Thursday, 11 July 2013

In Character - The Seven Deadly Motivations For Murder

When designing a mystery thriller, character motivation is paramount. Nobody's going to believe the butler did it, simply because the author says so. Opportunity to commit the crime is only half the story. Without a defining motive driving the killer's actions, the murder lacks reason. 

This rule holds true even when writing about a sociopath, or anyone with a different moral compass than most people. Even so-called "thrill killers" commit murder for a reason, though their motives often tend to be rooted in a deeper psychological need that isn't initially obvious to others. With their inner demons spurring on these disturbed individuals to commit the unthinkable, the investigation into their crimes takes on a whole new level of complexity. It becomes not only a search for clues, but also a quest to understand the reasoning behind a mindset that is often devoid of rationality.

In looking at the reasons for committing murder, a good place to begin is with the seven deadly sins.

LUST - A desire for physical intimacy, power, wealth, respect. This is probably one of the most widely used motives for literary killers. Many sociopaths have an underlying motive of lust driving them to commit murder, such as a need to feel empowered or fulfilled in some way by the act itself.

GLUTTONY - The selfishness involved in placing one's interests over the well-being of others is motive for not only murder, but revolution.

GREED - This sin of excess can cause one to commit atrocities in the heat of the moment, often going hand-in-hand with pride and envy.

SLOTH - A failure to act when one should perpetuates the cause of evil doers. This motivation tends to be more widely used in the character makeup of heroes, rather than villains.

WRATH - Feelings of uncontrollable anger or hatred, without an underlying cause. This can be the domain of the most unpredictable villains. Under the guidance of numerous ghosts directing his fury, the serial killer known as "Raithe," from my book Reading The Dead - The Sarah Milton Chronicles, fits in this category. What makes it so hard to track down these sorts of killers is that the passion they exhibit in their murders can often be misconstrued by investigators as a sign of a deeper, more personal motive, such as jealousy.

ENVY - An insatiable desire, leading a killer to strike out at what he covets the most. Often, this gets mixed in with lust in the formation of a fatal love triangle, or greed in the event of a killer desiring a valuable possession in the ownership of the victim.

PRIDE - Most serious of the deadly sins, and the source of all others. Committing murder as a means of covering up a potentially damaging scandal is just one killer's motive, of many.

These sins can spur a healthy brain to commit murder, when sufficiently motivated. In the case of the psychopath, they form the basis for a skewed sense of morality and self-justification for murder that would be unfathomable to anyone else. That's what makes an investigation into the motivations for their crimes so interesting. Figuring how differently their mind functions during the course of an investigation is like mapping out an alien landscape. 

Find out for yourself. Explore the world of Sarah Milton, LAPD homicide detective and criminal profiler, in the first of a paranormal detective series that blends a psychological crime thriller with the supernatural.