Back before, The Profiler, Criminal Minds, Jack Crawford in Silence of the Lambs, and Thomas Harris the writer of said, Silence of the Lambs, there was the original Mind Hunter.
His name is John E. Douglas and he and small unit of other FBI agents took it upon themselves to ‘study’ and interview countless violent offenders to see if there existed common denominators among them. And indeed they did discover that there were.
You may have heard of or read about the ‘triad’ that can be a predictor of future violent criminal behavior, namely bed wetting, cruelty to animals and arson. Well, Mr. Douglas and his team were the ones who discovered that.
Although pop culture, movies and current fiction all connect criminal ‘profiling’ to the field of psychology, in fact, it didn’t evolve out of psychology at all. It was the result of hundreds of hours of interviews and the codification of behaviors from actual criminals. And although understanding the psyche of the human mind would certainly assist a profiler, it is not a prerequisite. At least it wasn’t back in the day.
Since I have always loved mysteries and true crime and also write mysteries, John Douglas’s books were always of great interest to me. In fact, this last week I have been re-reading The Anatomy of Motive. Fascinating, really fascinating stuff.
In fact, he has an exceedingly simple formula in his book that leads him to the offender in cases. Why + How = Who. Any mystery writer out there reading might want to note that down. Simply put, you assess what is happening, then you have to ask yourself and others involved why it might be happening and the answers to those two questions will likely lead you to who is committing the crime.
In his own words, Douglas explains: In every case we come across, the first question we ask is why? Why is this happening? Why does somene want to do something to this particular person or this particular company? What does the threatener actually want? Does the motive appear to be financial gain? Love? Sex? Vengeance? Punishment? Recognition? Excitement? Guilt? Satisfaction? Hate? Attention? What is the threatener telling us with the threat to our or someone else’s well-being?
And while I write what is known in the mystery genre as cozies/amateur sleuth stories, I still see clearly how I can use Douglas’s experience and wisdom to enhance and improve my story.
This link will lead you to a list of the many books Douglas has written but they should also be available at the library as well.
Another cool tip
In an earlier post I talked about taking the plunge and actually doing an outline for my new book, which is how this post came up because I was doing research for it, which led me back to the book. Anyway….
In that previous post about outlining, I linked to the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Story Template. It’s also pretty darn cool and I found this nugget in there:
The key to plotting a mystery is to understand that a mystery story is really three stories: The story of how/why the antagonist committed his crime, the story of how/why the crime affected the harbinger and the story of how/why the detective solved the case. The easiest way to weave these together is to write them in this order and then splice them together in the format explained above.
So the first thing you need to do is to write a dark crime story starring the antagonist.
Now, this has probably been written somewhere sometime but I’ll be darned if I’ve ever seen it before. If I have, it definitely didn’t impinge. But it has now. If you write mysteries too then you might want to write it down yourself.
Anyway, I’m happy to report, that although the outline is going slowly, I do have all my main characters figured out and have decided on a manner of death for my victim. Writing mysteries is such fun.
And do watch the interview with Douglas above in the video – really interesting stuff.
Okay, good writing to you!