1. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    playing with an idea for a crime novel...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Shandeh, Jun 5, 2013.

    The MC is a profiler for the FBI. He's a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic [I'll struggle to write that realistically, with my only experience with mental illness being depression, though he is mostly managed by medication] and while it's undiagnosed and he doesn't know it, he also has multiple personality disorder, though he isn't aware of his other personality and it... mostly... stays beneath the surface. And when he's super-stressed he has a random twitch. You could say he's one rather ill individual - though, again, most of the time he's ok.

    A series of murders begins, and there we have our case. The murders are brutal and calculated, but seemingly random. All have one thing in common. The MO. They are all identical murders. [I haven't put much thought into this part yet!]

    While working the case, the main character's voices begin to torture him particularly badly. "That could be you, you know. You're a paranoid schizo, would you really put it past yourself?" is the main sentiment the voices are expressing.

    Murder after murder, and all the while, the MC is struggling with his own issues. His paranoia is still being managed by the medication, but the voices aren't. His daughter and his wife disappear, to be discovered later, murdered by the killer.

    And then comes the horrible realization that someone is taking control of his body. Enter paranoia. What are they doing with his body? What is he doing when he's not aware? Horror, and then the terrifying realization that he is the murderer. Then a brief struggle with himself over whether or not to turn himself in; he decides it's the best course of action in the end.

    I'm pretty sure this plotline has been done before, though...

    Question is, does this sound like something that it would be worth tackling? [with much research, of course]

    I think it would be fun to write...
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    yeah and keep coming back with excerpts - I want to know more!
     
  3. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Awesome - I definitely will!

    Now to figure out how to get the research done... psychiatrists would be good to talk to for help writing a convincing paranoid schizophrenic.

    I just realized it's logistically impossible for me to really write a convincing FBI, due to being on the wrong side of the planet to be able to talk to the right people, so perhaps it would be better to have him a consultant for the WA Police Homicide department [as then I may be able to talk to someone in the department and be able to write the police side of things realistically]. But that's character development, rather than plot development, so it's not for this thread :)

    I'm thinking the killer might be an annucleator [removes the eyes, probably spelled it wrong but will find out how to spell it RIGHT before I get writing]. Cause of death would be strangling - he's a physically powerful man and the other personality enjoys such methods. His actual signature, though... hmmmmm...
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can live on the moon as long as you have internet access to write this and you don't need to leave your room either - http://www.psychforums.com/schizophrenia/ I'm sure you can find cop forums like http://www.digital-detective.co.uk/cgi-bin/digitalboard/YaBB.pl as well.

    I'm so jealous of your story, I think it could be great. I'm taking a break from my book for a while and need to keep my hand in there with a good yarn but don't worry, I won't touch yours.

    I wish you all the best and if you need any help, feel free to PM me :)
     
  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try sticking in a few suspects, really evil despicable people and remember the Feds wouldn't have a schizo working for them so he needs to keep this secret, maybe he blackmails the doctor feeding him meds to keep schtum...
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wow that sounds really, really, really interesting. Seriously. For a start, it's unusual to have someone with a mental disorder as an MC, let alone the guy solving the case! And then to have the MC as the murderer, who's also the FBI - golly, I want to read this! Please write it?

    You'll have a few headaches that I can foresee - for example, wouldn't his colleagues notice? How would the MC make his alibi for example? One plot flaw - you say the main thing the voices are saying is: "You're a schizo, it could be you!" - but you say the MC is unaware that he's has schizophrenia - so how will you express this sentiment when the MC is unaware? (in fact, what do you mean, it could be you who got murdered, or it could be you who did this?)

    I think it'd be hard to write, but if done right, this could be a heck of a story. Definitely write it! You could have so many layers in this story.

    Would love to know how you get on! Keep us posted!
     
  7. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    That sounds brilliant. Like Erebh said, come back with excerpts later. I would be glad to review them.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A story concept means nothing. What matters is how you write it: the characterization, the flow, the imagery, all of it.

    There's absolutely no benefit in asking what other people think of the concept! They'll either say,"Sounds great," or, "it sounds like a ripoff of..."

    If the idea stirs you, write it. Then ask people what they think of the final story. After they tell you what they don't like about it, revise it, usually several times, until you're happy with it or until you throw up your hands and say the hell with it.

    Please read What is Plot Creation and Development?
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Now if you really want to make it realistic, you'll decide whether your killer is an organized or disorganized murderer. Organized means the killer doesn't hunt the area near where he/she lives, which makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track him/her down. A disorganized killer hunts the area around where he/she lives and isn't as particular about target. Furthermore, a good percentage (well over 70%) have some sort of sexual element involved. For a lot of serial killers there's sexual release when they murder, so there tends to be fetishistic actions and arrangements at the scene.

    Keep in mind, crime investigation is more about what is NOT there compared to what's there. That's all the advice I can give you on the matter without getting into trouble.
     
  10. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Thanks all :) he knows he's schizo, he's diagnosed [but his psychiatrist is discreet & as he manages it with medication most of the time it's hard for people who don't know about it to pick it]. He doesn't know he has MPD.

    He won't even come into it as a suspect [he's actually incredibly gentle, it's his other, Sam, who's the killer], and there's definitely no sexual element - it's 100% to do with his schizophrenia. He sees his victims as murder victims and enjoys the kill, true, but he chooses victims based on hallucinations; he believes they aren't human but are, in fact, demons pretending to be humans - and while he is a murderer he's doing God's work. He's very organized and his kills are planned, though there isn't really an "area" he concentrates on. He wanders, picks a victim seemingly at random, and follows them around before selecting a location to make the kill. There are psychopathic overtones to the kills themselves, though he isn't actually a psychopath.

    I mean the voices are saying, "you know, tons of paranoid schizos kill people. you sure you aren't the unsub? would you really put it past yourself?" - may not necessarily be true but auditory hallucinations can be seriously weird, according to that link erebh gave me.

    I'm having heaps of fun planning this and have strong outlines [and even beginnings!] for my first two chapters. I'm planning on alternating between serial killer and investigator from chapter to chapter - investigator will be written from first person, killer from third, because I really want a clear-cut difference. Anyone who reads this needs to know at a glance whose actions they're reading. I may even throw in a suspect whose name is also Sam, to throw off the reader a little and make them feel certain they know who the killer is. Sam is a fairly common name, so it's not such a crazy thought that two crazies might share it.

    I do foresee some headaches making this realistic, it definitely won't be easy to write well, but if I can pull it off...
     
  11. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    He's an FBI agent? Then he'll probably have a top-secret clearance from the FBI. These top-secret clearances (yes, they're real and that's really what they're called) are no joke. He wouldn't be able to get the job without one. In order to get the clearance he'd have to fill out form after form (it's as thick as a book) that basically details every last detail of his life. He'll have to admit to all debts, crimes, and even admit if he's ever taken any illegal drug at any time in his adult life. For particularly high profile positions he may have to answer questions about his sexuality.

    Needless to say, he wouldn't be able to hide his meds unless he's very clever and they're not documented. Furthermore, he'd have to be a world class actor that would put Alec Baldwin to shame (cause he's the single greatest actor of all time). This is because after he's filled out the pamphlet he'll have to do an interview with an American interrogater who specializes in catching people who lie. Not only will he need to fool the interrogator but also his parents, friends, extended family, teachers, and his spouse (if he has one), because before he even has the interview with the interrogator said person has already interviewed all those people.

    If you meet these guidelines though, he'd be a person who could literally fool anyone, and therefore extremely dangerous.
     
  12. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Not necessarily an agent, no. From my knowledge not all profilers are actually FBI agents. I believe they make use of consultants. He would be a consultant. I really feel like it would be incredibly unlikely for any person to be able to keep such a serious mental illness hidden from the Feebs. Their procedures are so intense. And intense interrogation would bring out his twitch, which he would then have to explain away, and that just isn't going to happen. It would be too unbelievable.

    He is very clever and his 'other' can come across as quite ordinary and helpless, but nobody is THAT good of an actor.
     
  13. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Here we go starting :D Please note I'm not asking for critique on this - it's but a small excerpt of what I've done so far and I want to get more written before I ask for critique.

    I'm only posting this because Erebh has asked to see some progress excerpts. Please no crit :)

    242 words, from beginning of first chapter.
    Selecting a victim was the easy part; then came the planning, which was altogether more difficult. It involved tracking the demon-woman’s movements and selecting a location, which was, of course, what Sam was doing then.

    They’ll know, after this one. They’ll stop us, three voices told him at once.

    “I know,” he spat, annoyed, “but this is the only way to kill demons. Nothing else works.”

    We don’t have to cut out the eyes.

    “We DO! The demons watch us through their cold dead eyes and–”

    Concentrate, Sam. If any of us is distracted, we’ll fail. The demons will kill us and the mission will be over.

    “Okay, okay, fine. I’m still getting rid of those eyes.” His arm itched. He began to scratch it, then stopped himself. The itching wasn’t real. It was never real. It was the demons, trying to take over. He wouldn’t let them. The angel had told him not to let them.

    It occurred to him that maybe none of this was real. He was schizophrenic, wasn’t he? It all could have been another of his breaks. But the angel was real. Had to be. And the angel had told him that he had to kill the demons. It was God’s will. So the demons were real, too.

    He parked his car and got out, following the demon on foot. Shadowing her was easier this way – more subtle. She wouldn’t know. She wouldn’t suspect a thing.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, your story fails on the first premise. There is no way in hell that anyone with multiple personality disorder and onset of paranoid schiz would not be picked up by his profiler colleagues and general law enforcement personnel. They have a very well developed nose for wacky, and psychosis is not like depression, it takes over completely, you lose touch with reality, you can't hide the oddness, and you get suspended pending psych eval.

    I suggest you change your basic premise. Scrap multiple personality as a diagnosis altogether. Make him a lowly police officer, in his mid twenties, who passed psych eval before his illness started to manifest, and is doing the beat. He gets involved in investigation and as his psychosis develops, yadda yadda. Because he'll have poor insight, he might believe he has multiple personality, it's not uncommon for undiagnosed sufferers of schizophrenia to try to diagnose themselves, but disturbed perception lead them to wrong conclusions. In any case, if he is peripheral in the investigation, and not a talker, he might not get noticed for quite some time. Otherwise, interesting story!
     
  15. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    The thing is, though, the main premise of the twist at the end is he can't know, at all, that he's the killer. Of course his colleagues would know he's schiz, but is it so impossible to think they might overlook that? Since he's not actually technically an FBI agent, just a consultant [and a very good one at that]? He actively seeks to control his illness. While there's not a cure, control is certainly possible. And not all schizophrenics are violent.

    And, is it so impossible he may end up believing he's the killer, when he's actually not? There would still be the internal struggle over whether or not to turn himself in. MPD isn't a necessary part of the plotline, the "realization" that he's the killer is. It's something I'm still playing with, changing, developing.

    The other thought I had was to make him a psychopath, though how to explain the hallucinations...? AND then the big issue, if he's a psychopath, he's very aware, highly intelligent, and actively hiding his illness. Making him fully aware of his actions. Hmmm.

    It's very tempting to have the realization that he's the killer be a belief he forms due to his mental illness, and not actually the truth. I want to write more than just one book with him as the MC because he's so much fun to write and that would explain a lack of prison sentence, but is that too much? The realization he's the killer will be one heck of a revelation. Is it too much then to add another twist at the end? "It was incredibly satisfying, he thought, knowing that someone else had taken the fall. It crossed his mind briefly that the cops would know by tomorrow that they had the wrong man, but that didn't matter. All that mattered just then was the adrenaline coursing through his veins as he watched his next victim approach."

    There seem to be more psychopathic overtones than schizophrenic ones, to this murderer, now I come to think of it...
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can imagine that it is fun to write, but you are basing your characterisation on completely misinformed, unrealistic impression of real issues. Less than 12% of schizophrenics ever turn violent (this includes just lashing out as well, real despicable acts of violence are extremely rare) however, they wouldn't be able to do police work without someone noticing. I understand this is inconvenient for your plot, but this is just how it is. Obviously, the symptoms you have described him having (voices, different personalities, paranoia) exclude the possibility that he is well controlled on medication. He is obviously not well, or controlled. Believe it or not, that's not hard to miss.

    However, if you want to write fantasy/sci-fi etc. then by all means invent a mental illness based on these two conditions, and make him able to control it. But it has to be some form of fantasy or surrealism in order for the reader to suspend disbelief in this plot.

    MPD is extremely rare form of dissociation and depersonalisation in extreme borderline personality disorder, those are very sick people who are pretty much psychotic a lot of the time. This is much better understood now than 20 or 30 years ago when these plots were still common in crime fiction. But now they aren't because the general public is more educated. I would consider this kind of premise amateurish, just trying to use imagination about mental illness to build the plot and suspense.

    One realistic possibility is that he is an alcoholic, begins to hear voices (alcoholic hallucinosis) and tries to control it, but the paranoia, hallucinations and addiction are resulting in blackouts, memory loss when he is on a bender etc. For a while, he can function at work if he doesn't turn up smelling if alcohol. His paranoia makes him question whether he is a killer perhaps. I actually had such a patient once, a police inspector with past history of brief psychotic episode and family history of schizophrenia, he was an alcoholic who suddenly stopped drinking and became profoundly paranoid and psychotic within hours of that. He went to the station next day and was sent on leave and to see the psychiatrist by the end of the morning. When I first saw him, he presented perfectly normally, perhaps a bit suspicious, but ten minutes into our conversation it was quite obvious he was psychotic. So yeah, they'd notice.

    Please don't take me wrong, you can write whatever you want, I just wanted to point out that what you proposed doesn't work in my opinion :)
     
  17. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    All the above posters are telling the truth. Just to get a position with a police agency (whether dispatcher, CSI or officer) you have to supply your birth certificate, complete schools transcripts from high school and college. Then, you have to supply every single job you've ever worked, listing of family members and then need ten letters from references. That's just the start. And all these will be investigated by an detective.

    There's a lengthy psych test you have to take, and then a polygraph test. While 'lie detectors' are inadmissible in court, they are allowed when applying for a job. Then you need to be prepared to be accused of committing some crime (They'll say you 'reacted' to the test) to see how you handle pressure. And this is just for local public safety.

    Imagine what the FBI would do. So, the idea of a severely mentally ill agent being in the agency isn't realistic. And, yes, I've been through all the above and can tell you none of it is fun.
     
  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know Jazzabel's experienced in this field, so I'd listen to her if I were you, and Captain Kate's written a lot on her blogs about investigating crime etc - no idea about Kate's background but it seems she's also highly experienced. Hmm Shandeh, if I were you, I'd change the premise then, because if you finish writing an entire novel just to realise it's not believable enough for it to be published, that's a heck of a lot of work down the drains.

    Btw, separate issue - I read your excerpt on the thread. You keep saying Sam realising that he's the killer is the twist at the end - how can it possibly be a "twist" if you're already identifying the murderer as Sam in that excerpt? A twist, by definition, needs to be a surprise. I thought you said Sam's not aware of his illness - how can he actively hide something he doesn't know exists and why would he be on meds if he doesn't know he's ill?

    It sounds like there're quite a few issues, and I'm not even well-versed in the mental illness or criminal investigation dept.
     
  19. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    MC's name is actually Beau :) I was originally working on the premise that his 'other' was Sam, but I guess I have to accept that MPD is not a realistic concept in the premise of this story, so the killer will be some random psychopath instead. I've now said a few times that for reasons of realism, he wouldn't be an actual cop in any capacity, and his colleagues would know about his illness. It's not immediately obvious to people on the street any more than you can tell someone is a psychopath from just looking at them, but it wouldn't take his fellow profilers long to notice. I was originally going to have him carry a gun but have changed my mind on that as well [maybe it's that I'm an Australian and it's super-hard to get a carry permit here at all, but I doubt the government would let him carry, not with a diagnosis of schizophrenia].

    I still want Beau convincing himself that he's the killer. I was considering re-writing what I have of the second chapter [not much] and making him sane & unmedicated for now. He's supposed to still be within the age range for a first schizophrenic break... yes he's a father but his daughter's only very young. Is it impossible that the stress of the loss of not one but two people who mean the world to him would cause a break? Obviously not in an individual who isn't already susceptible but Beau is meant to be.
     
  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just realised you're from Aus :) I lived in Melbourne for 10 years, I love the place!

    Ok, I think your second premise (in your last comment) is getting there. Remember, you can always make your idea work, you just need to know how. What is more important to you, MPD, schiz, ambiguity, paranoia, his age, his position in the investigation, his lifestyle? Because if you want MPD/psychosis angle, you can make him a peripheral cop in the investigation who is just starting to suffer symptoms. If you want him to be higher up in some way (consultant etc) he can still be having a psychotic break as per below (MPD-like symptoma can occur in the context of psychosis) but he'd be picked up quickly. Struggling with drugs and or alcohol and going off the rails with psychosis, hallucinations, blackouts and MPD-like symptoms is a much better bet if you want it to feature throughout the narrative.

    Personally, I like your idea, you just need to get the mental health and police procedure sorted out. Otherwise it's yet another psychopath serial killer story that everyone is fed up of by now ;)

    ps. A good recent crime novel that features a character with MPD is 'Redbreast' by Jo Nesbo.
     
  21. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    OK so what I have now so far of the second chapter is that Beau is sane, perfectly normal, and an actual FBI agent. I'm in the process of introducing the case to him, though not so much to the reader as this has already been introduced somewhat in the first chapter, from the killer's point of view.

    As the story goes on the case will get more stressful, the killer will start hunting cops [was always part of the plan, a bit cliche and overdone but I can't think of any other way to really push my MC to his limits] and Beau will start feeling like he can't cope with the stress of the whole situation. The team as a whole is stressed but they can see the cracks beginning to form. Then de facto and daughter are killed, Beau is removed from the case as it has now gotten personal and he wasn't quite ok before it did so. And snaps. Convinces himself he's been removed because he's the killer and the team is onto him, etc etc. Is horrified at the idea that he could kill someone, struggles with himself over whether or not to turn himself in. He's terrified of the thought of going to prison [and I keep forgetting that some states still give the death penalty... death scares him too] and is thus extremely reluctant. That internal struggle is so important... Still undecided as to how to reveal that it's just him freaking out and he's not actually a killer. Because this is to be written from his POV "I did it" will be presented as a fact, but it might be challenging to re-introduce reality without being cliche.

    More a nervous breakdown than a schizophrenic/psychotic break, I guess, and considering I have plans for him to get back into the field in future novels [he's a ton of fun to write] I can't really have him lose his marbles. He wouldn't be allowed to continue working in the FBI if he did.

    Edit; when I go back to reading [I can never read while I'm working on something, or it takes on too much of the work I'm reading...] I might just check it out, thanks for the suggestion :)
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I really like it! Keep going with it and see where it leads. I love the fact he'll get back to work after whatever happens.

    Well, if he is the only POV, I assume he'll have to go through the process of waking up to reality. Whatever he has, he will have to break down and go away somewhere in some form of solitude to rebuild the pieces (psych ward safe room, his friend's house, detox, hike in the mountains, etc), either substances will be added, like meds, to help him get better, or removed if they were disturbing his neurochemistry (alcohol, drugs, poison - here's an interesting twist, the killer who is a psychopath is fixated on Beau. He is stalking him, but Beau doesn't know this because the killer is Special Ops-good at it. Psychopath is secretly drugging Beau, deliberately causing all these symptoms, as the murders pile up. Beau is becoming convinced he is the killer, internal struggle etc. But the reader has no idea of any of this until the end of the third act. You can even plant little tiny clues that someone's been at Beau's apartment (a missing item, papers where they shouldn't be, unable to find stuff sometimes, little things that will be tied in later). Once it clears up and wears off he'll be perfectly fine to carry on working.
     
  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You've essentially got 2 twists - the psychosis part would only be interesting if the reader also believed he's the killer, so twist 1 is "He's the killer!? No, surely not!? Really?" and then twist 2 is: "Crap the killer's still out there!"

    I really like Jazzabel's idea with the killer drugging Beau - it makes it more deliberate and sinister, and adds tension.

    Anyway, so you'd need to drop hints that make it likely Beau could really be the killer, but leave enough doubt that the reader isn't 100% regardless of what the MC says (the unreliable narrator). These clues should lead you to draw certain conclusions because they're out of context. In other words, the clues are convincing evidence to believe Beau is the killer, but only because they've been misinterpreted, but the reader and MC won't know it's a misinterpretation right now.

    And then when you reveal he's not the killer after all, you'd have to revisit each piece of "evidence" that pointed at his being the killer and present them in context.
     
  24. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Beau's a rather disorganized guy as it is - there are very few things he keeps track of in his house. That would mostly be his gun, wallet, and passport. So things go missing in his house regularly - but certainly as the story goes on the missing items could begin to take on more sinister connotations.

    I love the idea of the killer poisoning or drugging him too. It was always planned for the unsub to be fixated on Beau and his family - he and Emma aren't married and our killer is meant to believe he's killing for a good reason, so it's not unrealistic for him to fixate on someone living in sin. Especially when that someone is a cop [albeit a very specialized "cop"] and the killer believes all cops are demons.

    I've been talking to a friend of mine and she thought my explanation of the killer's psychosis was a bit unrealistic, so upon brainstorming ideas I began to speculate on what would happen if a psychopath had a history of hallucinogen use. If he was currently using, everyone would be a demon to him, but acid flashbacks might identify a random person as a "demon". If quick, the killer might believe the demon's glamour had broken... hence the rational, planned and organized nature of the murders.

    It won't be easy to write well, but if I can pull it off...
     
  25. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a tricky one but that's because you are juggling many different elements. It takes quite a few attempts to work everything out. My two cents on that idea about the psychopath killer who occasionally has strong acid flashbacks and he has some kind of religious delusion of killing unmarried couples because of 'sin'. I suppose it could work, he'd have to be pretty delusional though. Highly organised crimes usually denote non-psychotic, lucid killer.

    My first instinct in that scenario would be some kind of old connection, school maybe. Serious mental health issues tend to start emerging between the ages of 17 and 22, so the killer could have fixated on him then, for some reason.
     

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