Many crime and mystery writers get fixated on coming up with different ways to kill someone. But I have always been more interested in the why, rather than the how, and have discovered in my numerous years that, as Agatha Christie wrote, it is Easy To Kill.
I believe there are five good reasons why we kill someone, whether it be fictionally or real, and most rationalizations or explanations, physically or psychologically, have to do with the “fix.”
Motive #5: Irritation. Edgar Allen Poe used irritation as a reason for killing in several of his stories. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the killer is irritated by the victim's glass eye. In "The Black Cat?" No, it wasn’t the cat, but the killer’s nagging wife. Walling the cat up was pure accident.
Many people can become irritated to the point of screaming, ranting, raving--killing isn’t that far of a leap.
Motive #4: Id vs. Ego. The edge of sanity vs. insanity is in all of us. Just a mere toe length over the edge of psychological balance can send anyone tumbling off. It’s why therapists charge rates equaling those of a lawyer. It is the coveted secret for many, I’m seeing someone. We’ve got mother issues, father issues, sibling rivalry, lack of attention, too much attention, feel depressed, worthless, overlooked, overwhelmed. Most of you reading this have probably dealt with one of these issues, although maybe not to the ultimate solution. Or if you don’t think you have one of these problems, just go to a therapist! Because at some point in your life, an emotional concern caused you to say, “I wish he/she/it was dead.” Remember, George in Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN may have psychologically and morally reasoned that killing Lennie would keep him safe. But, without Lennie, George has a chance for a more balanced life. He takes on the ID and gives the EGO to Slim.
Motive #3: Control. Serial Killers murder for power or revenge. And isn’t revenge just another way to re-script the past--making it how you would have wanted it? Sex-related crimes are all about control and power. But so is morality. Religion has caused mass killings, war. The rationalization must be the thought that if everyone worships the same way, then there will be no more fear of death. Although, ironically, most religion is a false dilemma of good vs. evil.
I have always feared evil. That’s why I like to write about it. It’s my control. I decide and most of the time, I win. But getting away from organized religion, television’s Dexter was psychologically convinced his victims were morally different than he. Same with Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY series.
Motive #2: Love. Yes, number two! Love is not the definitive reason to kill someone, however much it’s said: "I love him so much I could just kill him." "I love her to death." In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," she thinks since her father is dead, she is free to love. There was definitely a father-daughter issue here. Only, while her father controlled her love, she learned she was ineffective in keeping and controlling love herself.
Her solution? Rat Poison. It kept her lover in bed. Love can kill: Suspicion, mistrust, envy, jealousy, power, selfishness, manipulation, all in the name of love. It’s always been a good reason to knock someone off.
#1 Motive: Money. Show me the money! Follow the money! I don’t think I have much to say about this motive. It’s an apparent reason understood. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. Greed, gluttony, insatiability, self-indulgence, covetousness, materialism, need I go on? Putting this on a minuscule level, if you see someone’s newest iPhone, there is a little voice in the back of your head, no matter the age: I want one. The only thing that stops you from brutally taking it from the person who has it is the thin edge of sanity you hang on to.
I sat beside a Catholic nun in an airport waiting room once. Seeing she was reading a book involving a serial killer, I was astounded. Shouldn’t she be only reading gospels? Anyway, I asked her if she liked the book. She said she loved reading books about or with a serial killer because she understood how that element was God given to us as much as our desire for goodness. I completely understood what she meant. It is the psychological, religious, social human dilemma—that edge we all walk.
D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy. SUPPOSE, the second in the Lillian Dove series, has just been released. She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter that interviews and reviews authors go to http://www.djadamson.com. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.
Thanks for having me. Just thinking about the post gave me some great motive ideas. I hope it tickles other people's imaginations, too.
Great Post, D.J. Here are a few more:
Number six is psychosis. Killing because God told you to or little men from mars were hiding inside the victim or the CIA ordered it through the cigarettes you put in your ears as antennae.
Number seven is brain washing, most often expressed as religious extremism, the source of most terrorist murders. Another example of this is the Manson murders.
I so agree with you Diane - #1 is money. Individuals kills individuals for it. Governments murder civilians in the name of it. Great post!
Love having all these great criminal minds thinking of other numbers for me. Come on, you guys. Give me 10 Good Reasons Why.
What an interesting post. Definitely thought provoking for writers considering motivation for their next murder mystery. Thanks for posting. I wish I could attend one of your classes, Diann. If this is a sample, how lucky your students are to have you as a teacher.
Good post, Diann! I especially like what you say about being more interested in the 'why' of people killing. That's the really interesting part. -- Paul
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