Murder or attempted murder is a fucking awesome plot element.
Attempted murder can place a character in jeopardy where the readers’ care about what happens, without necessarily taking the character out of the story. It’s a threat with implications, but not as final as death itself. It forces the character into a life-or-death situation that tests their mettle.
Murder can have interesting knock-on effects on a character’s relationships and their relationships with each other. If a character murders how do the character’s friends and family react? Who do they confide in – if anyone? Can you use this as a springboard to explore legal procedure and policing in your setting? What if nobody cared about who was murdered? What if it’s a frame up?
If you lose someone close to you how hard is it for the character to endure that? What’s the effect of the act on the murderer, the relatives of the victim, the witnesses? Why did the murder happen? Can murder ever be legitimate? Can someone ever deserve it? Who decides that? Do the forces of law and order turn a blind eye?
How does the event change the people involved? Is the murderer remorseful? Does the victim become transformed by their death into a secular saint despite their character flaws? Is there an afterlife in the world of your book? Is the ghost vengeful? Can it do anything more than simply observe?
There’s not a great deal of media in which death doesn’t occur. A body presents an intriguing puzzle for a detective. A hero in an action franchise litters the ground behind him with corpses. Science Fiction and Fantasy often include wars, battles, fights because they’re exciting and get the blood pumping. Who hasn’t imagined having gun triggers on the steering wheel of their car?
There’s more, but I think that amply shows that it needn’t be lazy writing and as story material it goes right the way back to the oldest human myths. It’s a story-making tool that should be available to you as a storyteller, great or small. Whole genres of popular TV show and book hang upon murder. What about Cluedo as a game as well? What about Risk?
So, part two.
Does the existence of murder stories, even as a cheap jab to get someone’s emotions involved, somehow trivialise or normalise killing?
Hopefully by this point most of you are nodding along and going ‘I see what you did there…’ and let’s hope to fuck you actually do. If you reacted that badly to the previous article without thinking, just because it had a hot-button word for you then you’re really no different to someone who calls GTA a ”Murder simulator’.
This is a follow up article to THIS.