1. RedJezka

    RedJezka New Member

    Apr 13, 2018
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    Character development: Becoming a killer

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by RedJezka, Apr 13, 2018.

    I'm looking for advice and input on how to write a believable psychological response to the act of killing.

    For context: I'm writing a post apocalyptic story where my character is trying to come to terms with the idea that she is becoming frighteningly good at killing. This particular scene is far from the first time she has killed, and she knows it will be far from the last. But before, it was always out of necessity or self defense. There have been times she killed people (but didn't feel quite so bad because they themselves were far from innocent) because she needed what they had. Afterwards, she felt unnatural, an inherent wrongness.

    This killing was not hard to go through with because it was vigilante justice against a really vicious murderer, but was the first time she has gone out of her way to kill when it was completely avoidable, cornered him, and looked him in the eyes without flinching. After inwardly congratulating herself on "sticking the landing" as it were, she has an existential moment where she notes with some mild, detached surprise that she feels totally okay, was even pleased just then. Then she is conflicted whether this is a welcome relief, a sign that it's going to be easier from now on, or whether she is disturbed at how simple it was.

    For further context, she does find it gets easier, at least for a while. For a time, she recovers from her initial trauma and copes pretty well, sometimes even with humor, to the point that the act of killing becomes almost trivial. But later, she finds herself in difficult postions where she must break eggs to accomplish her goals, sacrificing totally innocent people, doing things the old her couldn't have imagined doing, and finally finding it harder to write it off and move on. Eventually, she finds herself lying and manipulating those who are closest to her while acting as a double agent, eventually deteriorating into addiction and burning her bridges. This individual's death is not something she ever regrets, but its significance is that it represents the first step of a moral descent, and she is introspective and fully cognizant of this evolution throughout. Near the end of her journey, a former idealist not only has become despicable to herself, but becomes nihilistic because in hindsight still can't see that she had any better choice, and loses faith that the path of goodness is viable, or even exists.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2018
  2. IowaLez

    IowaLez New Member

    Apr 21, 2018
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    South Central Iowa
    My two cents... So, you've set the scene for your character, and told us about the end of her downward fall into her "new" state of being. To figure it out yourself, you have to go there yourself. Her situation is what it is, and if it's a cold, dark, lonely place, you still have to honestly examine and dissect it to put it into words for her, while showing your creation compassion in the process. You know your character better than anyone else, so what you write as her psychological process kinda has to come from you becoming her. Her inner dialogue is yours.

    My method/s of exploring any head-space is to go into it myself, and let go of my own morals and ideas of right vs wrong, and just go inward in my thoughts. I do a fly-on-the-wall, distanced, impersonal examination of that state of being. First thing is your own acceptance of the terms you're setting for your character's thoughts and actions and not judging them as you examine that place of being. They are what they are. You've explained all the reasons it's "wrong"; now let go of them. This is about your character, not you, and not what other people think about her actions. So you have to totally let yourself become her in your imagination. I usually sit quietly in my comfy chair, go into that space with my eyes closed, laser-focused, and what isn't okay in real life is discarded. What isn't okay to think about, is discarded. Because it's not about *me* thinking it is ok, I'm simply exploring that character's space to see if I can understand it, percieve how a person got there, how they could be that way, do those things, what was the attraction that precipitated them committing the act, even if it's warped and/or really ugly. I don't think about reasons and justifications, nor excuses; but I do it with compassion, although that might sound really wierd. You're conjuring a mental presence that isn't part of who *you* are, to get there.

    If your character just carved a pretty cool "smiley face" across that bad guy's neck with her hunting knife and she's standing over his dead carcass, noticing with pride or fascination how perfectly semetrical she made the upward curving, bloody, red "lips" on each side of the "smile", then you have to be one with her in that moment, on a very pure, personal level, even if it squicks you, shutingt off your own inner voice, so you can process her thoughts realistically.

    In general, when we learn about something awful someone did, in the news, from a friend, we have that instant, knee-jerk reaction of saying or thinking, "I just don't understand how *anyone* could do X, I can't even *imagine* how they could be attracted to that, or want to do that, and think it's okay." Well, you can't understand nor imagine, if you aren't willing to temporarily suspend what it is that keeps *you* from doing what that person did; you must realize that understanding isn't condoning, when you put yourself in their head-space. You're just a temporary observer, visiting it dispassionately. Whatever my characters do, I have to temporarily allow myself to think what they think, if I'm going to write their thoughts for them.
    Indigo Abbie and Simpson17866 like this.
  3. -oz

    -oz Active Member

    Jan 20, 2011
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    I like your outline. What you have described really is a pivotal moment in the story. Killing out of necessity/self defense can lead to guilt once the adrenaline wears off, but it's basically always justifiable in the mind. I have seen firsthand how killing people over and over again can make people numb to it, to the point they seek it out and imagine things to justify killing someone. That doesn't mean everyone will, but the people who look forward to and have no regrets about "killing bad guys" are scary to me. They lose a filter; they lose what it is to value life. Sure, they might use the excuse "if I don't kill them, they'll try to kill my family/friends/countrymen", but to me that's an excuse to justify the means, not a legitimate reason to kill someone. I've seen people in war get addicted to killing, and while they do (mostly) return to normal when they get back home, that life-valuing filter has still been damaged.

    This is just my perspective, of what I've seen and lived through. This is not to say that everyone who kills is going to have degraded morals; those who talk to friends/family/chaplains and express concern still revere life, but I'm guessing your character wouldn't really talk about what she does to anyone. Internalizing something like this without outside influence can be very damaging to the way one thinks. If your main character is okay with killing, justifies it to herself, embraces what she does, and eventually enjoys it, chances are she's going to go downhill from there.

    PM me if you want any more personal details.
  4. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

    Dec 14, 2017
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    Controversial opinion alert: There's nothing inherently immoral about killing people- it's all about context.

    Say you take your rifle and put a new orifice in some machete-wielding gang thug in the arse-end of Sierra Leone who has been hacking up farmers and their families for jollies; nobody's going to lose sleep over that; he's a full-on bad guy and you've probably saved a couple of dozen lives by doing it, so it's a net win. Same for pumping a few rounds into some screaming loony with an explodey waistcoat.

    Deliberately killing innocent people to achieve a goal, though? That's a different kettle of fish. What is the goal? If it isn't full-on 'ending a war/saving the world' stuff then is the goal worth it? Can it be, even? If you include killing innocent people in your plan, not as a regrettable risk to be mitigated but as part of the plan itself, then I'd argue you were never really the good guy. You were always just a bad guy looking for an excuse.

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