DON'T JUST HAVE YOUR CHARACTER COMMIT A MURDER. HAVE HIM COMMIT A MURDER. WHAT? (FROM THE FORUM)

At I.J.'s suggestion, I am placing the blog in its entirety here.  Thanks, I.J.

 

Are there different 'categories' of murder?  You bet there are.  Let's broaden our killing horizons.

 

When you write crime fiction and your plot includes a murder, what kind of murder do you use in your story?  Now, I’m not referring to how your character gets bumped off (i.e., shot, stabbed, etc.).  I’m talking about the various ’categories’, if you will, of murder  Let me explain.

 

Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.  What it really comes down to is intent.  Was the original intent to kill and then death achieved?  Was it a premeditated, willful, and deliberate act?

 

A lot of plots are geared around this type of killing, but you know, there are many different ways to kill off your character that would perhaps add an extra layer or two to your story.

 

Why always use murder in the first degree.  How about sticking in a second degree.  The definition of second degree murder is pretty close to the one for first degree, but again, it comes down to original intent.  Second degree murder is non-premeditated and can result from an assault.  What makes it second degree vs. manslaughter for instance though, is that while the individual committing the assault did not set out to kill the victim, he or she is aware during the assault that death is a real possibility, but continues just the same.  I know it’s a fine line, but under the law, the line is there.

 

Then we have manslaughter (sometimes termed as third degree murder), and actually, there are two types there.  Voluntary manslaughter lacks a prior intent to actually kill, but does involve the intent to cause serious harm with total disregard for human life, and death results.  Involuntary manslaughter is unlawful killing without intent.  This would involve justified or accidental killings, which by the way, are still considered homicides, though depending on the circumstances, they may or may not be criminal offenses.

 

Self-defense, of course, is not included in any of the various categories of murder.  That could create an interesting situation in a story since your character killing in self-defense would only be witnessed by the one who did the killing and the one who was killed.  Tough perhaps to prove self-defense to the authorities, especially if the ’killer’ flees the scene.  Possibilities?  Definitely.

 

Lastly, let’s not forget suicide.  Yes, I did say suicide.  I have read actual cases where an individual made their suicide (or at least attempted) appear as if a particular person murdered them.  It worked too, at least at the beginning.  With the advancement in the various fields of forensics, however, that kind of plan would hopefully be easier to see through.  One case involved a man who had a terminal illness and despised his neighbor.  The reasons were ridiculous to any rational person, but not to him.  He came up with this elaborate scheme to actually kill himself, but set up his neighbor as his killer.  Almost got away with it too.  The neighbor was arrested, which made it difficult to act in his own defense.  But he had very supportive friends and a devoted family, and together, they were able to bring out the truth.  In the meantime however, the man sat in jail just waiting.  Scary, huh?

 

All these different twists and turns with what your characters are thinking, what they may or may not be planning, how they react when certain events occur, do they run and try to clear their name from behind the scenes, do they stand their ground and hope that really being innocent is enough?

 

If your guy wakes up one morning and decides to add another notch to his belt just because he enjoys it, so be it.  Nothing wrong with a down and dirty serial murderer now and then.  But take a chance.  Get inside your character’s head and put different kinds of intent in there, or pull out any that’s already lurking, and then send him on his way to meet somebody, and the somebody dies.  How?  Why?  Accident?  Was he lying in wait to punch out the jerk who cut him off on the freeway, but the poor sap croaks on the sidewalk?

 

The possibilities are endless.  There’s so many different paths your story can take, so many different situations your character can find himself or herself in when a death occurs.  Be creative, be clever, use one type, use all of them, deceive your readers without mercy, make it impossible for them to put your story down until you decide to reveal how things really happened.

 

First degree, second degree, third degree, manslaughter, suicide…  Decisions, decisions…

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Comment by J. F. Juzwik on May 9, 2011 at 4:39am
They certainly are not, I.J.  I prefer character-driven plots vs. event-driven ones, and what you described fits right in with that.  Perhaps someone who in the course of their normal daily lives would never contemplate killing anyone, is, as you said, somehow 'driven to act', maybe even by the 'victim'.  Then they either try to obtain resolution somehow, get themselves out of trouble, or the situation could spiral completely out of control and bury them even deeper.  Lots of possibilities there and primary focus would be on the characters, which is where I like it.
Comment by I. J. Parker on May 7, 2011 at 7:01am
I personally like the situation where the murderer is driven to act.  Not all victims are innocent.

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