FightWrite™: Female Serial Killers

In this article, author and trained fighter Carla Hoch answers a writer's question about how to handle writing a female serial killer in their work-in-progress.
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Dear FightWrite™,

My current WIP is a thriller with a female serial killer. What sort of signature do you think she might leave behind that would be different than a male serial killer?

—Lady Killer

Hoch_11:06

Dear Lady Killer,

Your moniker officially makes you my favorite person today. Well done.

This is a great question for several reasons, all of which I address in Chapter 9 of my Writer’s Digest book, Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes. First, women are absolutely serial killers. In fact, women are more likely to be serial killers than one-time murderers. So, why don’t we see more of them on the screen and page? Well, we are more familiar with male serial killers because there are simply more out there. Maybe. That “maybe” relates directly to your question, Lady Killer.

While there are always exceptions, statistically, there are stark differences between male and female serial killers. For one, women tend to kill people they know. And they tend to do so for a reason rather than out of compulsion. Female serial killers also tend to kill without inflicting overt physical trauma. Such methods are harder to detect or can be chalked up as accidental and are not as likely to raise immediate suspicion.

Female serial killers also tend to be attractive and use that to elude suspicion. Sad though it is, we just don’t think of pretty people doing ugly deeds. These murderesses also tend to work in caregiver roles which gives them an air of trustworthiness and kindness. Antisocial behavior isn’t common among them, and they seldom have a criminal history. In short, female serial killers look and act like the lady next door because they usually are.

Put all that together and you have a recipe for a killer that’s harder to catch. There are likely far more female serial killers out there than we know. The ones who are caught evade arrest for seven or eight years. Male serial killers? They are generally stopped within two.

So, to your question, Lady Killer, statically, your femme fatale will not put a stamp on her killing. It’s just not how the average female serial killer works. Their deeds are not done compulsively but rather with thought and with little evidence left behind. Female serial killers don’t generally want a game of cat and mouse with the police which is the whole point of leaving a signature on the crime scene.

But, as I said from the start, these characteristics are based on statistics. And in statistics, outliers happen. Also, your WIP might specifically center around the “calling card” your female serial killer leaves. So, let’s come up with one.

Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes

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The most important consideration with any fight or act of violence is why it is happening. The “why” behind the act determines the speed, intensity and style of fighting or, in this case, killing. So, ask yourself why that character is killing. Get to the root of the violent behavior. What is it a product of? I call it giving the character the “why treatment.” Ask why your character is doing something and keep asking why until you get to a place where there are no more questions to be asked.

Once you get to the source of her violence, find something peculiar related to it. Perhaps that can be what she leaves behind at every murder scene. Let’s say she leaves a cigar ring on the finger of all of her victims. That immediately gives your reader a taste of backstory. Not only does the reader now want to know who the murderer is, if they don’t already know, but they want to know what the heck a cigar ring has to do with it. Dum, dum, duuuuuum. Layers, folks. That’s what you want in your work. Layers.

I hope this helps you, Lady Killer. If not, comment below. And, writers, if you have a question for FightWrite™ please leave it in the comments. You could be the next featured writer. 

In the meantime, head over to my blog, fightwrite.net, and scan the index. What you are looking for just might be there. You can also find resources on my FightWrite™ YouTube channel. Among other things, I have video on how to move a dead body. Yes, really. And of course, check out my Writer’s Digest book, Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes, edited by Writer’s Digest own Editor in Chief, Amy Jones. Also, check out my course coming soon to Writer’s Digest University to find out what you should know before you write your fight scene.

And that’s it, fightwriters! Stay healthy and keep writing. Until the next round of FightWrite on the WD website, get blood on your pages!

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