Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Yin Side of Writing by Betsy Ashton

On March 17th, I wrote about the yang side of the yin-yang dichotomy. the hot female side of the equation. Today, I turn my schizophrenic brain to the yin side, the cold, calculating side of writing psychological mysteries. As I've said before, I listen to the voices in my head. I get inside the skin of my main characters. I get inside their brains.

Many writers counsel that you should write what you know. That won't work, because I have no firsthand knowledge about how to kill someone. Nor do I want to have it. David Baldacci counsels to write what you want to know. I like him. Good advice. I followed it.

Why the heck did I decide to write about a sociopathic serial killer?

I wanted to see if I could craft a story around a killer that's interesting, not likable, and who doesn't get caught. In first person. Singular. From a woman's point of view. About a female serial killer.

First, I had to craft a character who didn't fit the female serial killer stereotypes. She's not a black widow, killing her spouses for their money. She's not an angel of death, putting sufferers out of their misery. She doesn't fit any male stereotypes either. She's charming in her own way but not the way Ted Bundy was charming. She doesn't want to eat her victims. She thinks some people should not live. Period.

Okay, I have the character. I know what she looks like, where she grew up, what her profession other than killing is. I know where she lives, where she went to school, how smart she is. I now had to decide how she would kill.

I'm so tired of long-distance snipers who get off on pink mist. My character doesn't even own a gun. She's much more up front and personal. How about poisons? Exotic or common? I settled on common, things that you'd have in your house. How about sharp pointy weapons? Hmm, ice picks and K-Bar knives came to mind.

I started doing research on how poisons work in the body. Do you have any idea how much information there is out on the Internet about poisons. (NSA, you already know where to find me. Drop on by if you're in the neighborhood. I'll leave the laptop on.)

I developed a cadre of experts to advise me on how much rat poison can be mixed with cocaine without the user being any the wiser. I wanted to know how long snorting such a combination would take to make the user really sick or dead.

Is it scary to be in the head of a serial killer? Yes and no. It's not too bad because I know I can leave anytime I want. I think. Maybe I checked into Hotel California. The jury is still out.


Leah St. James said...

I do the same, Betsy! When I go for walks with my son at a local walking trail, we scope out places to dump bodies. And my husband bought me a book of poisons one year for Christmas. :-)

Margo Hoornstra said...

All I can think to say is Great Minds! Another, as they say, knowledge is power. Then again thinking up stories and characters like this is just plain fun.

Jannine Gallant said...

I love writing the scenes from my killer's POV. For me, getting in their heads is easy. Very cool about the research. So far my killers have been hot blooded and not patient enough for poison, but it does sound like fun!

Betsy Ashton said...

Leah, my husband also bought me a book about poisons. I think he wanted me to stop practicing thumb placement for manual strangulation.

Alicia Dean said...

I definitely want to read this book. Love the concept! I find killers fascinating. I can't help it, they intrigue me. More women kill by poisoning than men, so it makes sense for your character to use that method. Enjoyed the post!

Betsy Ashton said...

Alicia, poison is only one method my killer will use. She's also attracted to sharp pointy objects. Ice picks. K-Bar knives. I must admit, I'm having wonderful fun doing the research. Who knew you could mix beer and cocaine and kill someone? You can...

Diane Burton said...

You guys better hope nobody (like the police) checks your browser history. LOL Poison is definitely a woman's weapon. But, Betsy, your villain is ruthless. Sounds very intriguing.