You’re a writer with a gazillion words at your disposal. You’re creative but you’ve also met an asshole or two in your time. You’d like to see them get what’s coming to them so you seek immediate justice by putting pen to paper. Suddenly, someone familiar falls down a flight of stairs and you feel a grin develop on your face. You’ve inadvertently become a killer.
Fiction is a great way to right wrongs, isn’t it? Creating murder text is a truly cathartic experience. It feels like heaven deciding how and when someone will die. Think about it. That guy who cut you off in traffic; that bitch who slept with your man; a domineering mother-in-law who won’t leave your family alone — think of the power you have to fix these people your way! Each offender gets to learn a valuable lesson while you wallow in glory. This is your world, your people, living and dying your way. It’s eutopia for the dark fiction author.
Revenge writing might be the path to literary inspiration but does it lead to creating a bestseller? I think it is.
Who cares what muse was used to write a kill? As long as the story is highly entertaining, readers will follow good writers down their unique rabbit holes. The story just has to feel plausible. No reader likes their intelligence to be taken for granted. They need to know who, how, when, why and why something happened and it must sound right for them to continue down into the pit.
Psychological thrillers often gravitate towards the shadowy emotions and thoughts of psychopaths. It allows readers who know nothing of their world to take a peek into it from a place of relative safety. This is the opportunity where mundane circumstances and extraordinary evils meet without much resistance. Convinced that the story feels plausible, a reader will tag along to see where that journey takes them and that’s what matters most.
Who commits a murder?
Me. You. Him.
That tattooed guy in the torn leather jacket is an obvious candidate. “That’s the killer you’re looking for officer! Cuff ‘im! He owns a goddam baseball bat! Go check the back of his car!”
Oops! Did we step in a steaming lump of cliché? What about Granny Maye? She was present at the time of the killing too. Oh, but she couldn’t have done it. She bakes cookies for the homeless — and is a devout Christian. There’s no way this God-fearing senior could’ve sent someone packing with a bat. Let’s go back to that tattoed guy. Yes, he’s the one and I can feel that stinky mess squishing between my toes right now.
Let me tell you, Christian cookie grannies are perfect villains because no one expects them of committing acts of evil. Granny could’ve walked in, slit everyone’s throat, and left with an armful of blood-soaked knives and no one would’ve batted an eyelid. As long as the tattooed guy was around, granny was free to kill at will and get off scot-free.
Tilting fiction away from the predictable is my preferred writing style. Clichés are nice if an author wants to accelerate a storyline and make it easy for readers to navigate — but where’s the challenge for a writer who writes a chain of clichés? Where’s the challenge for the reader who loves challenges while reading challenging books? Outwardly good people can be inherently bad too. It’s true. They appear to be kind but harbour a festering torment deep behind their eyes. Some readers may want to know more about those kinds of people. They’ll want to understand them better and so use fiction to do it because it’s only words. It’s not real. It just feels like it could be real.
Back to the guy and his dead ex-girlfriend.
What? Huh? Did we change channels? No. There was a murder. Remember? It included a baseball bat and a suspicious-looking tattooed guy in a torn leather jacket. Her head was smashed into bits by a stick of willow. Blood and bone went everywhere. The news reports used words like ‘vicious’ and ‘cold-blooded’. Every wall and floor in her home was covered in fluids. It was a mess. It appears she got up from the initial clubbing and then ran from her attacker. Smears of red created a timeline along the hallway that ended inside the bedroom.
The details of his arrest were cut and dry. He said he’d never been inside her house and that wasn’t true. The fingerprint on her dining room’s light switch was a clear match to his. He’d lied. Our leather-clad villain had soon another cliché attached to him. It was called Lying Bastard. Jail is the happy-ever-after for Lying Bastards, right?
The police arrested that Lying Bastard without hesitation and the people rejoiced. That gave the public their happy ending cliché and the police became superheroes for it. The city slept at night but something wasn’t quite right. He didn’t do it. It turned out that police jailed the wrong guy and a murderer remained on the loose. The young man was held by the judicial system for eighteen months and stayed in custody throughout his trial. Eventually, he was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. The prosecution proved that he had left a fingerprint on a light switch but not when it was deposited there. The remaining evidence wasn’t compelling enough to convict. They also couldn’t prove how he got all the way to her place to commit the brutal murder and then back home without his jealous girlfriend knowing or getting single a drop of blood on his skin, hair, clothes, car, or bat.
Few people in the community knew about his acquittal. By the time it happened, they weren’t interested in him anymore. They’d even forgotten about the crime he committed. A young man dressed in a torn leather jacket was finally free to walk out of prison but he did it alone. While he was locked away, he’d lost his job, his girlfriend, his credibility and a good portion of his life. The event ruined him.
Although it sounds like poorly written fiction, this particular story is extremely real. It happened this way in life. In short, it came down to that fingerprint and a dumb lie. He lied for a good reason — and a stupid one — it saved him from dealing with his jealous new girlfriend.
“Don’t ever go into that bitch’s house,” she demanded, “or it’s fucking over!”
She hated that bitch with a passion. That bitch had a child with him. If it were up to his new girlfriend, she would’ve stopped child visitations altogether — but doing that would’ve turned her into a bigger bitch than the bitch she despised.
“Pick him up at the front gate. DON’T go inside, EVER!”
Kids are kids. They don’t care about daddy’s new girlfriend or any threats she makes towards their father. And what would a childless woman know about getting children ready for access weekends anyway? It’s surprising only one fingerprint was found inside the home! When the police questioned him on the day after the murder, they did so in front of his jealous girlfriend. What a mistake. What a terrible mistake. That one lie changed his life forever.
Who commits a murder? Anyone can commit murder, just like anyone can go to jail.
Happy crime stories must include jail. The bad guy is supposed to get caught and go away for a period of time (or die) (or be tortured) (or be tortured in jail and then die) so everyone can live happily ever after. They’re not supposed to go: A Killer Wasn’t Caught. Now Sleep With One Eye Open.
As a writer, it’s tempting to expose such real-life stories by providing the community with an updated version of what actually happened. It’d be a way to let the police know that they didn’t do their job — and to keep the public informed as to the failures behind some major crime investigations. Alas, I’m not that kind of writer. I’m not here to fix Law’s little-boo-boos. I move to cause them.
Life isn’t perfect. Sure, it has some brilliant, clichéd moments in it that satisfies the romantic side of us, but evil’s anarchy exists too. It turns up to spoil things. That’s where I like to go when I take a stroll through fiction. Good doesn’t always save the day. Killers don’t always get caught. When writing SEETHINGS, I looked at our strange attraction to look for happy-ever-afters while simultaneously denying anarchy’s role. I then skewed their perspectives to get a better story and wrote my own evil narrative the way I wanted it written — and it feels totally plausible to readers.
I can see why it feels real.
You see, once upon a time, the police caught someone who had tattoos and wore a torn leather jacket. He was said to have bludgeoned his ex-girlfriend to death with a baseball bat. He was taken into custody until the community felt safe and the investigation found him innocent. That was the third time someone like him went through that process — I know exactly what happened in each case. I was the one who did them and I just can’t believe my luck. Then again, I don’t leave things to chance. I thoroughly research my victims and then rely on the predictability of humans to encourage happy-ever-afters to get by. Meticulous preparation clears my way. I always make sure the numbers are in my favour before approaching an intended target. It’s then up to the community, the Law, and the news cycle, to get things horribly wrong.
You could say that this is my happy-ever-after.
Find out why I do what I do inside the pages of SEETHINGS.