How does one delve into the mind of a serial killer? Actually, it’s really hard. Here’s the thing you have to remember about any character you are developing for a story line. You have to be willing to let that character into your mind for a little while. I’ve read other people refer to it as trying on a personality.
You may find this hard to believe, but I am not a serial killer. Nope, never gutted anyone like a fish, removed their eyes, or tied anyone into a chair to watch them die slowly. However, in order to write a fictional character and have them believable, you have to walk around in their shoes a bit. Barring actually becoming a real serial killer, how do you accomplish this?
First off, I read about real serial killers. The closer I can get to something which gives me what they said and did and a good psychoanalysis of why they did it, the better. It isn’t enough to just mimic the insanity, you have to actually try to understand the motivations behind it. Not everyone is crazy for the same reasons. Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, had a really hard time explaining why he was the way he was. Although, after seeing the interview with Jeff, his father, and his mother, I have my own theories. In almost every serial killer there is an element of looking for control of some sort.
Studying the phenomenon of serial killers is very interesting. While it’s hard to pin down themes there are a few which manifest.
- The need for control
- Unresolved issues usually in childhood
- The devaluation of human life which can be linked to shame
I’m missing a ton, by the way. There are many more. However, these are all values that I don’t have. So in order to write them effectively, I have to let my mind take these ideas on and try them out a bit. Sometimes I sit by myself and think about what it would be like to be a controlling husband, telling their wives what they will and won’t do. I think about what it might be like to take a hooker and kill her while tied up to a bed post. BTW, I should probably let everyone know that my wife would never let me get away with being controlling. Besides, Mrs. Nowak will tell you I am usually wrong when it comes to anything family related. But she loves me anyway.
Next, it is helpful to watch a good amount of horror movies. I’ve probably seen the classics more times than I care to count. But I also really enjoyed the show Dexter. While unrealistic in some aspects, I really liked the show. It is a classic example we have in the modern era of a television show centering on serial killers. I think Michael C. Hall does a great job. Some serial killers had families. BTK actually comes to mind.
I love Tales from the Crypt from HBO. It shows that horror can be not only clever, but hilarious at the same time. If you have never watched Tales from the Crypt. I give you permission to go order off the internet and watch a few episodes. Go ahead … we’ll wait for you.
Serial killers are just one aspect though. On a recent project I had to get into the mind of a law enforcement officer who is corrupt … sort of. However, he really does try to do the right thing. It is hard though. That project is called Riapoke and should be out in early summer.
Women can also be difficult, especially young ones. Another thing you may not know about me is that I’ve never been a teenage girl. True … never been. So, I am forced to resort to what I see my own teenage daughter and her friends do on a continual basis. BTW, I have three teens so I am actually a bit of an expert on the topic. God help me!
In all these examples, I have to, and any author does, let myself roam around in their shoes. There is a bit of a serial killer, woman, teenage girl, teenage boy, corrupt police officer, and all kinds of other people in my head that I continually take out and let interact with the world around me so I can see what they do and how they react. Kind of like really weird action figures or invisible friends; I play with them in the dollhouse of my mind and watch them do their thing on the world stage and I chronically it for readers. My ultimate goal is to make the characters as believable as possible and deliver them to you.
Back to playing with my fictitious friends!
-Your Humble Servant