Saturday, July 21, 2012

Research for Divergent Lives: Why Did I Make One of the Main Characters a Serial Killer?

I would like to acknowledge the victims of the Aurora, Colorado massacre. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those lost and injured.  RIP 

 “One must feel sorry for those who have strange tastes, but never insult them. Their wrong is Nature’s too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours than are we for being born bandy-legged or well-proportioned." 

Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), “Dialogue the Fifth” Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795)

The above quote is how I open Divergent Lives. I think it pretty much sums up the feeling I want to evoke when you read this story.

Much is said about how a reader is supposed to feel about a character. Alpha and beta readers who have read my (unedited) manuscript react pretty much the same way when they read this. They say "it's a creepy quote," but is it really?

It has been suggested to me that I shouldn't spend a lot of time talking about the serial killer in this story because I may end up making the reader feel sympathetic towards the killer. But I ask you, is that so wrong in this case. Read that quote again.

"Their wrong is Nature's too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours..."

Are we to blame for our tendencies? For who we are?

Figuring this out is what brought me back to the question:

"What happens to someone who was once an innocent baby that makes them do things a normal person wouldn't do; like kill people?"

There might be many reasons, but in every story that I hear about any killing, I always want to know what motivates a person to do something like that. What happened? What were they thinking??

In light of the recent, horrific mass killing in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, this question is even more compelling for me. 

For my story, I thought I would give my killer an unexpected reason for killing. This character rationalizes murder with reasons that would not make sense to the average person. The thinking behind these actions is irrational and illogical. It only makes sense to the killer, and that is the point. It is this reasoning, or lack thereof, that made me want to explore what the mentality of a killer might be at any given time.

I spent a lot of time last summer doing quite a bit of research on psychopaths and sociopaths on another, now closed, site. You will note, as I mentioned in my last post, that this story is now decidedly different than what I had planned back when I originally began thinking about the characters; the plot and the twists and turns of this story. But, I maintain that people are who they are and you can't be mad at them for being so.

The above quote notwithstanding, I consider both my main characters, RJ and Adina, sociopaths. 

sociopath is defined as:

"someone who has a psychopathic personality. One whose behavior is antisocial and lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience."

Granted, I was a bit confused by this definition as the word "psychopathic" was used to define "sociopath." Isn't a serial killer a psychopath? 

So I looked up the word "psychopath" and this is what I found:

"a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships; extreme egocentricity; failure to learn from experience, etc."
"any mental disease"

Now, THAT'S scary! Anyone you know can be a psychopath! How do you like them apples, huh?

For my story, I went with "sociopath" to describe the actions of my two main characters for two reasons:
  1. Each of my characters has at least one meaningful relationship
  2. Each has learned from (their) experience

It is what they learned that shaped who they are and the reason why their lives come crashing down upon one another.

Next up: Adina's mental health.



  1. Your writing challenges us all. What a wonderful post. This reminds me to be grateful for the sadness and the love at the same time. How horrible it must be to be one who can not feel such things. Does a sociopath feel envy? If so perhaps that is why the also have the urge to kill. Do they hate us because they can not feel what they do?

    Thank you for challenging me.

    1. Aw Renee! Thank you! That is kind of you to say!

      You raise an interesting question as to whether or not a sociopath feels envy. I tried to find an answer to that but could not find one that would satisfy your question, so I looked up the word "jealousy" and the word "resentment" was used to define it.

      A sociopath can certainly feel jealousy, they just don't have feelings of empathy and/or remorse.

      In Divergent Lives, the killer kills almost accidently when he realizes that he will not be getting what he wants from his victim and the victim can.

      So, in effect, the killer in my story is jealous or envious of something that his victims can achieve and he can not.

      Thanks so much for your comment AND your support!!