Writing Mystery and Suspense Fiction: Can You Ever Really Know a Person?

Writing Mystery and Suspense Fiction: Can You Ever Really Know a Person? suggests that we can’t ever really know a person and that accepting this as fact opens the door to some pretty wild and crazy characters and storylines.

As writers, particularly writers of crime, mystery and suspense fiction, it is often our job to create characters and situations that shock and surprise our readers because they didn’t see “it” (whatever “it” may be) coming. We create the twists and turns in our fiction, the unanticipated outcomes to entertain our readers.

It’s easy sometimes to feel that the particular scenarios we’re developing for our stories are perhaps too far fetched and too obviously the stuff of fiction, so much so that no one could possibly believe it, as if our imaginations are in overdrive.

In that vein, have you ever really considered how well you can know someone? Is what we see truly what we get? Are your gut feelings about someone always spot on? Does a wife know her husband through and through and vice versa? Would a parent know if their child tortured small animals behind the barn? Would your gut tell you that the guy living across the road who smiles and waves at you every morning when he gets his newspaper from the mailbox is a pedophile with gigabytes of kiddie porn on his computer?

Real life and real people harbour a lot of surprises. Here’s some examples:

  • He was funny, a big television star, a father figure to many, educated, likeable, and when a couple of women spoke up to say that he’d drugged and raped them, some people were skeptical, others outright defended him saying things like “I know him and he’d NEVER do that!” More and more women came forward with similar stories. The number so far is at something like 40 women now. Court documents are unsealed and he admits that yes he gave drugs to women to have sex with them.

    Who is he? Bill Cosby of course, and we may never know the truth about what happened because the statute of limitations has likely run out on the incidences.

  • This guy was funny, too. Always appearing to us as happy and energetic almost to the point of bouncing off the walls, this man entertained people of all ages through his work in television and movies. Nearly a year ago we were all shocked and saddened to learn that he’d taken his life.

    Who was he? You know—Robin Williams.

  • An elected president of his church’s council, a Cub Scout leader, a trusted and respected family man who just happened to work for a home security company. No one would have guessed that for nearly 20 years he bound, tortured and killed people around the Wichita area for kicks.

    Who was he? Dennis Rader a.k.a. the BTK Killer.

  • He was a member of the Nazi Party, and an industrialist during WWII. By all appearances he shared the common goals and beliefs held by Germans at the time including the annihilation of the Jews, but secretly he saved at least 1,200 of them from the gas chambers.

    Who was he? Oscar Schindler.

  • She went about her business in Amsterdam during WWII, keeping her head down and living as normally as was possible during the Nazi occupation of the city. But, when no one was looking, she was smuggling whatever food and supplies she could find and bringing them to the Frank family and the others they shared an attic with.

    Who was she? Miep Gies.

  • They were the stars of a reality TV program based on their family of 19+ children. They expressed their Christian values at every opportunity but they had a secret, a BIG secret involving an apparently overly curious son and young girls.

    Who were they? The Duggars.

  • He was a respected Colonel in the Canadian Forces, he once piloted a plane carrying Queen Elizabeth and in his spare time, he broke into houses, pawed through the underwear drawers of various girls and women, stealing and sometimes just trying on their bras and panties. Eventually he took things a bit further by breaking into a few houses and raping women and then he killed two women: Jessica Lloyd and Corporal Marie-France Comeau.

    Who was he? Russell Williams, a convicted murderer currently incarcerated in a maximum-security prison in Port-Cartier, Quebec.

I could go on and on with this guessing game. The news media regularly treats us to stories of women who’ve secretly given birth and murdered their newborns, of men with multiple wives who don’t know about each other, of people secretly paying off debts or donating money to worthy causes or individuals, etc.

The point I’m trying to make is: Can we ever really completely know another person?

I suggest to you that we can’t and accepting this as fact opens the door to some pretty wild and crazy characters and storylines.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Leave a comment.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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