In my last post we discussed the mechanics of writing true crime. They’re tried and true and for those wanting to write in this genre, it’s a road map to creating something worth selling. It’s a systematic way of doing things that will lead you on a road to success; provided, of course, that you know what you’re doing in the first place. But these are the mechanics of writing true crime. What follows are the unavoidable results of writing true crime.
The Psychological Toll of Writing:
Although true crime writers rarely ever mention it, there is a bit of a toll that comes along with writing true crime. I’m not talking about anything overwhelming, but levels of “toll”, if you will, where you can experience a general sadness and sense of regret as you write about the victims of crime, to waking up in a cold sweat and pounding heart (this actually happened to me), and you quickly realize you’re thinking about an especially nightmarish murder you’re working on.
This particular murder that I was writing about, and constructing again in a literary sense, was by far the most terrible murder I’ve encountered in all of my years of writing true crime. It was an extremely bloody murder. And while I’ve written about bloody murders before, nothing can compare with the ghastly killing of the pretty young cheerleader, Sarah Hanson, as detailed in my book, The Death of a Cheerleader. What made this particular murder so horrific and set apart from the others, was the time it took for the victim to die.
Now, as a writer, it was my duty to tell it like it happened! That’s my job. And if I’m not going to do it, then I need to be writing about something else; something sanitized and emotionally unmoving. But that’s not what I do. If I decide to write about a case, then I tell the truth. Not only that, but I paint a picture of the events as they happen, and without the reader knowing it, I present the facts of the case so that it will very easy for them to see where the weak links are often hiding in the story, that may have allowed the murder to occur in the first place; or perhaps made it easier for it to unfold.
So how does it usually work out with a writer of true crime? How do they react to cases they’ve covered? Or how does it affect them (if at all) as the years roll by? Well, I can only speak for myself, so my answers may not apply to my fellow true crime writers; that would be for them to say. That said, here’s my overall experience as a writer of true crime:
At the head of the list is this: Once I write about a murder, I’m forever linked in a special way to the case. I continue to carry the details of the murders as if it was a movie I saw long ago, and because this movie made such an impression upon me, I’ll always remember it. As to the victims, it’s like I’m connected to them in a special way, as if we’d met somewhere in the past. As such, I continue to occasionally think about them. Thankfully, the more egregious and emotionally draining murders I’ve put to print will fade a bit and those extreme negative affects do melt away. That said, I do carry an overall sense of regret that they were killed. There is also a small degree of sadness that always accompanies such times, and I suspect this is the way it will be whenever my mind drifts back to those days.
They all are a part of me in the sense that not only do I feel like I “know” them, but that if they suddenly came back from the dead, I would, after they greet their families, want to meet them, give each of them a big long hug, while telling them how glad I am they’re back!
But of course, this is just a fantasy. There will be no reunions, at least not in this life.
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