, but people who either get into really messed up reasoning, or people who feel they are forced into something.

How does that inform me? I have a heartless psychopath in this series… he kills a father of three in chapter one of the first book. At the end of the first book there is another murder, this time by someone whose motivations are harder to pin down, but it is… shall we say ‘necessary’. Book two though, I am beginning to explore the ‘forced into it’ and the ‘head messed with into it’ scenarios and it is making me a little light-headed. It’s fun stuff to delve into… powerful to write, and hopefully, powerful to read.


Ellie got hers, and I think given that she was in a war situation… and a teen… that was the right course. I think there are genres where this is the right way to go, and genres where it isn’t. My current suspicion, though I haven’t written it yet, is that in my own thriller, the murder in self defense has an impact, but is not dwelt on… the brain-washed come murderer though? He’s going to have some baggage to deal with… unless I leave him brain-washed… BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


Anonymous said...

Hello, Hart! This is my first visit to your blog, and I must say, I'm enjoying it very much! :-)

Murder has always figured prominently in the stories I've written in the past, most probably, I think, because the deliberate extinguishing of another human being is a very visceral event. And I enjoy visceral stories. The whys and wherefores of what would drive someone to such an extreme intrigue me.

I've also found shades of emotion depending on who has been murdered in my stories. Having been a feminist male almost my entire life (which wasn't particularly popular during the dying days of male chauvinism -- and still isn't, for that matter), most of my thriller or crime writing centers around women being murdered. That, for me, has a greater emotional impact because I love women so much and the thought of someone killing them has a strong effect on me, which I try to translate to the writing.

I've never found the courage to write about a child being murdered. That would be too painful for me to explore at this point in my life. Maybe I'll be able to face that demon in the future.

Murdering men has never particularly moved me when I write. I find murdered men in my fiction interesting, and it sparks my curiosity, but it doesn't hit me in the gut like I want it to. Maybe that's because men have so long been portrayed (and rightfully so) as warmongers since the dawn of time. We've always seemed to almost go out of our way to kill each other. That, for me, lessens the emotional impact. (Although I'm sure I would feel differently if a man I knew were murdered. But that's reality, and I'm talking about fiction).

Murdering women in fiction, though, gives me a strong feeling of, "I really want to get the guy (or gal) who did this. I really want them to pay, and pay spectacularly!" I think it goes back to the old damsel-in-distress chivalry thing. And that goes a long way in fueling my protagonists when I write in that genre.

Have you found any correlations to gender or identity in your writing as far as the emotional impact it has had on you? And if so, does that impact change based on whether it is a murder or a killing?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Thank you for bringing up the topic. Your blog is excellent!

Watery Tart said...

Sagedarien-welcome! And thank you so much for your thoughtful post! I also have a pretty serious feminist grounding, but haven't thought of murders or killings from that perspective in my writing, I suppose, because I've only written two now (have a third (attempted or successful not decided) planned and my focus has actually been:

1) the first was from the perspective of the murder victim's CHILD who was watching it from a hiding spot, terrified he and his siblings would be found, so though it was the father killed, I think it is a pretty sympathetic 'let's find the bastards' set-up.

2) the second and potential third are from the perspective of the KILLERS, but the one last night was definitely a self-defense--he intended to rape her and was trying to get info to harm people she cared about. She had to do it.

The final will be most interesting though--the 'killer' is a 15 year old boy who has been going through a psychological brainwashing of sorts... deeply under some form of 'stockholm syndrome' so he has responsibility, yet he doesn't-- the effect though, will be HUGE--on HIM and the people who love him.

My only books prior to this have had kidnapping as the 'peak event' instead. I hadn't realized I'd like WRITING these scenes so much but they really are an adrenaline rush.

I agree that I don't think I have it in me to kill a child, at least not on the page--possibly in a family drama type story, but not a murder.

You've definitely planted some food for thought!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Killing can be cathartic, can't it? And addictive! I rack up 2 bodies each book, so I'm working on bodies 9 and 10 now.

I like the idea of justifiable homicide. But it's probably only justifiable to certain types of people--some folks just see black and white and no gray area. And justice is supposed to be blind...right. :) I haven't really played with that idea at all--my murderers are usually bad guys.

I'm excited that you're coming over to the dark side!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jan Morrison said...

Hmmm...I was just thinking about this the other day - actually my m.c. was thinking about it. She's a cop and she was really trying to figure out how someone actually looked someone in the eyes and killed them. She hasn't ever had to and she's afraid she will some day.

Watery Tart said...

Elizabeth-it makes me giggle a little bit that you enjoy the evil so much... Definitely enjoying the dark side! (though not the EVIL side... not just yet)--inflicting awfulness on my characters more than making them heartless bad guys...

Jan-I think that is a GREAT dilemma for a cop to be debating. That would be such a hard part of that job--that whole greater good, and who am I to decide thing...