Wednesday, 12 December 2012

I am, therefore I kill

When I’d completed the first draft of Bad Moon Rising I knew it needed quite a bit more work before submitting it anywhere, so I went through my usual routine of rewrite, leave for a few weeks, rewrite again, leave for another few weeks, and so on. Normally after five or six rewrites I’m fully inside the heads of my characters and know them as well as I know myself.

In Bad Moon Rising all the characters were there on page, well fleshed out, and the story flowed, but I still wasn’t happy with the novel as a whole. Even though he had a unique back-story my killer was too generic – he could have been any serial killer from any novel by anyone writing in the genre. In short, he wasn’t my serial killer; he was a painting by numbers character. I knew if the book was going to have any chance whatsoever in what is a very competitive market, I had to turn him from a cardboard cut-out into a living breathing person, who just happened to be a monster when he gave in to his desires.

I stopped trying to write what I thought he would think and feel. I decided I had to become him. I had to put myself so firmly inside his head that what he said and did came from him and not from me.

We all have a dark side to our nature, but we suppress this so that we can function in society. Generally, I’m described as a kind-hearted person, always ready to lend a helping hand, so to become one with someone who is not only on the borders of insanity, but is the complete opposite of my own character wasn’t easy. I had to allow my mind to let that dark side out – and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

In fact, it was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever done as a writer – or as a human being. I found myself not only understanding the killer’s actions, but almost applauding them. My husband soon learned not to interrupt me when I was in killer mode because I would snarl even when asked something as innocuous as would I like a cup of coffee. I began to have nightmares where I acted out my killer’s fantasies and even found them disturbingly erotic.

The day I cried while writing a flashback showing how he had been abused as a child, I knew the killer and I had become one. I completed the final rewrite convinced my killer was alive in a way I couldn’t possibly have foreseen. He wasn’t just a killer, he was a man who could easily have turned out very differently had circumstances decreed otherwise. 

Did I succeed in making him unique and bringing him to life? I hope so. Crooked Cat Publishers believed in him and it seems, so far, my readers do as well.


DW96 said...

It does become necessary to take on his mantle at times, Frances. I had to do the same with my serial killer, but I was more appalled at the way he thought and acted.

This whole business would make an excellent novel, don't you think?

Frances said...

You mean as writer turned killer turned writer?

DW96 said...

I'll rough it out and email it to you. You get Paolo to investigate and I'll get Joe.

Cathie Dunn said...

Now that would be an interesting combination!

Great post, Frances. Scary! But I see what you mean. I quite enjoyed getting into my antagonist's head, right at the end of my novel. That was a teaser for things to come as he'll feature more in parts 2 & 3. I just have to find the time soon... ;-)

Can't wait for the next in your series.