What clever way will you use to knock off your next victim? You can’t make this stuff up.
April 17, 2013
It has to do with death.
It doesn’t make any difference whether you are writing – or reading – a mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, fantasy, or memoir – the common thread runs shallow, runs deep, and runs often.
Somebody almost always dies.
So if you are an author, how are you going to knock off your next victim?
Need help finding a new idea?
Here’s the way real life did it.
Take Francis Bacon, for example. He was a statesman, a philosopher, and has been given credit for creating the English essay. He even served as one of the leading revolutionaries in the scientific revolution. He was always experimenting.
Bacon was sitting around on a snowy afternoon, watching snowflakes drift to the earth, and came up with a captivating new idea. Why not use snow instead of salt to preserve meat? Freeze it and keep it frozen. He hurried to town, bought a chicken, killed it, and stood in the harsh winds of winter, stuffing the chicken with snow. It didn’t work. The experiment was an utter failure.
And Bacon? From standing around in the freezing temperatures, he developed a serious case of pneumonia and lay dying. He had one last chance, he thought. Bacon roasted the chicken and ate it, hoping that the hot meat would save his life. That experiment, too, was a failure.
Attila the Hun was as rough as they came. He was a warlord, a notorious villain, and a brilliant tactician who utilized fierce combat to conquer all of Asia and expand Mongolia to the edge of the Russian Empire. He was a health nut. He didn’t eat a lot. He didn’t drink a lot. He preferred to march and eat on an empty stomach.
But when he married a young girl in 453 AD, Attila went a little crazy. He ate way too much. He drank way too much. He succumbed to one of the seven deadly sins: gluttony. On his wedding night, his nose started bleeding, and he was too drunk to notice it or stop it. The feared Attila the Hun, the warrior that no army could defeat or kill, drowned in his own blood.
Grigori Rasputin was known as the Mad Monk. He was a peasant. He was a mystic healer. And the royal court of Russia loved him, primarily because of his talent for bringing a measure of relief to the Crown Prince, who happened to be a hemophiliac. Rasputin was the one man who stood between the royal family and those political enemies, waiting in the shadows, who wanted to revolt against them. Rasputin, they decided, must go.
The conspirators tried to poison him and used enough poison to kill a man three times his size. Rasputin wasn’t fazed. So they snuck up behind him and shot the Mad Monk in the head. He fell, but while one of the conspirators was checking his pulse, the mystic suddenly raised up, strangled his assassin to death, and fled. He was shot three more times, then severely bludgeoned, and finally threw him into the icy waters of a winter river. The shots, the beating, hadn’t conquered him. An autopsy found that the cause of death was drowning.
Christine Chubbuck was a television star. Well, at least she was a star if you happened to watch her Suncoast Digest on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida. At the news anchor’s desk one night, she calmly read eight minutes of national news before the tape reel malfunctioned while showing film of a shooting at a the Beef and Bottle restaurant. Technical glitches were part of the game. They happened far too often. Christine did not flinch or blink. She had the newscast under control.
She looked into the camera and said softly: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first: an attempted suicide.”
Christine removed a revolver from beneath her desk, placed it behind her left ear, and pulled the trigger. She tumbled forward as the technical director slowly faded to black. Was it a publicity stunt? Was it real? No one could ask Christine. She was quite dead.
Isadora Duncan has always been recognized as the mother of Modern Dance. America, her home country, was not too impressed with her free form style of dance, but she found stardom and great acclaim throughout Paris and France.
Hers was a death that no one could have ever imagined. She was strangled when her scarf was caught in the wheel of her car. As The New York Times reported: “The automobile was going at full speed when the scarf of strong silk began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street. She was dragged for several yards before the chauffeur halted, attracted by her cries in the street. Medical aid was summoned, but it was stated that she had been strangled and killed instantly.”
If you wrote them, readers would probably think they were a little too far-fetched and lodged somewhere on the far side of believability.
Truth can indeed be bizarre.
You can’t make this stuff up.