Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting into the Mind of a Killer

I've known Jane Isaac for several years now. She's one of my oldest (in length of time) twitter friends. You meet many people on social media, but some are keepers. Jane is one of them.  Two years ago I had the great pleasure of reading and reviewing her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder.

So now that Jane's just launched the shiny new sequel "The Truth Will Out", I thought you would enjoy hearing from her. Jane has very kindly shared her insights into how to get into the mind of a killer. Something we'd prefer to do without becoming one ourselves. Thank you Jane and I wish you huge success with your latest book. One of these days I'm getting over to lovely 'ol England to share a pot of tea and a plate of scones with this gorgeous and talented writer.

Read on thriller writers and readers. May your serial killers become more authentic with her advice.

A guest post by UK thriller author Jane Isaac
As novelists, research forms the basis of what we do and this is particularly prevalent in my genre of crime fiction. There are characters, settings, plots and storylines to consider, in addition to police procedural research.
The more accurate our work is, the more authentic and believable. This is especially the case with our characters: we need to research their back story, check the feasibility of the person we are creating, before we can make them appear real.
When drawing up the main character in my crime series, DCI Helen Lavery, I spoke to police officers at all levels in the British force in order to build a character that was not only interesting and engaging, but also realistic in modern day policing.
Unless you have access to prisons, work with criminals, or know any (and even if you’d want to), researching your antagonist can be problematic. For An Unfamiliar Murder, I resorted to reading endless case studies of true crime and watching documentaries about killers and their backgrounds to draw up my murderer’s profile. I’ve read crime fiction for years, yet I wasn’t prepared for the nightmares I experienced after reading real crime. For some reason it’s quite acceptable to be scared out of our wits by the product of another writer’s mind, but reality? That’s a whole new ball game.
So, what makes a killer? One element to consider is their humanity. It seemed so easy when we were young – all the baddies were ugly, evil monsters. The reality is that even the worst people in this world have some redeeming features, e.g. apparently Hitler loved his dogs; it is said the Yorkshire Ripper was very charismatic and could walk into a room and make everyone feel special. Many of these people appear to function normally in society until they are caught. So, we need to create a character that is realistic. If we make them too bad they become unbelievable.
Another element is motive. Statistics suggest that most people are killed by someone they know, someone close to them. What is their motive? Is it revenge, greed, lust, power, fear, jealousy, blackmail...?
We also need to consider their background in an attempt to provide some kind of explanation as to what they’ve become. This is particularly notable with serial killers. What motivates them to kill? Why do they choose specific victims?
Sometimes, even if we have considered all of the above, we need to seek assistance to confirm the validity of our work. The plot for my second book, The Truth Will Out, was more complex than the first and although I researched extensively, I still felt it necessary to have my killer’s back story checked by a clinical psychologist to ensure it was feasible.
Much of what we research never makes it into the book. But if we get the back story right, it brings our characters alive on the page. And as a fiction writer, if we achieve that, we’ve met our goal.           
Jane Isaac was runner up, ‘Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2013’. Her debut novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, introduced Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery and was nominated as best mystery in the 'eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.' The sequel, The Truth Will Out, was released by Legend Press on 1st April 2014.
Jane Isaac lives with her husband, daughter and dog, Bollo, in rural Northamptonshire, UK.

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