A Study on Serial Killers
Or the detailed guide on the oddly intriguing topic of Serial Killers. This guide is not for the faint-hearted.
The guide above is a very useful primer for those wishing to learn how to accurately depict serial killers.
Just to tack on to what benedicthelps has put together here: below you will find a list of documentaries on various serial killers and a few interesting resources for further reading.
A List of Documentaries about Serial Killers
A Few Extra Resources on Writing Serial Killers
Set in a fractured world of living vampires, fallen angels and psychopathic faeries, this dark fantasy novel explores the depths of love and vengeance, and what happens when the villain gets the girl.
Face it. Nine times out of ten the villain steals the show. Whether it’s the witty one-liners, the charisma, suavity and charm or the tragic back-story that jolts you into feeling sympathetic or even empathising with them, it’s the villains that make a cracking story. After all, what would a story be without conflict? And how would the hero develop without a strong antagonist to push back?
My love of villains and all things… villainous … began as soon as I was introduced to Disney. What has Aurora got that Maleficent can’t beat? Seriously. That woman has class, style, an amazing hat, and turns herself into a dragon. When I discovered that Angelina Jolie will be playing her in her very own movie, aptly named Maleficent, (out 2014), I was beyond excited.
The evil fairy Maleficent is pretty much the epitome of a successful villain: she’s interesting, memorable, and has cheekbones you could cut your sandwiches with. She also has real emotions (it hurts to be the only one not invited to a party… how would you like it?) and without her, Sleeping Beauty would have been a bit of a snooze-fest. [See what I did there?!]
My novel, The Book of Fate, first in a planned quadrilogy, revolves around a very simple premise: what if the villain got the girl? … How many different ways could a classic hero story end if that was the case? The best thing about a premise like that is that you could write it a hundred different ways, and it would come out differently each time. Why on earth The Book of Fate ended up the way it did is anybody’s guess, but I blame my various twisted influences, of whom Alan Rickman was probably the strongest…!
Your antagonist (or villain) has one job in your story, and that is to mess things up for protagonist (hero). But, that doesn’t mean they don’t need a story of their own.
To write well, all of your characters need to be rounded, complex and believable. Whether they’re the hero, the villain, the love interest, or the hero’s landlady, they all need a past, a present, and a future.
Your plot, in its simplest terms, is your protagonist on their journey to achieving their goal. Your antagonist is there to stop them, as many times as they can, and in as many ways as they can. But they also need a goal of their own, a reason they do what they do:
- Either your protagonist and antagonist have the same goal: the same love interest, or the same object they’re searching for, or to win the same award.
- Or they have opposing goals: maybe the hero wants to stop a supermarket being built, but the villain wants to build it.
By giving your antagonist a subplot of their own, a backstory, a goal, and by showing their character developing and changing, just as the hero does, you will create someone who is believable and relateable to your reader.
Always remember that everyone has good and bad character traits, and your antagonist shouldn’t just be a stereotype villain with a white cat and a moustache he likes to stroke. In fact, they may not even be a bad person, it’s just that their goal is in opposition to your hero’s.
Anonymous asked: I think you can give a villain a motive and still have them be truly evil. Some good evil motives would be greed or thirst for power.
Yes. However, I think there is something doubly terrifying in villains who have no motive, who, like the Joker in The Dark Knight, just want to watch the world burn. We can’t understand them because we have reasons and excuses and rationalizations for our actions. We can give you a Because for every Why.
But to ask, “Why?” and have a villain look you in the eye and reply, “Why? There is no why!“ —that is truly heinous, truly terrifying, and wholly unknowable.
Villains who know they’re evil and relish it are also frightening. They need no motive, or else their motive is simply to do and be evil and that is all. Take Aaron from Titus Andronicus for example, an exceptional villain worthy of the word and probably my favorite villain of all time.
Aaron has a few quotes that drive home the “I’m evil and I know it” character arc. Here are my favorites:
“…I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly;
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.” (x)
“If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.” (x)
How can you confront a villainy like this? How can you reason with it? How can you sympathize with it?
Hopefully you cannot sympathize. And there is no reasoning with evil—not pure evil like that. You can only kill it, hang it and shoot it full of holes and bury it in the desert to die of thirst or be eaten by some hungry beast. Villains like Aaron are poison; they are remorseless, incapable of reason. Unknowable.
Villains who have no motive or whose only motive is evil are so jarring and scary because they are unfathomable. We cannot grasp their motives, maybe because they have none, maybe because their motives are a skosh beyond the understanding of sane human beings.
The unknown is a major root of fear. Nearly all of our nightmares, everything we point to as a source of fear in our lives, can be traced back to the unknown. As Albus Dumbledore so wisely puts it in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” He’s right. There is nothing scary about death and darkness; it is what comes after death, what we cannot see in the darkness—those are the things that truly scare us.
We cannot know the emptiness and loneliness of evil, the vacuum of it, the nothingness it champions. We cannot know the Why, and the Why is what sustains us. To see a villain thrive without the Why, even in disdain if the Why, is terrifying.
So yes, a villain can be very nasty and hateful and murderous and still have a motive—greed, pride, lust, etc.—but the really evil villains are the ones with no motive or the simple motive of evil, who know they’re evil and don’t care. The unknown and unknowable; the known but unfathomable. The Other taken to the furthest degree. The inhuman. Evil.
This type of villain isn’t easy. There is no shortcut here, and no justification like, “Well, he’s just evil,” will work when it comes to this villain. It takes an enormous amount of skill and effort to write villains without motives or with a motive of evil, and there is a real possibility that it will still come off as flat.
But if you succeed, if you write that type of villain well, and you’ll have written the horror and the nightmare at the core of every one of us. Those are the villains that stick with you, who haunt you, who let all of your Whys echo unanswered in the dark.
gtbsayso sent: I always have trouble making a true diabolical villian.I try to but the character always develops into grey morality. How does one make a truely evil villian?
Ooh, interesting! Personally, I much prefer stories with characters that are grey rather than stark black and white, but I know that it’s not always what you need/want (sometimes, you just have to have that truly evil character).
Here are a couple of things you can try doing:
- Forget the backstory. My villains always become more sympathetic when I give them a reason for being evil. If they don’t have a reason (or, at least, if a reason is never mentioned) then they instantly become 100x evil-er.
- Remember that ‘evil’ and ‘insane’ are often synonymous in this context. Think Moriarty (especially the BBC TV version). If your villain is impossible to predict because they’re actually nuts, they’ll be much creepier.
- Make them scarily determined. In some books, villains just refuse to die. Like, they go through absolutely heaps to get at the hero but are still alive. Somehow. I don’t know about you, but I find that terrifying. Or maybe just play up the almost obsessive fixation your villain has with destroying your MC - like Javert in Les Mis. His determination is scary as hell.
- Make them do really horrible stuff. When I’m trying to make my villains more sympathetic, I give them nice traits, give them small moments when we can catch a glimpse of them not being a total douche. Don’t do this. In fact, do the exact opposite.
- Think of all the worst, scariest, horriblest, most evil villains. Think about what they have in common, where they differ. Looking at what other people have done is often a real help when coming up with your own stuff.
- Never let them feel remorse. Don’t give them any moments when they seem sympathetic, or maybe even human at all.
- If they don’t even have an obvious motive, then I just want to go hide under a duvet. Lack of reasonable motive is goddamn terrifying.
You can also take a look at these things I’ve found for ya:
- Kill Zone: How to Write an Evil Character
- The 5 Types of Evil Characters
- Dungeons & Dragons Character Alignments (something I find really useful, actually, to sum up a character’s psyche in two words)
- Why Can’t I Write Characters who are Just Evil?
- If you want some more resources, literally just google ‘how to write evil characters’ ‘cause there’s a bucketload of stuff =]
Hope this has helped! Good luck!
(Rebloggable by request.)
The TYRANT: the bullying despot, he wants power at any price. He ruthlessly conquers all he surveys, crushing his enemies beneath his feet. People are but pawns to him, and he holds all the power pieces. Hesitate before getting in this man’s way – he’ll think nothing of destroying you.
The BASTARD: the dispossessed son, he burns with resentment. He can’t have what he wants, so he lashes out to hurt those around him. His deeds are often for effect – he wants to provoke action in others. He proudly announces his rebellious dealings. Don’t be fooled by his boyish demeanor – he’s a bundle of hate.
The DEVIL: the charming fiend, he gives people what he thinks they deserve. Charisma allows him to lure his victims to their own destruction. His ability to discover the moral weaknesses in others serves him well. Close your ears to his cajolery – he’ll tempt you to disaster.
The TRAITOR: the double agent, he betrays those who trust him most. No one suspects the evil that lurks in his heart. Despite supportive smiles and sympathetic ears, he plots the destruction of his friends. Never turn your back on him — he means you harm.
The OUTCAST: the lonely outsider, he wants desperately to belong. Tortured and unforgiving, he has been set off from others, and usually for good cause. He craves redemption, but is willing to gain it by sacrificing others. Waste no sympathy on him - he’ll have none for you.
The EVIL GENIUS: the malevolent mastermind, he loves to show off his superior intelligence. Intellectual inferiors are contemptible to him and that includes just about everyone. Elaborate puzzles and experiments are his trademark. Don’t let him pull your strings – the game is always rigged in his favor.
The SADIST: the savage predator, he enjoys cruelty for its own sake. Violence and psychological brutality are games to this man; and he plays those games with daring and skill. Run, don’t walk, away from this man – he’ll tear out your heart, and laugh while doing it.
The TERRORIST: the dark knight, he serves a warped code of honor. Self-righteous, he believes in his own virtue, and judges all around him by a strict set of laws. The end will always justify his nefarious means, and no conventional morality will give him pause. Don’t try to appeal to his sense of justice – his does not resemble yours.
The BITCH: the abusive autocrat, she lies, cheats, and steals her way to the top. Her climb to success has left many a heel mark on the backs of others. She doesn’t care about the peons around her – only the achievement of her dreams matters. Forget expecting a helping hand from her – she doesn’t help anyone but herself.
The BLACK WIDOW: the beguiling siren, she lures victims into her web. She goes after anyone who has something she wants, and she wants a lot. But she does her best to make the victim want to be deceived. An expert at seduction of every variety, she uses her charms to get her way. Don’t be fooled by her claims of love – it’s all a lie.
The BACKSTABBER: the two-faced friend, she delights in duping the unsuspecting. Her sympathetic smiles enable her to learn her victims’ secrets, which she then uses to feather her nest. Her seemingly helpful advice is just the thing to hinder. Put no faith in her – she’ll betray you every time.
The LUNATIC: the unbalanced madwoman, she draws others into her crazy environment. The drum to which she marches misses many a beat, but to her, it is the rest of the world that is out of step. Don’t even try to understand her logic – she is unfathomable.
The PARASITE: the poisonous vine, she collaborates for her own comfort. She goes along with any atrocity, so long as her own security is assured. She sees herself as a victim who had no choice, and blames others for her crimes. Expect no mercy from her – she won’t lift a finger to save anyone but herself.
The SCHEMER: the lethal plotter, she devises the ruin of others. Like a cat with a mouse, she plays with lives. Elaborate plans, intricate schemes; nothing pleases her more than to trap the unwary. Watch out for her complex designs – she means you no good.
The FANATIC: the uncompromising extremist, she does wrong in the name of good. She justifies hers action by her intent, and merely shrugs her shoulders at collateral damage. Anyone not an ally is an enemy, and therefore, fair game. Give up any hope of showing her the error of her ways – she firmly believes you are wrong, wrong, wrong.
The MATRIARCH: the motherly oppressor, she smothers her loved ones. She knows what’s best and will do all in her power to controls the lives of those who surround her – all for their own good. A classic enabler, she sees no fault with her darlings, unless they don’t follow her dictates. Don’t be lured into her family nest – you’ll never get out alive.
To all the people looking for advice on writing villains, the below link helped me a lot when writing my current novel. It gives a few different archetypes to base characters on… might be helpful to you guys as well.
Anonymous asked: Hey, do you have any tips for writing/developing a good antagonist? I’m having some trouble with the villain in my story and would appreciate you pointing me towards some advice! Thanks in advance~
Consider yourself pointed in the right direction!
If you want to build your antagonistic character by our method, the Character Virtues and Vices page in our Writer’s Toolbox has a page called Choosing Virtues and Vices that outlines the steps for how to make characters, including villains.
Thank you for your question!