Writing a gripping tale of murder, suspense and investigation can be an incredibly rewarding experience. As the author of several books about serial killers, I want to share my best tips.
Here’s how to write a book about a serial killer:
Write a book about a serial killer by creating a distinctive killer with unique motivations, dialogue, and tools. Include misdirection, clues, plot twists, and emotional pivot points. Balance reader prediction with an uncertainty of outcome. Build to a plausible, surprising, and satisfying finale.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write a book about a serial killer.
How To Write a Book About a Serial Killer (Mega Guide With My 13 Best Tips)
In this section, we’ll explore the nuances of crafting an unforgettable story with the right characters and plot twists.
If you’re eager for some tips on how to create the ultimate thriller, keep reading.
Here are 13 ways to write a book about a serial killer:
- Come up with a distinctive protagonist and antagonist.
- Create an intriguing plot with surprising turns and unexpected twists.
- Research the industry and successful serial killer novels for inspiration.
- Incorporate themes of morality, justice, revenge, and redemption.
- Establish compelling settings that bring your serial killer novel to life.
- Craft complex characters with unique motivations and conflicting desires.
- Foster a sense of tension that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.
- Describe intense moments of violence but remain tasteful.
- Balance evidence with uncertainty in the novel.
- Use foreshadowing to add a layer of tension and threat.
- Show how story events affect and change characters.
- Include an emotional plot for extra meaning.
- Plan out a creative but plausible ending.
Now let’s dive deeper into each tip to really explore how to implement these tips into your serial killer novel.
1) Come Up With a Distinctive Protagonist and Antagonist
Creating a distinctive protagonist and antagonist is essential for any serial killer novel.
A protagonist should be someone that the reader can root for and relate to, while an antagonist should be unpredictable and sinister. The perfect balancing act between these two characters will keep readers engaged throughout the story.
When it comes to finding the right protagonist, choose one who has qualities we can all relate to.
They don’t have to be perfect, but they should have a sense of justice and morality that readers can get behind.
This could be an investigative reporter or detective searching for clues, a former convict who has seen the horrors firsthand, or even an everyday person dealing with their own trauma as they go toe-to-toe with the killer.
For antagonists, it’s important to come up with a character that readers view as worthy of being challenged by the hero.
Think about their motivations, how their actions might affect those around them, and how they interact with other characters in the novel.
Examples of villains could include a manipulative cult leader with hidden agendas, an unstable sociopath driven by pure hatred, or an investigator consumed by revenge against another person.
By creating well-rounded serial killer villains, your story will become much more engaging and captivating from start to finish.
2) Create an Intriguing Plot With Surprising Turns and Unexpected Twists
Start by establishing an intriguing premise that establishes some of the key players, such as the protagonist and antagonist, locations, themes, and conflict.
This will form the basis of your story’s arc.
From there, you can begin weaving in intriguing plot points that add unexpected layers to your narrative. Think about introducing red herrings or surprise characters that alter the course of the story.
Utilize subplots to create suspense or introduce moral dilemmas that need resolving throughout the story.
The more unpredictable your plot can be while still being sensible, the better.
Moreover, don’t be afraid to give readers hints along the way through foreshadowing or misdirection. These subtle clues can deepen any reader’s understanding of certain events while also allowing them to make logical deductions within the confines of your narrative world.
This can add tension and raise stakes without resorting to violence or gore alone – though these elements are beneficial if used judiciously.
Finally, make sure you resolve any loose ends at the end of your novel for a satisfying finish.
3) Research the Industry and Read As Many Successful Serial Killer Novels As Possible for Inspiration
Research popular serial killer books to inspire your own story.
Not only will this give you a sense of what works and what doesn’t, but it will also provide you with creative motivation for character development, plot points, and ideas on how to structure your narrative.
It’s also beneficial to research aspects of the industry such as the market demands, publisher guidelines, and what makes certain stories stand out from others.
This insight can help shape your own novel, making it more appealing to readers.
Additionally, consider attending crime conventions or joining online forums so you can get connected with other writers who have similar interests.
Finally, take a close look at existing titles that have had success in the genre – observing their structure, plotting devices used and characters developed.
Examine their marketing strategies – which could prove helpful in promoting your own work at a later stage.
4) Incorporate Themes of Morality, Justice, Revenge, and Redemption Into Your Story
Incorporating moral, legal, and emotional themes into your serial killer novel can add depth and complexity to your story.
Start by exploring the concepts of justice and morality in relation to the events taking place in your narrative. Introduce characters whose actions reveal their beliefs on various aspects of justice, such as vigilante justice versus due process of law.
You can also explore themes of revenge – from how someone will seek it to how that affects their actions/decisions.
Make your protagonist’s feelings and motivations clear so readers understand why they must take certain steps in order to avenge a wrong.
What makes them different from other characters who are also seeking revenge?
Finally, consider incorporating elements of redemption into the plotline. Whether it is an antagonist or protagonist trying to atone for their past deeds or find solace in what they do, adding plots about repentance can increase reader engagement as well as provide meaningful closure.
5) Establish Compelling Settings That Bring Your Serial Killer Novel to Life
By thoughtfully crafting the locations and environments in which the story takes place, you can create a vivid and imaginative atmosphere for readers to explore.
One way of doing this is to make sure each setting has its own unique physical characteristics that give it distinction.
Consider adding specific details like furniture, fabrics, artwork, or colors so that each setting has its own identity. Additionally, consider how outdoor spaces – such as parks, forests, and beaches – can also be used to add depth to each environment.
It’s also important to take into account the emotional qualities of each setting.
Consider exploring themes such as violence, dread, or freedom in order to bring out certain feelings in the reader. Describing these qualities can also help establish an atmosphere of suspense and mystery that will draw readers further into the story and keep them engaged until the end.
I find it helpful to choose a few settings that characters return to throughout the story.
Each time the characters reenter the space, something changes – the characters, the setting, or both. In this way, the setting serves as a marker of character growth, plot arc, and story progression.
6) Craft Complex Characters With Unique Motivations and Conflicting Desires
Add depth to each character so that you can immerse readers in a believable and dynamic story world.
Here are a few ways to do this:
- Give Them a Mission – Start by providing each character with their own personal goals and ambitions – these should be distinct from the protagonist’s so they don’t end up overshadowing them.
- Season With Details – Consider adding details about each character’s past experiences, successes, and failures, as well as their ethical perspectives on the events of the novel.
- Conflicting Desires – You should also provide characters with opposing desires or goals which will cause them to clash at various points throughout the plotline. This adds interesting tension as well as demonstrates how diverse people interact together in real life.
One of my favorite kinds of complexity is internal conflict.
That’s when a character faces conflicting internal motivations and desires. For example, when a serial killer’s need (Dexter’s dark passenger) conflicts with his time and love for his wife and son.
We wrote a good article over here about 21 Ways To Write a Complex Villain [Ultimate Badass Guide].
7) Foster a Sense of Tension That Keeps Readers on the Edge of Their Seats
Creating a sense of tension in any book or story is essential for keeping your reader’s attention and ensuring they remain engaged right until the very end.
One way to foster a sense of tension from the outset is by introducing suspenseful elements at every twist and turn.
This can include unexpected plot twists and red herrings so that readers never quite know what’s going to happen next – no matter how much they think they do.
Another great tip is to introduce interesting yet complex characters who have dark secrets or are mysterious in nature.
This will add an element of unpredictability while also helping keep their focus firmly on the story as they try to figure out what exactly these characters may be hiding.
Finally, when it comes to creating suspense and intense emotions throughout your novel, it’s always important not to give away too much information all at once.
Tension works best when crucial details are withheld until absolutely necessary.
Give readers just enough clues that they’ll be able to connect them together as the plot progresses toward its climax.
In my novels, I like to:
- Include chapters from the serial killer’s point of view
- End some chapters with cliffhangers
- Use reversals (where success in a scene fluctuates)
8) Describe Intense Moments of Violence but Remain Tasteful
When writing a story, novel, or screenplay about a serial killer, it is important to describe intense moments of violence without being tasteless.
Of course, what “tasteful” means is different for different authors and different genres.
In a Stephen King book with a serial killer clown, you can expect more gore and violence. In a Danielle Steele novel about a serial killer (one probably exists somewhere), there is apt to be far less gory description.
The key here is to choose your level of gore and detail and stick with it throughout the story.
Unless a sudden change in tone is necessary for the plot or character arc, I’d steer clear of “jump scare” gore that serves no purpose in the story.
Doing so can be disturbing to readers and detract from the overall story.
Keeping this in mind when writing the story allows you to capture the intensity of these moments while maintaining a level of taste and respect for the audience.
9) Balance Evidence With Uncertainty in the Novel
In a suspenseful thriller about a serial killer, the best way to keep readers enthralled is by providing them with just enough evidence to predict what’s going to happen, but also leaving behind plenty of uncertainty.
Revealing partial information, such as pieces of a puzzle or hints and clues that point in different directions keeps readers guessing and wanting more.
Too much certainty can dull the thrill of anticipation, so it’s important to use clever misdirection and clever foreshadowing to keep readers hooked.
There should be multiple plausible scenarios as suspects could be innocent or guilty at any given moment.
The story should take unexpected twists and turns, which will create intrigue and uncertainty right up until the very end.
10) Use Foreshadowing To Add a Layer of Tension and Threat
By hinting at danger before it happens, the reader will be left on the edge of their seat waiting to see what the killer does next.
You can foreshadow through a number of techniques, including:
• Alluding to events that “echo” throughout the story
• Describing characters or scenes that evoke fear or menace
• Having characters make bold predictions – even if they’re wrong
• Establishing objectives and then showing progress towards them over time
• Hinting at future events (in dialogue, narration, or action)
• Introducing tropes from other works within horror or suspense genres
By using these techniques, authors can subtly build up anticipation for when their serial killer finally strikes.
11) Show How Story Events Affect and Change Characters
When writing serial killer stories, it is important to make sure that the events in the plot have an impact on the characters.
Showing how characters are changed by the events of a story can add depth and richness to a piece. This helps to establish a sense of realism for readers, as well as providing emotional growth for the story’s protagonists.
One thing I always ask myself as I write is, “What does this mean to the character?”
If story events don’t impact the character, they probably don’t belong in this story. Save them for another story. Only include events that matter and show how they matter.
12) Include an Emotional Plot for Extra Meaning
Beneath the physical plot of the story, include an emotional throughline that compliments or contrasts the external plot.
Adding emotional plot points provides an extra layer of meaning to a story and increases engagement with readers.
It also helps bring out the humanity in characters, allowing them to be more relatable and take part in realistic conflicts. Emotional plot points should be used carefully though.
They need to fit with the flow of the narrative without overpowering it entirely or taking away from other important elements of storytelling.
13) Plan Out a Creative but Plausible Ending
A good ending for a serial killer book should be creative, allowing readers to be surprised by an unexpected outcome.
It should also be realistic and plausible, making sure all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together in a way that makes sense.
One way to end a serial killer book could be with an unexpected twist in which the perpetrator of the crimes is actually someone different than who the reader was led to believe was committing them.
This could involve elements such as misdirection or even a convenient misunderstanding on behalf of law enforcement officials.
In this scenario, it might also be beneficial to have some form of personal redemption or growth shown on behalf of either the murderer or investigator.
In another potential ending for a serial killer book, perhaps all evidence seems to point towards one particular suspect only for them to turn out not actually being responsible for any of the crimes.
This would leave plenty more questions left up in the air rather than neatly wrapped-up answers for everything that occurred throughout the story.
Moreover, this would likely leave readers feeling intrigued and prepared for more from your series.
Here is a good video about how to write a book about a serial killer:
Serial Killer Novel Ideas
Coming up with ideas for your serial killer novel can be difficult.
You must bring fresh angles to your setting, plot, complications, twists, and endings. This is no small feat, so let’s look at some examples you can use verbatim or as inspiration.
Here are ideas for your serial killer crime thriller:
- Setting: An abandoned warehouse located in an urban city center
- Plot: A series of grisly murders are taking place and the police are having trouble identifying the suspect.
- Complication: The killer is targeting specific people connected to a certain group or organization.
- Twist: It turns out that the killer is actually multiple people working as an organized syndicate
- Ending: Through careful coordination, the police manage to catch every member of the syndicate in an epic finale
- Setting: An old-fashioned mansion deep in the woods
- Plot: A serial killer has been recently released from prison and returns home to continue with his killing spree
- Complication: The police have limited resources for understanding what makes this particular murderer tick
- Twist: One of the main characters discovers that they have a personal connection to the killer
- Ending: The main characters come together to create a clever plan which leads to catching the killer
- Setting: The dark side of a large metropolitan city
- Plot: An unknown serial killer leaves behind cryptic clues pointing toward their next target
- Complication: The police find themselves at a dead end in their investigation, until one detective pieces together complex patterns in the clues left behind by the suspect
- Twist: The detective discovers that someone close to them is involved with assisting the murderer or is even their accomplice
- Ending: After a dramatic twist involving all of the main characters, justice is finally served when investigators apprehend all suspects responsible for these heinous crimes
- Setting: A small tourist town in Europe during winter time
- Plot: A series of random murders take place, putting everyone on edge as panic ensues among townsfolk
- Complication: Someone close to one of the main characters is linked to being either involved with or protecting the murderer
- Twist: It turns out that there was not one but multiple serial killers operating independently from each other without anyone knowing about it
- Ending: In order for justice to be served, the main characters must go undercover and connect all loose ends leading up to capturing all suspects
Serial Killer Character Ideas
Arguably, the most important element of your crime thriller is your character – especially, your serial killer.
Check out these serial killer character ideas:
- Make the serial killer a complex and mysterious figure, who is difficult to read or understand.
- Give the serial killer a dark and disturbing past that shapes their actions and motivations.
- Explore the idea of duality in the serial killer by having them display both good and evil tendencies.
- Create a distinct visual appearance for the serial killer (like an immediately recognizable silhouette or facial features that will evoke fear in all who encounter them).
- Have your serial killer be highly intelligent, as they are able to elude capture while still being able to commit heinous acts on a frequent basis.
- Craft a twisted psychological motive behind their actions.
- Give the serial killer supernatural powers or skills which aid them in staying one step ahead of their pursuers at all times.
- Make your serial killer specifically target certain victims which gives them an opportunity to exact their own revenge for past events in their lives.
- Have your serial killer devise intricate traps or schemes to lure in unsuspecting victims and test out how much danger they can put themselves in before capture or death occurs.
- Make sure your character has unique talents such as hand-to-hand combat, weapons handling, etc, so that any physical confrontation with them is intense and unpredictable.
- Showcase scenes where your character displays no remorse after fictionally ending someone or even enjoys it, as this helps add another dimension to their deranged psyche.
- Utilize dialogue effectively by giving the character an offbeat sense of humor that often juxtaposes with his/her horrendous actions.
- Provide cryptic messages from your serial killers throughout the narrative (either through notes left at crime scenes, interviews done before killing sprees, letters sent during investigations, etc).
- Introduce other dangerous characters into the story who serve as rivals for power and provide interesting twists to how your primary murderer reacts when challenged by his/her peers.
- Set up scenes where readers get brief glimpses into how the serial killers think, plan, and strategize.
- Create tension between different law enforcement agencies trying to solve various murder cases connected with this same criminal mastermind—they may succeed sometimes but ultimately fail due to lack of proper coordination among themselves (this detail is important!).
- Place enigmatic clues which act as puzzles throughout the novel leading towards a deeper unveiling of truths surrounding this particular murderer.
- Add elements of supernatural horror & suspense within scenes involving encounters between protagonists & antagonist(s).
- Showcase moments where our primary villain reflects upon past victories (or defeats) & plans bigger schemes than ever before.
- Have meta references scattered throughout the book about other iconic murderers found in popular culture, books, and movies.
How To Write a Female Serial Killer
Writing a female serial killer can be both challenging and rewarding.
To begin, you’ll need to start with an original character and motivations for their actions. Think about what made them become a killer in the first place – was it a life filled with suffering or something darker?
Next, determine the type of victims they would target and why.
What drives their choices and how do they go about carrying out their murders? Lastly, create a compelling backstory to make them more than just another villain.
Use clever dialogue and unique plot twists to keep readers engaged.
Remember, even though they’re an evil character, give your female serial killer some layers – make her relatable in some way.
Above all else, have fun creating an unforgettable antagonist.
How To Describe a Killer In Your Story (Examples)
When it comes to suspenseful serial killer crime thrillers, nailing down a believable and interesting killer for your story is key.
Here are four examples of how you can describe your killer in a way that will truly shock and scare your readers:
- Cold and calculating – Describe a killer with an icy exterior, someone whose actions are fueled by ruthless calculation and ambition. Paint them as having no emotion or moral code when it comes to their heinous crimes.
- Charming manipulator – Create a character who is disarming yet deadly because of their skill at manipulating people with kind words and false promises. Show them as a masterful liar who has an unsettling ability to charm anyone they meet – especially their victims.
- Unpredictable monster – Give readers an erratic killer who behaves on impulse and never follows any specific pattern or methodology when committing their crimes. This type of killer is unpredictable, making them even more terrifying because there’s no telling what they’ll do next.
- Insane genius – Give your readers something both mentally stimulating and unnerving by creating a character who is highly intelligent but also incredibly disturbed. Showcase this “genius” as having an intricate knowledge about human behavior and an ability to manipulate those around them for their own twisted pleasure.
Final Thoughts: How To Write a Book About a Serial Killer
Here are some of my favorite tools for writing a serial killer in a story, novel, or screenplay:
- Jasper AI writer – For helping me with touch paragraphs, scenes, and artwork
- The Big Book of Serial Killers (An Encyclopedia of Serial Killers)
- The Ultimate Serial Killer Trivia Book: A Collection Of Fascinating Facts And Disturbing Details About Infamous Serial Killers And Their Horrific Crimes
Read These Next:
- What Makes Stephen King’s Writing So Good? (Explained)
- How To Write an Emotionless Character (That Readers Love)
- How To Write a Russian Accent (Expert Tips With Examples)
- How To Write Morally Gray Characters [Bestseller Secrets Revealed]
FBI.gov (Research on Serial Killers)