Do you ever think about it? I do in a hypothetical way related to writing fiction. Lately I’ve been playing with an idea to sort of push my own boundaries in writing. I wrote three scenes and sent to a critique partner. The first two scenes came back heavy with (great!) suggestions for revisions.
But the scene from the murderer’s POV? She added one word, and made a notation that I had nailed it.
Then she changed her email, phone number, got a restraining order and put her house up for sale.
In real life, I think I could kill under very specific circumstances. Obviously I could kill in a traffic accident, but that would be without intent. But let’s say I was going to my sister’s house, and found her running down the street, bleeding from obvious knife wounds, and there was a man chasing her with a knife screaming, “I’m going to kill you!”
Could I hit him with me car? In that scenario, I could see the basic, animalist drive to protect my sister kicking in. I’d either hit him with my car, or do something very stupid like getting out and physically getting between him and my sister. It’s not bravery, by the way, but a bone deep instinct. The same for protecting my kids.
But what if I was sitting on a jury in a death penalty trial? Could I vote for death? I’ve certainly thought I could many times while watching the news of a particularly heinous crime. Is voting for the death the same as pulling a trigger? As a juror, the idea isn’t to protect anyone with the vote of death, but to inflict punishment or justice. I think I could vote for death in some cases like child rape and murder. But in other cases, I suspect I’d have a harder time casting a vote for death.
What other scenarios could I kill in real life? Not many. Other than protecting myself or my loved ones, I just don’t see myself doing it.
But let’s go back to the scenario where I had to kill to save my sister’s life. My sister’s life is important enough to me to consider killing, right? That’s exactly how I get into a killer’s head to write fiction. What is important enough to my character to kill? Keep something secret? Revenge? Money? Or is compulsion that is based in his childhood? And if it is a compulsion, what is the trigger? These are the things that help me build a back story for my killer that (hopefully) makes him or her three dimensional and interesting. In real life, murders happen for unfathomable reasons, but in fiction we like to be able to figure out the killer, to understand and grasp what we can’t in real life. It’s even better if the killer seems real, with layers of good and bad and the grays in between. But what we seem to want in fiction is explanations and reasons. We want fiction to make more sense than real life does.
So see, my critique partner really doesn’t have anything to worry about. I’m not dangerous at all! I only kill in fiction!
What about you all? What scenarios do you think you could take another life?