You're not really evil until you've killed more than once?

I don't understand why so many stories end up with a serial killer. To me, killing one person is bad enough. But there seems to be this need in storytelling (esp. movies) to make an evil person MORE evil by making them not just a killer, but a SERIAL killer.

Does this really increase the tension?

I can buy if someone who has killed once (maybe by 'accident' or in a rage/passion) and then, when fear of discovery slam into them like a speeding SUV, they'll kill again to keep the first muder buried. That makes sense to me. But statistically, serial killers, who kill many people fairly indiscriminately is very small. The number of movies and stories is very large.

Are we that desensitized that one murder is not riveting or horrid enough?

Or do publishers/ producers just THINK we are that desensitized?


Or am I just thinking too much. (As Hubby says, "It's just a movie." I think it translates to "Just shut up and watch the movie." =)

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Here's a "funny" story for you.
I go on the imdb site a lot and someone wrote that when they went to see Hannibal Rising the audience was laughing.
Now, I realize that sometimes people laugh from nerves or discomfort--but that didn't seem to be the key issure here.
They just sounded weird!
Sometimes I find the world a very disconcerting place actually.
I guess we have to just self-censor and watch our kids and grandkids.
the thing that troubles me the most is--the desensitation that you rightly mention has a direct link, as I see it, with youth crimes and the terrible apathy we see and hear about with regard to young offenders (all over the world), i mean I've seen the U.K. do almost a total turn-around to how it was when I first came, and as I read the news from America, I see it happens all over.
That to me is the most troubling.
but do you feel that the books and films that show mindless violence are influencing society or do you think that society is influencing the films and books?
I don't even know what I think, but I'm going to give it some thought.
I think part of the appeal is that it adds a thriller element to a mystery. Not only does the protagonist need to find out whodunit, they also need to stop it from happening again. There's more than simple justice, bringing in the bad guy, at stake. It's not unlike a James Bond story in which Bond needs to find the ticking bomb in time to stop it from going off and that naturally adds suspense.

For me there's also an interesting element in my not being able to relate to the killer. Any of us has at least a murder or two in us if we thought we could get away with it and we were provoked or excited enough. (Theoretically, at least.) So in a standard murder mystery I can usually identify with, or at the very least understand, both the hero and the villain. Serial killers, on the other hand, are completely alien beings to, hopefully, most of us. And that makes them more of a fascinating curiosity, like one of those well-lit jellyfish in a good aquarium.
Clair and Carole - I agree. Books centered around serial killers are horror stories disguised as mystery/thrillers. Several of the "mystery" writers I know are well-grounded in the horror genre.

I don't read serial killers and I certainly won't write them. It's been done to death (pun intended) and is rarely done well. When I read the jacket covers of books to buy, if I see the word "serial," I put it down. I want depth of character in the mysteries I read so I understand the motives at the reveal. When a writer makes the villain a serial killer, that label alone suffices as motive.

Although Eric disagrees, for me the best villains are those in which we see a hint of ourselves; those with which we have a tiny bit of sympathy. I don't care about the serial killer and I always know that he (95% of the time it's a male) will take out one of the characters about which I do care. No surprise equals boredom.

Recently CSI did a major story arc involving a serial killer. The build-up was great but the reveal was awful. It was ill-conceived and poorly executed - my complaint about most movies, TV or books that feature serial killing.
I agree, Linda.
it's not for me either.
It tends to put me off. don't like over-kill (pun intended) I like that pun intended--we should have an abbreviation for it: pi!
For me a book isn't interesting unless the killer is a main character.
I want to know what makes that person tick, even if it's madness or evil.
As a New York Homicide Detective commented during the Son of Sam murder investigation: "even no motive is a motive."
Novels and films that just feature rather one-dimensional killers with a huge gory body count is not to my liking either.
My husband loves action films. and sometimes those films are so gross, I often just ease myself up and head for the pc to either work or goof around.
Wish our world was less violent.
Perhaps I didn't express myself clearly. I'm very fond of villains in which I can see hints of myself. I love writing villains who are in some way sympathetic characters or at least have sides to them that are unexpectedly humane or likeable. I just think villains in serial killer books are different, and I approach those sorts of books differently and sometimes like them for reasons having to do with the utter alienness of the villain. I don't read any science fiction and almost no horror, but I suppose the way I read serial killer books (which, frankly, I don't read that many of either) is not unlike how I would read those genres.
I agree that in part it's due to the perceived desensitization of readers. However, I add the word "perceived." I don't actually believe people are that desensitized. What I do believe is that in the desperate search for ways to keep people glued to the book/movie screen, writers/publishers try to "up the stakes." One of the most commonly used methods for doing that is by increasing the body count and emphasizing the physical helplessness of the victims. (For example, you have stories in which the first victim is a healthy male, then the next is a female, then the next is either an elderly person or a young child. This is statistically unlikely, since serial killers do tend to kill the same "person" over and over again. Or you have stories in which the killers target the same "type" of victim, but intensify the pain inflicted by torture.)

It's easier to increase the death toll than to use other methods for jacking up tension. One alternative way of putting the sleuth under pressure is to use "the Sword of Damocles." Have some personal threat hanging over the sleuth's head that puts him or her under intense pressure to resolve matters before it's too late. That threat could relate to his or her career, for example.
So right, Persia!
I like your point about the sword of Damocles. very good.
As in the James Patterson books and film,--"Kiss the Girls," for instance--
wherein Alex Cross's niece is taken by the killer and is held, boy does that focus his powers of concentration. how true.
Writers should I think give more reason to their plots. Even terribly exciting, fast-moving plots can only benefit from some richness of characterization and a sword or two hanging over certain heads!
Just thought of another example. In Cape Fear--how much more interesting it is to know what kind of lunatic Max Cady is/what he's done and what he's capable of doing and we so FEAR he's capable of doing.
Yes, threats (as you mentioned) only enrich the story and make it something truly worthwhile and unforgettable.
:) Some of us don't read Patterson. :)

Seriously, though, I've said it before: the only quality serial killer novel I've seen is McDermid's THE MERMAIDS SINGING. But you will need a strong stomach.
Oh dear!
Oh well, strong stomach?! Hmm, I'll have to see about that--coming from her, it's got to be good.
I wonder how many it takes to be serial? Even Agatha and AC Doyle had murderers who killed (or tried to) more than once. I suppose the difference is motive. It's not serial if later killings are to get away with the earlier ones?
i agree with eric. the appeal of a serial killer novel is the serial. that's what it's all about. another murder (or two or three) will take place. we don't know when and we don't know where, but boo!
I don't mind body count, but I want a reason for it. And more often than not, when the reason is "serial killer" it seems like a cop out.

And, at least in your standard serial killer movie (thank fully I don't watch too many of them) we know who's going to die. And when. The person who wonders off alone, yeah, they die.

The person with the least character development dies, too. The cute girl rarely dies.

And there will be extra bodies in the last third of the book. To me, there's no surpise as to when or where. It's always obvious.

I suppose there might need to be a distinction made between serial killers who kill 'just because' and those guilty of committing multiple murders. I prefer the latter, because there's usually some semblance of humanity, of thought process, of something besides pure "EVIL". The one who kills a couple people to keep the death of his mistress a secret is more human, he has movtives, fears, and even compassion. I think it's much more frightening when Average Jo(e) kills someone.

What do people always say about the kid next door? Quiet kid. Never knew he was capable of killing those six people the other night. Nice kid. Never saw it coming. THAT to me is far more frightening than serial killers (espeicially the serial killers who are EVIL. And in movies, just look for the ones with the creepy looking faces! =)

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