Writers and Serial Killers

Writers and Serial Killers have more in common than you think.

I binge watched (yes, I should have been writing – consider me scolded) the first season of Hannibal this week, something that I’d put off for a while. The Thomas Harris novels, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal were gripping and the movie persona of Dr. Hannibal Lecter was so perfect, that anyone other than Anthony Hopkins just wasn’t going to work.


Or, so I thought.

From NBC archives

From NBC archives

Mads Mikkelsen plays a younger Dr. Lecter in a timeline before Red Dragon. Hannibal is cruel, sadistic and gets off on watching the people around him crumble and self destruct. In addition to his cannibalistic predilections, Hannibal plays the other characters like a puppet master. FBI investigator Will Graham goes slowly insane and victim Abigail Hobbs is psychically driven off a cliff under the good doctor’s care.

Then it hit me. Isn’t that what we writers do with (to) our characters? We shake them up, like hunks of fleshy dice and toss them out to see what happens. Authors plot, manipulate and plan the demise of many a character and revel in the bloody aftermath.

Granted, romance and young adult authors may not leave a path of wanton destruction in their pages, but thriller, mystery and noir writers leave a blood trail. Not every author goes about their “wet work” the same way, just as serial killers have their own unique signature.

So, which serial killer best embodies your writing style?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recognizes three main categories of serial killer according to their planning, the Organized Killer, the Disorganized Killer and the Medical Killer.

The Medical Killer is the author who devises a neat, tidy little murder. The death may appear as a natural cause, by illness or disease. But, this author lets their characters loose as an Angel of Death, running amok in hospitals and nursing homes where victims are supposed to be safe. Poisonings, mercy killings and unexplained heart attacks rule here.

image by Mark via flickr creative commons

image by Mark via flickr creative commons

The Organized Killer is the author who is a firm plotter. Not one bread crumb dropped on the trail to trip up this character. This writer delicately weaves a storyline, where victims are stalked, watched and the exact moment of the kill is planned, planned and planned again. The Organized Killer Author doesn’t leave bodies behind. The characters (and their authors) often live two different lives, one respectable and professional, while another side of their personality is planning how to bury another body in the crawlspace of their grandmother’s house.

image from Lucas Cobb via flickr creative commons

image from Lucas Cobb via flickr creative commons

The Disorganized Killer is an author who embodies the “pantser” methodology in their work. The kill is as much a surprise to the reader add the author. Victims are random, and the characters won’t see it coming. This author builds ups character’s like-ability only to snuff them out if the whim strikes. The Disorganized Killer Author starts out with a general premise, but the trail of destruction is unpredictable and the number of kills depends on the author’s caffeine intake that morning. Do not get in the way of this author as you will find your likeness meeting a painful, violent death.

image by reman ackogon via flickr creative commons

image by reman ackogon via flickr creative commons

I tend to fall into the latter category. I let my characters run where they need to go and sometimes, their behavior isn’t the kind that plays well with others. The unpredictable nature of characters make them harder to catch, but more fun to write.

image via madamepsycosis via flickr creative commons

image via madamepsycosis via flickr creative commons

So, what kind of Writer Serial Killer are you?


  1. I knew it! I am both a plotter and a panster when it comes to writing. If we are taking strictly the act of killing itself, fictionally of course, I am one hundred percent organized. Nothing random, and constantly reviewing and outlining details for the perfect crime. Great post James.

    1. Welcome to the Blood Brotherhood (fictionally speaking, of course)!

  2. stephanie710 · · Reply

    Loved it!! If I started killing the people in my book, I would be in prison. You know, that nonfiction thing and all. However, while reading this, and before I read the last line, I was thinking *if* I did write a murder—it would absolutely be of the Disorganized Killer fashion. My criminal justice training could come in handy after all. 🙂 Fun post.

    1. Don’t let the snow influence your decision making. Remember the snow will melt and the bodies won’t be hidden anymore. Just saying…

  3. I loved this line: “but the trail of destruction is unpredictable and the number of kills depends on the author’s caffeine intake that morning” – just had my caffeine too.

    “So, what kind of Writer Serial Killer are you?”

    I think I’m a hybrid organized-disorganized writer serial killer. When writing my first murder mystery (that was just released this week), there were—SPOILER ALERT—two killers. One who was organized and methodical and the other disorganized, but until the end, the reader might think the killer is only one person, who we sort of meet in the first chapter.

    1. Lloyd, you can’t go wrong with a hybrid approach. You have all the base covered. I love the idea of two killer from your novel. Sounds like one to go on my to be read list.

  4. Somewhere between Disorganized and Organized killers. I structure my novels, then let them “play”. Have to reblog this one.

  5. Reblogged this on Crime Fiction Writer Sue Coletta and commented:
    Found another great post! What kind of killer– I mean, writer– are you?

  6. This is so timely for me. I just finished the series myself (books) by Thomas Harris. I so admire the man. Ricardo Ramirez, a real life serial killer, plays a part in a psycho thriller project I’m putting together now. I guess I’m a disorganized killer because I haven’t yet decided which of a few suspects the REAL killer is. I’ll surprise myself.

    1. The Thomas Harris books do lend a certain vibe to the characters, don’t they. Have fun with your writing project and letting the story unfold is half of the fun…

  7. Reblogged this on Gayle Mullen Pace ~ Author and commented:
    Me? And Hannibal Lecter? We have something in common? No way! I wouldn’t have thought that writers and serial killers could have anything in common, but James L’Etoile, author of Little River, over at murder, mystery & mayhem, thinks otherwise. His take on the connection between writers and serial killers is a great read. Sure made me stop and think. My family and friends need not worry, however. I only “off” characters in my books, NOT in real life.

    1. Thanks Gayle and I’ve had a few neighbors take extra care to lock and bolt their doors after they read my book.

      1. It’s wonderful to meet new people! We lived in Brazil for two years and learned to keep our doors and windows locked at all times, had hired security at night that also became security during the day AND we lived in a gated neighborhood, or ‘parque.’ We’ve been home for more than 10 years and those lessons haven’t been unlearned. I’ll have to give your book a read (behind double and triple locked doors, of course).

  8. […] I wouldn’t have thought that writers and serial killers could have anything in common, but James L’Etoile, author of Little River, over at murder, mystery & mayhem, suggests otherwise. His take on the […]

  9. Great post! I read it more than once and reblogged it. I confess I’ve “offed” some characters in my stories and my daughter says I enjoy it just a little too much.

    1. Thanks for the reblog, Gayle! Offing a character is definitely one of the perks of a mystery writer. I’ve had a similar response from family members, from “What’s wrong with you?”, to “Are we even looking at the same thing?” Makes life interesting…

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