I’ve Cracked the Code and Slew the Cliche…

Posted: July 10, 2008 in creative writing, Me, novel
Tags: , , , , , ,

I wrote a while back about my plan to write the next great American novel. The plot was fairly straight forward, a serial killer who kills serial killers.  However, I never wrote more than five pages because I was disgusted by the Punisher-esque cliche origins of my main character.  In a streak of unimaginative glory I explained his character as a man whose wife and child died at the hands of a killer.  Uber-cliche, eh?  I know, I thought so too.  One Punisher is quite enough.

So as I sat in church- I know, an odd place for this inspiration, but in my defense service hadn’t started yet- I came up with an idea for my main characters origins that is both unique and powerful.  Instead of a cliche murder victim’s spouse and father, my main character has his family entirely intact.  No, he doesn’t kill out of revenge.  Instead, he kills because of a haunting past and memories that rack him with guilt so severe that at times he feels as if their weight might crush his conscience.  Why does he feel so guilty? 

The why has to do with his father.  His father was a doting and adoring parent, a boy scout troup leader, and a PTA member, heck maybe even a stay at home dad.  But behind all this he hid a double life as a killer.  One day his son witnesses his actions and is paralyzed in fear.  I am still working out whether his father never finds out that his sons knows, or alternatively, his father brings him along on his murderous activities.  Furthermore, I am facing another fork in the literary road choosing between whether to have him kill his own father (and as a result suffer from severe internal struggle), OR allow his father to live (which would explain his killings as a penance for the murders his father continues to commit and he can’t stop).  I am leaning toward the latter.

The one thing I am entirely sure of, is that he will somehow tie his actions in with a particular Bible verse.  I am not entirely sure how, but he will partially find his justification in Job 40:10-13

Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.

Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at every proud man and bring him low,

look at every proud man and humble him,
crush the wicked where they stand.

Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.

What do you think?  Still cliche?  An improvement?

  1. Teresa says:


    It’s a big improvement. There’s a guy in my writer’s group who wrote a science fiction novel about a serial killer who kills pedophiles. It was finished several years ago, but he hasn’t really pitched it yet. Hes got several nice twists as well.

    Not my bag of fun…but people DO seem enamored of serial killers.

    Honestly, it kind of drives me crazy that he hasn’t tried to get it published, because it’s really well-written and there are elements of the story I wish I could discuss with people outside of the group (which fell apart a while ago due to conflicting work schedules).

  2. Teresa says:


    Oh, and please don’t have the killer be a stay-at-home dad…they get enough grief and are seen as weird enough as it is. I know about a half-a-dozen stay-at-home or work-at-home dads, and they just really don’t need the bad press.

    Just my .02. 🙂

  3. Teresa says:

    One more thing.

    I think the killer should not kill his father, because it would explain him doing the killing, and chooseing pedophiles…sort of illustrating an extreme and twisted version of the relating to the father – being independant of the father struggle that all sons go through.

    Some invade other coutries and don’t get out while they can, and some kill criminals instead of innocent people.

    Have you thought about whether or not you are going to have him actually have the serial killer psychology (but resisting it?) before the crisis even that starts him killing people?

  4. Okay. I won’t do the stay at home dad thing. What do you think about the choice of whether he should kill his father or live knowing that his father is still killing and he can’t bring himself to stop him?

  5. I guess you posted at the same time as me Teresa. HA!

    “Have you thought about whether or not you are going to have him actually have the serial killer psychology (but resisting it?) before the crisis even that starts him killing people?”

    I’ve thought about it, but can’t say I’ve made up my mind. I want to make him multidimensional but not overly confused. While he has a sense of purpose in his killings, it is a purpose that is at times muddled, conflicted, and prone to excess.

    What will make it truly strange is that there remains open and even amicable contact between him and his father while both of them are engaged in their own separate illicit activities. This is of course known to the main character, but not to his father- who has no clue his son is on to his secret life.

    But that brings up another question. What did you think about the choice between him witnessing these murders or his father actually bringing him along or going so far as to bring him in on his illicit actions?

  6. BTW that brings up two more options, if his father actually brought him in on the killings when he was younger…

    (a) does he still go along with him- thereby strengthening the penance like effect of his own killings


    (b) he no longer goes with his father, but is haunted by the past killings.

    What say you?

  7. Teresa says:


    There’s a lot of interesting potential in the idea that his father is completely unaware of his son knowing anything about his activities.

    One of the things I’ve noticed as a people-watcher is that the most mudane guilt can drive a person to extremes of pennance if it is experienced in isolation.

    Ive noticed that in fiction the common path is to amp up the trigger experience to explain the severity of the response…

    …when I think it is usually more interesting (but difficult) to explore the futility of trying to deal with things in isolation. It is often the futility (and lack of sanity-checking) of their solutions that leads people astray in real life. (eg. trying the same things that don’t work over and over again, just doing them bigger).

    His keeping the secret from his father could be in part motivated by trying to keep the two images seperate in his mind – the perfect father image on one hand…but share in his father’s alter ego on the other.

    Classic literary father-son relationship…the battle between needing your father, and needing to be your own man…but complicated by the father being two very different people that the son can’t reconcile with each other.

    I’m thinking of the feeling invoked by Theodore Rothkes classic poem “My Pappa’s Waltz”…where he blends images of a tender poppa and an abusive drunk such that you can’t seperate them out…though you desperately want to.

  8. I have a one word response to that Teresa.


  9. blessed1 says:

    Hey come back — just posted and gave you an award. And what commment??

  10. Sounds good Tranny.

    What about killing people who are boring? Or who are so non-demanding that it becomes demanding trying to convince them it’s OK with you if they get a drink of tap water?

    Or killing mega-church pastors?

    Or killing ugly people on a quest to glorify God by creating a more beautiful human race?

    Or killing famous bloggers?

    Golly there are lots of people needs killin’.

  11. Well since time is limited character will simply stick with the whole killing serial killers shtick.

  12. RooBabs says:

    Hi, thanks for stopping by my site.

    You know, this concept reminds me a lot of the show Dexter on Showtime. Are you familiar with it? It’s about a guy who has serial killer tendencies, but his foster father was a cop, and as a child/teen, he helps him follow certain rules, i.e. only killing other killers.

    It’s really interesting, because you see him go through this internal struggle of trying to satisfy his killing urges, while still maintaining a “normal” front to the outside world. In fact, he actually works for the crime lab as a blood specialist. And he has a tortured past, but his memories are cloudy because he witnessed a horrible event as a very young child, and for a long time the memories are repressed.

    Anyway, I think your book idea is great (sounds like something I would definitnely enjoy reading), and your site is very informative. Good luck with your continued weight loss progress!!

  13. Sounds like I will have to rent that Dexter show. I wonder if it is out on DVD.

  14. Dexter is a pretty interesting series, we made it a Sunday night ritual. But if you can’t get the DVD, it is based on a book called “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” or something similar.

    It’s killer.

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