Monday, 20 June 2011

Raising the Stakes

A Thriller Killer?

Murder’s, the TV and film industry would have us believe is frequent and horrible. The truth is, happily, it’s not as frequent as it might seem. Murderers inhabit the corridors of whodunits and mystery novels like the opening night of a Harry Potter premier. The best example in English TV is the small quiet leafy village of Midsommer where murders – usually more than one - happen every week! The focus of those plots is for the hero/heroine to solve the murder and catch the killer.
In thrillers, unlike mystery and ‘whodunit’s’, a murder is often not the main plot line. But a killing will often serve to raise the stakes for the hero/heroine i.e. a woman desperate to save her child (and the rest of the world maybe) has to accept the kidnappers mean business when another child is found murdered. In a race against time, Killings along the way may be viewed as acceptable losses. Some murders are even inconsequential – strange though it may seem. For instance the multitude of deaths in war stories, blockbuster disasters and action movies.
The best thrillers, though, often have a murder somewhere in them, even if it is only a bit player (eg The Da Vinci Code and other search/quest thrillers). It lifts the story from ‘so so’ to a higher level where more important characters are under threat and the anxiety for the reader ratchets up a level. This, of course is where thrillers come into their own for they are all about rising tension and cliff hangers at a mile minute speed.
In one of my books (The Witcheye Gene) the killing actually starts in the prologue - another familiar way to show the true nature of what the hero is up against.
So do you need to show the actual murder in graphic detail or not? Depends is my answer – if we want the reader to feel worried or scared for the hero then yes. But maybe a few choice details will suffice rather than a blow by blow account. I also think it is more about showing what kind of person the protagonist (villain) is and how his character connects to the story, than the actual deed.  However no one is truly all evil – except maybe the devil himself - so a fully rounded villain also needs some redeeming qualities. Many of the best known villains murder ruthlessly and without compunction yet they love their mother/animals/children! In fact, I believe it is these very human traits mixed with the very worst traits that fascinate us so much. And that is why the best known fictional villains/murderers stay with us for a long time. They could so easily have been just like us!
Murder for murder’s sake should never be introduced into a story just to spice it up but a well placed, well developed villain/protagonist who murders horrifies us and that can certainly rev a tale up into top gear!
Who is your favourite murderer/villain in the most well known fiction?


  1. I love villains but I don't have a favorite one. or one I can think of. A favorite villain is one who is well developed and empathetic. :)

  2. Hm... I don't like murders shown in graphic detail. It turns my tummy. I can't really think of a favourite one as I don't read loads of crime. Sorry!

  3. I don't like gory descriptions of killing and much prefer a psychological thriller. A lot of people are into Dexter, but I just can't get my head round it being ok for him to be a killer, even if he does only kill the 'baddies'!

  4. Thanks,folks for your insightful comments. Much appreciate it.

  5. I don't have a favorite villain. I really enjoyed reading your blog. You have a great way with words that pulls your readers in.