As writers of crime and thriller fiction, part of our job is to kill a lot of people. I know in my first novel the death toll probably reached two dozen. Thrillers tend to rack up the body count, but even in the most tame of crime novels it’s likely that at least one person has died.
Our job is not to only kill any number of people, but to often come up with new and exciting (perhaps a poor word choice) ways of doing it. Or if we recycle a method used before, do so by adding our own twists. Guns, poisons, knives, ropes, explosions…these are just some of the tools we work with.
And then there are the killers themselves, the characters who pull the triggers or set off the remotes. These people (who they are, and what motivates them) come from our minds, too. Perhaps they are inspired by someone in real life, but believe me, if an author can’t get into their minds, then all he or she will create is a cardboard cutout no one will find believable.
Call me crazy, but I doubt most writers of these kinds of books just came to the ability of being able to figure these things out only when they started writing crime and thrillers. Refined their skills, yes. But not having a predisposition already? I doubt it.
I’ve been a killer since at least junior high. Okay…that might not be completely accurate…I probably started off more a maimer than a killer, but the foundation was there.
Now before you go thinking this is some sort of confession of a heinous crime spree, just sit back, drink that coffee and chill. What I’m talking about is my imagination.
It undoubtedly started off with a lot of “what ifs.” What if the school bus lost its breaks and smashed into a light pole? What if JP, the junior high bully, got so mad he actually beat someone to death? What if that fake bomb threat someone called into school when I was in 8th grade had been real?
From there I would move on to the whys and the hows. What happened to the bus’ breaks? How could someone secretly motivate JP to attack someone else? Why would someone want to blow up a classroom? Multiple answers, especially to that last one.
These became stories in my mind…little mental plays that I would sometimes write down. Of course in the worlds I created the good guys would always come out on top. (I did, after all, win Citizen of the Year for my 3rd grade class, and have been know to trap spiders and crickets and carry them outside instead of killing them.)
There were other killing triggers, too, one of the best being an overheard conversation. “I think tonight’s the night. Tommy wants me to meet him at that abandoned house outside of town at nine.” Or…”Mark told me he is so allergic to peanuts that just a little bit of peanut butter would kill him.” Or…”Mr. Harris gave me a D for no reason. I could just kill him.”
These days I could get whole novels out of any of those lines.
The point I’m trying to make is that unlike a lot of my friends and fellow students, when I’d hear something like any of those things above, I would start to work them into a plot. I would figure out how to make that rendezvous at the abandoned house turn into the scene of a crime. I’d imagine “Mark’s” girlfriend being so sick of him that she secretly works some peanut butter into a cupcake she’s baked for him. Or I would figure out the best way a student could take revenge on the teacher who’s failed him.
Actually acting on any of these thoughts never crossed my mind in any way other than to use them in a story. But seeing these situations, overhearing these bits of conversations…my mind often goes to the dark place, wondering “what if.”
My God, if a psychologist had dug a little bit into my psyche as a teenager, they might have thought there was something evil at my core. But then if they dug a little deeper, they would have realized that it wasn’t an asocial desire to act out, but a curiosity of humanity…both the good and the bad.
“Hi. I’m Brett Battles, and I kill with my keyboard.”
So who’s with me? Are we a bunch of imaginary killers or am I certifiable? And while you’re at it, share one of those random events that spurred an idea.
* Apologies to the late Jim Thompson whose magnificent novel THE KILLER INSIDE ME I finally read for the first time last month.
Today a little bit of visual creativity. This is an amazing work, if a little odd at times. Well worth taking a look at.