Writing, serial killers and the right brain

Posted on May 22, 2010

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This evening I was supposed to be joining friends from the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild to watch the BBC serialisation of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – our little tribute to Towel Day and Douglas Adams. However I am coming down with a head cold and not fit for public exposure. So I shall content myself by posting a blog entry before settling down to dinner and a Saturday evening television.

I have been developing a story about a serial killer. This was in response to a rather dark sounding anthology, Snuff Syndicate. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to try and extend myself by getting inside the head of a serial killer, attempting to create something that has a real and authoritative voice.

Research was the first point. So I have been reading about serial killers. It is so incredibly upsetting to read what some people are prepared to do to others. Even in an otherwise rather unemotional account, I still felt sickened by the description of an investigator on hands and knees in the crawl space beneath a house, crawling through the mouldering remains of a particular killer’s victims.

I then decided to work backwards, reading about profiling to see how profilers create a profile of a serial killer. That was intellectually quite stimulating but still quite upsetting to see the depravity that exists out there. However, it did give me some real insights into things like the disparity that can exist between the individual’s outward appearance and what is going on inside of their heads.

I envy those writers who able to sit at a keyboard and just start writing, letting the story tell itself. That simply does not work for me. Instead I am one of those who has to plan a lot, even for a short story. Having made pages of notes during my reading phases, I started mapping out the story idea. I decided to use the free yWriter program from Simon Haynes to help organise my thoughts into a more coherent framework. It is surprising to see how such a left-brain activity can stimulate the right brain into some serious creativity, drawing things out. And yWriter is a great little product, worth checking out.

The end result of this activity was a story mapped out pretty much from beginning to end, locations and characters. Of course the really hard thing to do is now write the actual story, but with all of that background now nice and clear inside my head, I can concentrate on letting the spontenaity take over during the actual writing process itself.

There are few guarantees in this life, apart from death, taxes, toast always landing butter-side down and the Sock Muncher stealing stray socks from the washing machine, so I cannot guarantee a story that will be accepted by the anthology editors. But if nothing else, this has been an excellent exercise in extending myself into something that I would not have otherwise tried to tackle. Although I have been left with a yurchy feeling that makes me want to repeatedly wash my hands, developmentally this has so far been an very positive exercise. And all we emerging/wannabee writers need to keep constantly honing our craft, just as the apprentice cabinetmaker extends his through the life of his apprenticeship and beyond.

Here endeth the pontification.

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