The similarities between a serial writer and a serial killer…
… are hopefully, very few.
After all, a serial killer is mostly a psychopath. Most serial writers I know are not. Obsessive, yes. Psychopaths, not.
BUT… A serial writer often has a fixation on type – which is why these writers have major problems letting go of their characters. One book is simply not enough. Not at all. Serial writers need to delve deep into their characters, crawl under their skins and have them live through a number of situations, many of them quite, quite frightening – both for the character and the serial writer.
Serial killers also very often have a fixation on type – and modus operandi. Phew! Serial writers like keeping things fresh, so they will generally not rehash the same situations over and over, ergo a major difference versus our homicidically inclined psychopath.
Serial killers kill more than once – ergo the serial. Serial writers write more than one novel. Hang on: many writers write more than one novel. Actually, probably ALL authors write more than one, as chances are all authors have at least one first effort somewhere that they never intend to share with the world. (A good thing, as many of these efforts could probably cause an epidemic of “death by reading” – this judging from my own, very early attempts) However, serial writers write several books within the same context, a so called “series”. Murdering psychos also create series – of victims.
The successful (?) serial killer is often a “plotter”. He/she plans their cruel excursions in detail so as to avoid being caught. Serial killers that operate by the seats of their pants (aka “pantsers”) very often get caught before ever getting to victim number two. A great relief to society – but atypical, seeing as people labelled as serial killers have generally committed multiple homicides…
I guess some serial killers succumb to a spontaneous urge to kill the first time (“pantser” driven action) but quickly realise future expeditions will require meticulous investigation and selection. The “pantser” is replaced by the “plotter”.
Serial writers are also “plotters”. Yes, there is a point in time when the serial writer still believes he/she is writing “a novel” as opposed to “a series”, but most authors cotton on quickly to the fact that they have a potential series on their hands. Signs to look for are never ending flashes of inspiration regarding new incidents, often several years ahead of where the characters presently are at. Or a burning desire to burden the characters with children, grandchildren, lifelong enemies and steadfast friends that the author immediately knows is going to save the hero’s bacon twenty years from now. If this is happening to you, dear fellow writer, best clear your throat, stand up and say “I am a serial writer”. If it makes you feel better, you can add, “and I’m proud of it.” I am.
For a series to develop appropriately, writers often resort to an overall blueprint, so as to know roughly how their characters will develop and what events will transpire. After all, it’s important the white glove in book one remains white in book five when it pops up again. If said glove is suddenly black, the readers will expect to be informed as to how that happened. And in case you’re wondering, I have no gloves in my books of such relevance to the plot – this is just an example.
Just like with serial killers, a serial writer can create book one as a “pantser” effort. Subsequent books will, however, require a “plotter” approach, however much this goes against the writer’s natural inclinations.
Serial killers crave confirmation. The more the press blows up their crimes, the more people go into a fear-tinged tizzy, the higher the gratification.
Serial writers crave confirmation. The more the press raves about their efforts, the more people crave their books, the higher the gratification.
Oh dear: the commonalities start to heap up: Type, fixation on several instalments, plotters and gratification….
However: serial writers are more prone to killing off their intended victims on paper than for real – it’s a good safety valve to write, as one can endow the nasties with all the qualities of the people one dislikes in real life and then have them suffer. But in general, serial writers are often more focused on keeping their main protagonists alive than on murdering them, this as otherwise there would not be a series of books.
One thing serial killers and writers definitely have in common is the unwillingness to stop. Some serial writers start off planning for ten books and end up with twenty, and however it breaks my heart to share this with you, generally this is like six books too many. Well, with the exception of the Stephanie Plum books, but all rules must have at least one exception, right? But in general, dear writers, if you set out to write ten, try to stick to ten. Or maybe twelve, at most.
As to serial killers, the ones who get caught are often the ones who killed one victim too many. Well, if we’re going to nit-pick, obviously even ONE victim is one too many, but as stated above, one murdered person does not a serial killer make.
Serial killers are often quite successful in the world at large. They are driven, focused individuals that thrive in the dog-eat-dog environment that is so prevalent in business. I’m not saying that all driven, focused and successful individuals per se have a hidden inclination to go on a murdering spree. I’m just saying that some of these characteristics are very often present in those that go on to do the evil deed and get away with it. I would also argue, based on personal experience, that very many top-notch executives do have a streak or two of the psychopath in their general make-up. Once again, based on experience, 80% of these people never kill anything more than an enervating fly. Of the remaining 20%, 19,9% may now and then kill a deer or a boar, but never ever a human being. So we can all act relaxed and natural next time we bump into a hot-shot CEO.
Serial writers are very often moonshiners. They have to be, as writing rarely brings in enough cash to keep the writer in cars, house, food and clothes. But they rarely invest all their drive and their focus on their job. No, most of their passion they direct at their writing endeavours. Or maybe not, as many serial writers hold qualified jobs and are quite successful. Maybe their writing is simply their secret little world, a place where they let off steam so as to avoid ever, ever falling for the temptation of braining one of the more irritating colleagues of their real life with a stapler.
If so, then the conclusion is glaringly obvious: yes, there are similarities between serial killers and serial writers, but the single major difference is that serial writers write instead of killing. That way, they keep themselves mentally healthy, any psychopathic tendencies held under tight control. After all, who has ever heard of a serial killer who is also a serial writer?
I am a serial writer. As far as I know, I am not a serial killer, nor have I ever had any such inclinations (I faint at the sight of blood, which would be a major handicap if one wanted to murder people on a recurring basis) So, dear readers, anyone feel like a little midnight stroll with me? And what do you mean, what am I carrying in my pocket? It’s a nice, well-balanced silver hammer, don’t all people carry one of those around?