Killers and what we think of them

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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OPTIONAL QUESTION: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled in researching a story?

MY ANSWER: A homemade bomb. In my short story collection Squirrel of Magic, there is one story where the heroine, a modern witch, has to disarm a bomb by magical means. I was scouring the internet for the materials that might be used, and all the while, I was afraid that some law enforcement agency might appear on my doorstep and demand an explanation. To my relief, they never did.
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I’ve been contemplating the different ways readers, as well as fictional characters, perceive killers in fiction. As far as I can determine, killers come in several categories.

1. Unquestionably bad guys, murderers. They kill for pleasure or for greed or for power. They kill anyone who stands in their ways. They are psychopaths and villains, and all of us revile them. No ambiguity there.

2. Soldiers of any variety. They kill indiscriminately, because they have been ordered, and the society approved of those orders. We don’t blame soldiers for their victims’ lives. We feel compassionate about soldiers. If anyone is to blame for all those corpses that litter the armies’ footsteps, it is politicians and high-ranking officers who keep their hands clean and send others to do their dirty jobs. No doubts occupy the readers’ minds (or the fictional characters’ minds) about the treatment of soldiers in fiction. Soldiers are our heroes, standing between us and harm. Hooray to them.

3. There is a sub-category of soldiers – the ones who kill on orders – killers for hire: mercenaries and assassins. There is a curious fascination with them in fiction, especially genre fiction. Personally, I hate these cold-blooded professionals, but in my opinion, they are little different from soldiers. Both get paid to kill. Both don’t know their victims and don’t care. Often, an assassin becomes a protagonist in a speculative fiction story, and it makes me angry. I don’t think assassins deserve the aura of heroic and noble suffering some authors imbue them with.

4. Vigilantes. These guys or girls kill multiple times as well, but unlike the previous three types of killers, these ones make moral judgement before they kill. They select their victims carefully: they only kill those they consider evil. Consequently, readers and fictional characters alike hero-worship vigilantes, put them on pedestals, equate them with super-heroes. But here lies a moral dilemma. Perhaps, for some, the vigilante’s victims are not so bad. They’re someone’s parents or children or friends, or they represent an opposite political faction. From some point of view, there is nothing different between a vigilante and a serial killer of the #1 category.

5. Accidental killers. These people inspire the most controversy in fiction and life. They killed once, and they made a moral judgement too. Usually, they killed out of desperation, to protect or avenge themselves or someone else. Sometimes, it is a mercy killing, to help someone escape the endless suffering. Unfortunately, they are not protected by society-sanctioned orders, like soldiers, or by the honorable mystery aspect that surrounds vigilantes. Unlike all the other killers, one-time killers feel guilty for taking a life, and all of us, in real life and in fiction, blame them too. We are afraid of them. We shun them. We say: “They killed once. They can kill again.” But can they really? Why do we forgive a soldier for taking thousands of lives, but can’t forgive our neighbor for killing his daughter’s rapist?

I think of all the killers, in fiction and life, the last variety deserve the most respect and understanding. They deserve our deepest compassion. They’re, more often than not, true heroes, and they definitely deserve our forgiveness. And they deserve a different treatment by the law than the harsh one dished out to them.

Do you agree?

This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Killers and what we think of them

  1. That last one poses interesting questions. There is no clear-cut answer.
    It is hard to root for a gun-for hire, because they are still killing someone, but I’ll admit I’ve read a few stories and seen countless movies more that have mercenaries and hit men in them.

  2. My soft spot will always be for soldiers. My father was a WWII vet, my father-in-law a Vietnam Vet, my cousin who just passed was in the Army, and I live in a military town. Those people give it their all.

  3. I could certainly sympathize with a parent who kills someone who raped their child and perhaps they should get a different sentence than a gun-for-hire. But saying it’s okay to kill because you have a really good reason is a dangerous path to go down for a society. But it is okay to kill someone who invades your home! Head-spinning…

  4. You’re probably definitely on a list now thanks to that search, though!

  5. patgarcia says:

    Hi,
    I’m going to have to pass on this one because I was a soldier. As a soldier, i knew I was out there to defend my country and the ideals that my country stands for. Even today, though I am out of the Army, I stand tall knowing that putting my life on the line meant others could sleep well. I wouldn’t exchange that experience for nothing in the world.
    Wishing you all the best and have a happy November.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  6. helenmatheyhornbooks says:

    Wow, I’m glad you brought this up as I had not thought on this before and it does raise a lot of questions and judging the few responses already in there is not easy quick answer. Thanks for material to think about.

  7. Loni Townsend says:

    As far as deserving the most respect and understanding, I can’t answer with a blanket statement. It’s something that should be weighed individually, and it’s not my place to pass judgement or decide based on profiling. I can’t tell the person’s character just through generalizations. At least that’s where I stand.

  8. cleemckenzie says:

    I can’t imagine having to live with myself if I accidentally killed anyone. I accidentally killed a dog once, and I still have nightmares about that. I love animals, and even hurting one makes me sick.

  9. Widdershins says:

    In recent memory … a video of someone turning off a light switch for my last blog post. 😀

  10. emaginette says:

    I don’t know about soldiers. If I was on the other side, I wouldn’t like it one but. It takes two to fight and both sides (wrong or right) shoot at each other and everyone else that’s in the way. :-/

    It’s no wonder they suffer with PTSD.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  11. Regine Karpel says:

    Wow.

  12. Seems like a lot of writers are worried they’re on some watch list because of what they research. Glad no one showed up at your door! 🙂

  13. Denise Covey says:

    Hi Olga! Sad that there are so many types of killers. And you probably have missed a few.
    Sad.

  14. Natalie Aguirre says:

    Yes, I ‘d worry about being contacted by the police if I researched a bomb. Glad you weren’t.

  15. Diane Burton says:

    Interesting list of villains. I don’t think of a person who accidentally kills someone a villain. Yet, in the mind of the deceased family, the killer is a villain. I can understand the revenge scenario in that case. Yet, what does revenge do to that person? Do they become the villain? Things to think about. I sure hope ATF (or the Canadian equivalent) doesn’t come a-knocking. 🙂

  16. yvettecarol says:

    I agree, Olga. Accidental killers deserve completely different treatment. They’re not in the same category as the others.

  17. Juneta says:

    I’ve always been afraid to research homemade bomb afraid I’d wind up on a list or have someone come knocking at my door. Happy Belated IWSG!

  18. ChrysFey says:

    You’re definitely on some watch list for Googling homemade bomb. LOL Kidding…or not. 😛

  19. Lidy says:

    Never thought of it before but you bring up some good points. I think the reason that assassins vigilantes and such are well regarded in fiction because it’s fiction. It would be the reverse when it’s reality.

  20. Donna Hole says:

    I find killers fascinating to write about; you can create such an emotional response in readers in how you portray them. Its difficult to garner empathy for a strait out killer. Like you say, killers and victims alike have families, friends, some sort of normalcy that the average person can relate to. I think the motivations for vigilante killing and that single, one time crime of passion come from the same moral/emotional place. Both are trying to right the wrongs of the world; the single time killer just has a much smaller focus for their world. While I enjoy writing the perspectives of killers, I can’t ever imagine committing the deed myself. I am grateful that I’ve never had a life experience that would make me contemplate murdering someone.

    Still, I’m on the side of capital punishment – just not for the single act.

  21. rolandclarke says:

    You raise some soul-searching and valid questions with that list, Olga. As a crime writer, I’ve touched on a number of those. I had ex-soldiers in my debut novel which entailed interesting research, especially as they were not from a familiar service. I’ve moved onto mercenaries from some bloody conflicts – as well as vigilantes for my WIP. And there are murderers down the road. Often, their motives are complex and diverse.

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