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Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing | 0 comments

M is for Murder Most Horrid

Crime Scene [evidence shot 001]I don’t know where I got that title from. I feel like it was the title of a British TV show that was on PBS when I was a kid. Murder Most Horrid. Or maybe it was Murder Most Foul.

Whatever. We’re talking murder today.

For something that’s been around as long as there have been people on the planet, you’d think that everything had been done by now. Honestly, most things probably have, not that it stops writers from trying to invent new ways to murder people.

For fictional purposes, of course.

Regardless of whether it’s a brand new way to kill people or a tried and true method, I’m a big fan of fictional murder. If I had to pick a book I loved where no one was murdered, I’m not sure I could do it.

How much murder is too much?

As someone who excels at writing serial killers, this is a question I find myself asking a great deal. I mean, unless we meet our dark hero at the end of his killing spree, by definition, he has to kill at least three people. I suppose he could always kill those off camera and then I could handle the investigation of the crime scene with non-descriptive kid gloves, but…why?

While it’s not really a joy to crawl inside the head of a serial killer to write their murder scenes, the reader loses something without them. Everything about the kill is important if they want any hope of figuring out who the killer is before I beat them over the head with their identity. The same goes for the details associated with the crime scene left in their wake. Without those little glimpses of the ritual associated with every aspect of what the killer does, the reader will be left with giant knowledge gaps.

Unless I’m not playing fair with them.

But I try not to do that too often, so it’s always a matter of balancing how much murder needs to hit the page and how much is just bloody gore for the sake of writing bloody gore.

It’s the same with the quantity of murders that happen in a book. It’s too much murder when the murder stops serving a purpose…kind of like in slasher movies where the whole point is to shock the viewer with all the blood and death. When your book is about a guy tying up loose ends by murdering his crew, there’s going to be lots of murder to that end. Having him stop to kill a guy at the hardware store just because he doesn’t like seeing his chipped tooth when he smiles is too much. Having an ever-growing body count because the chick who’s got the one critical piece of evidence to unravel the killer’s identity is still curling her hair and gabbing about lipstick shades also makes sense.

Having Lipstick Lady kill someone on the way to the cops with the evidence…too much murder.

How much murder should we see?

As much as needs to be shown.

Seriously, there comes a point when it’s a pain in the ass to keep writing the same murder scene over and over – since serial killers tend to kill in the same way – so it’s reasonable to assume there’s also a point at which the reader is like “y’all, I get it…dude’s in love with murder and is gonna stab every blonde surfer in in the face because his sister never learned how to surf and that makes him sad and strangely tingly in his naughty place.”

We don’t need to see the fifth murder scene just because the author wants to describe the way the wallpaper clashes with the drapes in vivid detail before splattering them with copious amounts of blood.

The same really goes for the investigation of the crime scene. Even if something is part of the killer’s signature, there’s really only so many times we need to see the hero pick it up with tweezers, put it in an evidence bag and pump his fist in the air yelling, “Success! Another purple thread that might’ve come off the Evil Emperor’s underwear!” Are you really expecting me to believe you don’t have a bored CSI tech guy who could take care of processing the scene instead of spinning circles in his chair back at the office?

You’re the author. Freakin’ create one. I don’t want to read the fist pump purple underwear scene seven times.

That said, if there’s new information at the crime scene…I’m going to be a little annoyed that I didn’t get to see the hero find it. Well, unless I was watching him be too busy going on a bender to do his job. He could also be getting laid.

I’m not picky.

Method behind the madness

You know, when it comes to fiction murder, nothing is more frustrating than killers with boring motivations. I don’t expect everyone to have some kind of Moriarty-esque plan, but I do expect them to have something beyond, “I dunno. Just bored, I guess.” If I’ve just devoted hours of my life to reading about this killer’s exploits and the extraordinary lengths the hero went to capture him, I need there to be some reason why dude killed the guy in the bank he was robbing other than the fact he dared call the cops.

Hi. That’s boring.

But I don’t necessarily need all the killer’s motivations to be explained to me in the bad guy monologue unless there’s a reason he’s still talking instead of getting his murder on. (As a side note, I also don’t need to know the killer’s motivations by the end of the book if he’s a series character who’s coming back in future books.)

Come on, y’all, admit it…As much as we all love it when the villain flips on the light to the room the hero just broke into, mocking him with a slow clap, as his team of assassins repel down from the ceiling and magician up through the floor to surround the hero, the whole “I’m sorry, Mr. Bond, here’s what you didn’t know about my master plan” speech is just a bit much.

Although I especially liked the way Dr. Evil sat down to dinner with Austin Powers to fill him in on his evil plans before leaving him to the die at the hands of angry sea bass. Therein lies the difference between writing comedy and writing serious genres.

Yes, of course, there are some killers who are so impressed with their own brilliance that they want the world – and hero – to know before they get on with the final kill. I’m just saying they don’t need to grandstand for eight galactic years while they tell us about what their first day of kindergarten was like…unless it’s relevant to why they decided to get murderlicious.

This is uber long, so I’ll chop my ramblings about murder here. What do you think? How much murder is too much? Do you really need to see every fist-pump evidence collection moment when you’re reading? (You know that tech really wants to get out of the office. He’s getting dizzy, y’all!)

Next up: N is for Nutrition

© 2013, Sydney Katt. All rights reserved.

photo by: Justin Lowery
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