Why We Kill

by Janis Patterson

It is not, as some of my friends have said, because I am an old grump who wants to do away with everyone who annoys me. Not all the time, at least.

That said, however, taking someone whom you dislike intensely, who has been egregiously rude/cruel/unmannerly/whatever, and offing them can be very relaxing and therapeutic. (Of course, I’m talking about killing only in pixels.) It’s cheaper than therapy, can be done multiple times if the first time is not satisfying enough and no one gets really hurt. And, if you’re lucky, you can make a little money.

But why do people want to read about people being killed? After all, killing is messy. It’s permanent. And it’s very very illegal. I think the reasons are as varied as the readers. And the writers. Sublimation. Wish fulfillment. Excitement. The thrill of the chase. All basic human emotions, but I think the main reason is that in a mystery novel we want the assurance that all will turn out right – the murderer will be caught and properly punished. Balance in the world is restored. Justice is served.

I believe every rational person has a deep sense of justice. A lot of times the murder is committed because in some possibly twisted way it fulfills the murderer’s sense of justice – as incomprehensible as it might be to anyone else.

When we write or read mysteries we are not only indulging in escapism, we are shoring up the foundations of justice. The crime is solved. Balance returns. Our inner world is stable once more, even if the real world is far less simple or predictable.

Which means that we as writers are fortunate. I mean, how many people can say that we not only entertain, but we contribute to the happiness and mental health of the world? And all by killing people…

18 thoughts on “Why We Kill

  1. You’ve captured some of the same thoughts I’ve had about why I write mysteries. But I’ve seen too many noir/thrillers where either the bad guy got away or the bad guy was offed in an almost heroic manner. Boo hiss! I love it when the bad guy gets caught due to underestimating the amateur sleuth.

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  2. Reblogged this on Mitzi Flyte and commented:
    And it’s not only in mysteries. I kill off some very loathsome people in my horror/dark fantasy stories. It is SO rewarding!

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  3. I agree with you and when you give it some thought it is great way for us to bolster our sense of right and wrong. To remember good needs to win and bad needs to lose for things to be balanced. It makes us know and do what is right. Even if it is like a slow boat to China to do it in real life it still is the way to do it and feel good about what we have done. But in fiction we can do it and quickly. Again Writing is so good for us so back to the WIP.

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  4. I think we like to read and write mysteries because real life doesn’t always end up with justice served — at least not the way we think things should play out, with the bad guy(s) caught and punished. With mystery novels, we know the bad guy always gets caught and doesn’t get away with it. We like seeing the good guys win! And as authors, never hurts to have a venue where we can thumb our noses at those who “done us wrong”!!

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  5. I agree. I wrote my first murder mystery to “off” a person who had done an injustice to my family and some close friends. I didn’t get enough satisfaction in killing her off once, I wrote a second book with her as the murder victim. Then I finally felt good. 😉 It is a great way to vanquish a need to do away with someone. I also agree with E. Ayers that people like to see a concrete black and white and the good guys win. Great post!

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  6. I’ve just had my first mystery published and was surprised at the enormous positive results from readers. I suppose people need to experience escapism in many different formats. I enjoyed the post.

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  7. Great post. I also love reading and writing mysteries. One of my favorite things is deciding who dies and how… 🙂 I think part of it is being slightly twisted. But, your reasons are very valid as well. It’s exciting and peaks our curiosity as to who will die, will the murderer be caught, will he/she be killed? Seeing order restored and good win over evil is a big draw!

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  8. I agree. In fiction, not only does the bad guy get what’s coming to him, the good guy emerges from the fight changed for the better because of it – maybe a little banged up, but knowing things about him/herself he/she didn’t know before. In fiction, as others have said, life makes sense.

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  9. Ah, yes. In books everything is black and white – good guys/bad guys. We like it when the bad guy gets it in the end. Real life is messy and too often the lines are blurred. Ever read one where the bad guy gets away with it? OMG! I hated that book. Everyone knew he was guilty but he walked away.

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  10. As you observe, Janis, mysteries create an ordered universe. Real life tends to be a lot different. I believe mysteries appeal to curiosity and intellect as well. Those of us who enjoy solving puzzles like mystery stories.

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