FightWrite: Your Killers Need to Kill
Killers need to kill. It’s surprising how many writers ignore this very specific and important piece of the ones they claim are killers, heartless or not. Sometimes, there’s a difference between the character we describe in the text and the actions the character takes. An author can tell me over and over that a character is a deadly and dangerous person who strikes ruthlessly without mercy, but if they don’t behave that way in the actual story then I’m not going to buy it.
Show versus tell: the difference between who the author says the character is and the actions the character takes in the story. Especially if the actions counteract the description. Now, you do have characters who lie, characters who misrepresent themselves, characters who say one thing and do another, but these are not the characters we’re talking about. This is about ensuring that you, the author, know the character you are writing. Unless you’re hiding their habits, let us glimpse the worst they’re capable of.
Monster. I could tell Jackson I was a monster, but he wouldn’t believe me. He saw a strawberry blonde, five feet eleven inches. A waitress, a Pilates nut, not a murderer. The nasty scar across my slim waist that I’d earned when I was ten? He thought I’d gotten it from a mugging at twenty one. Just as a natural layer of womanly fat hid away years of physical conditioning, I hid myself behind long hair, perky makeup, and a closet full of costumes bought from Macy’s and Forever 21. To him, I was Grace Johnson. The woman who cuddled beside him in bed, the woman who hogged the sheets, who screamed during horror movie jump scares, the woman who forgot to change the toilet paper, who baked cookies every Saturday morning, the woman who sometimes wore the same underwear three days in a row. The woman he loved.
No, I thought as I studied his eyes. Even with a useless arm hanging at my side, elbow crushed; my nose smashed, blood coursing down from the open gash in my forehead, a bullet wound in my shoulder, Sixteen’s gun in my hand, the dining room table shattered, and his grandmother’s China scattered across the floor. He’d never believe Grace Johnson was a lie. Not until I showed him, possibly not even then. Not for many more years to come. Probably, I caught my mental shrug, if he lives.
“Grace,” Jackson said. “Please…” The phone clattered the floor, his blue eyes wide, color draining from his lips. “This isn’t you.”
Gaze locking his, I levered Sixteen’s pistol at her knee.
“Don’t,” she whispered. “Morrison will take you in, he’ll fix this.” Her voice cracked, almost a sob. For us, a destroyed limb was a death sentence. Once, we swore we’d die together. Now, she can mean it. “Thirteen, if you run then there’s no going back.”
My upper lip curled. “You don’t know me.” I had no idea which one I was talking to. “You never did.”
My finger squeezed the trigger.
Sixteen grunted, blood slipping down her lip. In the doorway, Jackson screamed.
Do it and mean it. Let it be part of their character development, regardless of if which way you intend to go. In the above example, there’s a dichotomy present between the character of Thirteen and her cover Grace Johnson. There’s some question, even for the character, about which of them they are. It sets up a beginning of growth for the character as she runs, but it also fails to answer what will be the central question in the story: who am I? Which way will I jump?
If Thirteen doesn’t kill Sixteen, if the scene answers the question at the beginning then why would you need to read the story?
Below the cut, we’ll talk about some ways to show their struggles.