Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.
She struggled for six years to get a publishing break. And finally she succeeded when ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ became wildly popular. Then, doubts began to creep up her mind – Will I be able to write a good book again?
She was a failure in writing. She was a single mother. She was devastated after her divorce from her husband Jorge Arantes, a Portuguese journalist. She wanted to commit suicide and had to take cognitive behavioural therapy sessions for nine months.
How did she come back from hell?
We have a serial killer who loves killing other serial killers like him. Another one is a forensic psychiatrist who likes to rip apart his victims and eat them. Then there is one who loves to ‘abide’ by Bible scriptures while killing. You will find a lot of interesting ones on TV and literature. They come in all sizes and shapes. And most of the popular ones are psychopaths with shocking idiosyncrasies, weird modi operandi and interesting monologues. It makes me ask a question – Why are serial killers so popular in literature and popular media?
From the number of movies, TVs and novels based on serial killers churned out year after year, one might be tempted to believe that serial killings are not very uncommon in this world. Doesn’t it seem likely that our eyes might meet a serial killer’s while boarding a train, shopping in a mall, crossing a busy street or traveling in a bus?
Well, it’s almost as likely as our coming across a dragon or an orc during a morning walk. In the United States, less than 1% of all homicides are committed by serial killers. That too when almost 68% of world’s serial killers are in the US (Radford University Serial Killer database stats).
So, why are there more books on serial killers than there are serial killers?
The easiest reason is that there is a set formula to the common serial killer based thriller. Most are themed on the cat-and-mouse chase between the protagonist and the villain in which the protagonist himself/herself becomes a potential victim. Many writers have used this formula again and again to create newer works at a prolific rate. Do they sell? Not most of them, because creating a compelling serial killer and an engrossing story around him is a tough job. Interesting villains usually have a memorable character profile. Their actions might look odd, but should be a natural progression from their traumatic childhood.
Serial killers are generally the product of a dysfunctional family where they don’t get any love and affection. According to studies by Radford University, serial killers have a history of physical ailments, sexual abuse, disabilities and head injuries. The triad of bed wetting, fire starting and animal torture also turn up very often in their background.
Gary Heidnik, a serial killer who was executed in 1999, had tortured, raped and murdered six women in in the ‘80s. When he was three years old, his father had hung him by his feet out of a 3rd story window for not cleaning his room properly. Not all cases involve a father being cruel. A mother can be equally responsible. Take for example Henry Lee Lucas, who was convicted for killing eleven people (he was suspected of being involved in many, many more killings). When Henry was three years old, he was forced to watch his mother have sex with strangers. As he grew up, he was made to go to school dressed like a girl. When he was ten years old, he was ‘taught’ to draw pleasure from torturing (and having sex with) animals by his mother’s lover. Danny Rolling known as the Gainesville Ripper and Robert Garrow were victims of severe injuries inflicted by their parents.
Another common trait in many serial killers is that they hear voices in their heads. Is that because as a suffering child, they prayed to an invisible entity or God for help? Who knows? But, such serial killers are usually the highly motivated ones. Harvey Carignan was personally instructed by God to kill women, so he killed about five of them. Carroll Edward Cole rid the world of thirteen ‘loose’ women.
In summary, there are umpteen circumstances which create a serial killer. Authors often have a license to imagine such circumstances and weave a story around them to create a novel. Written well, such novels can be a wonderful reading experience.
But, as I said – There are too many of them.