Whom Do You Kill: How Kait Carson Constructs a Murder Mystery

Author photos 009On constructing a murder mystery: In the case of a deliberate murder, I look to the victim. Somewhere in his life lie the seeds of his destruction. There was a moment in time when that person set his fate into motion.

Most of my books are murder mysteries. Although some don’t appear to be about murder at first. The general topic includes something timely, human smuggling, drug dealing, corruption, general malfeasance, and then the dead guy shows up. The villains are usually folks you would have to dinner, and the victims could be your best friend. That brings up a problem. How does a writer decide who needs killin’?

The process is different for every writer. I’ve been told that some writers find someone they really, really, really don’t like, and they gleefully kill them off on their pages. Others base their selection on an evildoer they’ve read or heard about and let their imagination take over. Some stream of consciousness writers (a/k/a pantsers) just start the book and wait to see who dies. It’s as good a way as any other is.

female private eyeOn solving the murder mystery: I don’t know why the victim died. To discover that, I write, page after page of profile. The notes talk about the victim’s life, who his friends are, his childhood, what he did for a living, for recreation, his politics, his business associates, and his beliefs

My way is a little different. One of my majors in college was psychology. The study fascinated me, especially the part that dealt with human interactions and how we are the masters of our own destiny and the authors of our own downfall. The concept is like catnip to my creative mind. In the case of a deliberate murder, I look to the victim. Somewhere in his life lie the seeds of his destruction. There was a moment in time when that person set his fate into motion. It’s a time when a choice had to be made, and the victim, knowingly or unknowingly, made one that would have fatal consequences.

I can see you thinking back on your own life…. Have you taken that one turn? Made that simple choice? Of course you have, you’re human. So many possibilities will your choices bear good or evil fruit.

Before I start a book, I know my victim and my protagonist. I don’t know why the victim died. To discover that, I write, page after page of profile. The notes talk about the victim’s life, who his friends are, his childhood, what he did for a living, for recreation, his politics, his business associates, and his beliefs. Somewhere in the middle of all of this free form writing, a pattern begins to appear. Victims at this stage develop the desire for pets, social symbols, spouses, families. They also develop behavior patterns. These behavior patterns become organic. No other person in the book could possibly react in the same way as the victim. How he rationalizes that a particular wrong is right. These reactions and rationalizations tell me why he needs killin’.

Can you identify these seeds in your life? Do you believe that victims are everyman?

(Confession of a killer writer, I’m using the pronoun “he” in these paragraphs. I’ve killed women too. He is nothing more than a convenience of convention, not a definitive identifier.)

 

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4 thoughts on “Whom Do You Kill: How Kait Carson Constructs a Murder Mystery

  1. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
    Ms. Carson offers valuable insight here, although her methods might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Writing page after page about the victim would drive me nuts, but then, it doesn’t take much effort to accomplish that! I tend to focus on what drives the villain, although I’m a lazy writer and graciously allow my characters do the heavy work. In DEADLY SPIRITS, my upcoming 4th Mac McClellan Mystery (now slated for a January 2017 release), the villain, his/her background and motive, developed right before my eyes. I had very little to do with it. That person’s backstory simply opened up and poured onto the pages of the manuscript. Lucky me only had to record what came forth from the villain’s thoughts, words, and deeds.
    I do respect Kait’s methods. I wish I had the patience and personality to write such in-depth character studies. It would probably save me hours/days/weeks of agonizing as I wait for my character’s to open up and let me know what’s going on. Writing is such an interesting and diverse craft. There are many paths to THE END. It’s not so much “how” you get there, as it is “that” you get there. Kudos to a wonderful post!

    Liked by 2 people

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