Writing: People who kill


Obviously I’m not going to try and cover all the reasons a human being might kill another, just touch on two broad categories, and a general disclaimer when talking about anything to do with psyhology is that humans are very complicated. You’re a combinations of genes, environment, culture, experiences and about a million other small influences throughout your life, so you will find lots of exceptions to every rule. (This is tangentially related to some of my characters, so…)

You’ve probably heard about studies after WW2 that found the majority of US soldiers would not shoot to kill. This comes from
Men Against Fire

by S.L.A. Marshall, who interviewed hundreds of soldiers after the war and said that 75% of them wouldn’t shoot to kill even if directly threatened. Some have critcized Marshall’s figures, claiming that he exaggerated or made it up, but there have been other studies done on this going back to the US Civil War when a number of combatants reported having ‘trigger finger paralysis’.

Killing simply doesn’t come naturally to most people, and of people who do there are essentially two major types. The are of course the people who are simply psychopaths, but military studies identified another type – they were people who were, usually, older siblings. People who grew up with a strong sense of responsibility and would kill to protect those close to them, because of love.

So two very different types – people with no empathy at all, and people who actually care a lot. Militaries typically want the later, so it’s those who tend to be
honored with medals and such – they’re not given out usually just for killing lots of enemies, but for actions that save the lives of comrades.

With children, the younger they are the less they think about the consequences of their actions, so if they have a weapon and feel threatened they’re far more likely to use it than adults. But for anyone, killing usually has psychological consequences and militaries haven’t figured out how to prevent that.

The same disclaimer above applies to PTSD as well – it’s not going to be same for absolutely everyone. Many people will show symptoms soon after, some may seem fine for a long time, possibly years, only for something suddenly to trigger them. A few people may never show it. It’s got nothing to do with how ‘strong’ a person is – people who seem to recover quickly likely already have good support structures in place to help them.

So how does this all tie into my writing? Well, Tenley isn’t psychopathic, but she does have PTSD. She’s irritable, she doesn’t sleep, she avoids confronting her feelings by focusing on the same task, she absolutely cannot express affection – these are a few symptoms. Other people might experience different symptoms – it’s easy enough to google a full list. Just bear in mind that most people won’t show all of them.

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