So you want to write a criminal who focuses on killing? This can be an overwhelming task to keep the killer accurate and believable without being a cliché. The nice thing about killers and being clichés is most of them fall into a certain pattern. Certainly, the tall, dark-haired, attractive serial killer might be considered a cliché. However, that may not necessarily be the case. There are many resources to help you with developing a character as a killer.
In order to choose one, the first thing you have to look at is the motive. A motive is what is going to drive your criminal to kill. A great resource for identifying a killer’s motive is The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. This book gives a nonfiction look into what drives killers, using real cases. They go beyond the basic scope of revenge, love, money, and satisfaction.
Once you have identified the motive behind why your character is killing, then he can be classified. While there are many classifications, the three most basic are murderer, serial killer, and spree killer. Not all killers are serial killers. In fact, there are only 100-120 active serial killers in the United States at any given time. This is relatively low compared to the number of the murders committed in the same amount of time. It is prudent to look into statistics of murders and serial killers for the area in which your work is set. The FBI goes over the other areas of crime on their website.
Brent Turvey’s book Criminal Profiling is a bit on the pricey side but touches on the behavioral analysis and patterns of killers as well as other crimes. It does not have a main focus specific to killers but it does a great job of covering everything from motive to the crime scene.
Another great resource is Holmes’ Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool. This textbook breaks down the psychology of killers. It helps with more in-depth classifications of serial killers and shows the breakdown of a typical crime scene based on these classifications.
Now that you have your motive and hopefully your classification, you can build your crime scene based on these things. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
- Most killers have a comfort zone that is close to home. With a few exceptions, it is by far most accurate to have a killer who lives in the area.
- Most killers (with the exception of some serial killers and those who are active against children) are likely to age out. That is, in their mid-thirties, they are going to stop killing.
- Female killers don’t like to get messy. They are far more likely to use poison than to kill by means that creates a bloody mess. (This is certainly not always the case but is the most common.)
- Females are more likely to nurture their victims after death (especially if they are young or close to the killer.)
- Men are more likely to kill children than women are.
- A single murder is likely committed by someone known to the victim.
- Most murders are within the same race. Though there are many that cross over, it is more likely that both offender and victim come from similar backgrounds.
- Most killers (especially serial killers) are antisocial or asocial people.
No matter a character’s appearance, their motives and results are going to be as vastly similar as they are different.