20 May 2016

Blogtour: Little Bones by Sam Blake - The Psychology of Murder

After a couple of posts looking at the current crop of fantasy, I am heading back over to crime today - because crime always pays, doesn't it? - and handing over to Sam Blake, author of Little Bones, for a look at...

The Psychology of Murder

There’s an ongoing debate about whether crime fiction is plot driven or character driven, but without great characters you have no plot. Robert McKee in his fabulous book STORY talks about plot being generated by the characters’ reactions to events. Story is about conflict. Conflict gives us energy, it gives the characters problems to solve, it hooks us in and is core to any book.

But conflict is more than literal, a character’s internal conflict, their personality, their psychology, their reactions, are key to keeping a reader turning the pages. The writer’s challenge is in creating three dimensional complex characters who will inhabit a world that is so real the reader feels that they are living the story.

One of the crucial aspects of creating three dimensional is to understand their motivation: what makes them tick? WHY do they act as they do, what do they want?

Crime fiction in the majority of cases revolves around murder – the ultimate crime, the taking of someone’s life. To ensure our fiction rings true, as writers, it is vital for us to understand the psychology of murder, what makes a murderer tick.

In a study undertaken in the USA, the neuropsychological features of 77 murder defendants and death row inmates were examined in relation to the criminal variables that underpinned their homicidal acts. Of these 49.4% had a developmental disorder in childhood, 87% had a brain injury (self reported and 10% had documented evidence), 85% had a history of substance abuse, 45% had a psychiatric history and 35% had a history of abuse in childhood.

From the neuropsychological assessment the mean IQ was 84, which is a standard deviation below the norm. Mean working memory was 87, which is a low average.

From these statistics alone we can conclude that it is very simplistic to say that someone who murders is mad. Even if they have committed multiple murders their ‘madness’ is complex, could be caused by a disease or social factors (such as child abuse or neglect) that have influenced them to act in this way. In creating complex characters, it’s vital to understand that the root cause of their behaviour will have an influence on everything they do, on the way they interact with other characters in the book, on their thoughts and mannerisms. Understanding their psychology is key to ensuring the story works.

In Little Bones the characters have many different psychological issues – from unwanted pregnancy to underlying mental illness, and I researched each in great detail. Much of that detail doesn’t reach the page, but as Hemingway says “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water”.

Every crime novel, and indeed every fictional murderer is that iceberg. It is only when we get under the water that we can find the solutions.
© Sam Blake

About Sam Blake:

Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the national writing resources website Writing.ie. She is Ireland's leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.

Follow Sam on Twitter @writersamblake or Vanessa @inkwellhq – be warned, they get tetchy with each other!

About Little Bones:

Little Bones is the first in the Cat Connolly Dublin based detective thriller trilogy.

Twenty-four-year-old Garda Cathy Connolly might be a fearless kick-boxing champion but when she
discovers a baby's bones concealed in the hem of a wedding dress, the case becomes personal.

For artist Zoe Grant, the bones are another mysterious twist in her mother's disappearance. Then her grandmother, head of the Grant Valentine department store empire is found dead, and a trail of secrets is uncovered that threatens to shake a dynasty.

In a story that moves from London's East End to the Las Vegas mafia, one thing is certain - for Cat, life will never be the same again.

You can buy the book herehere or here - and of course, directly at your local bookshop.

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