This has been a hard week because of the tragedy in Las Vegas. When I was first told about it, tears sprung to my eyes, and I’m a “tough cookie.” Why would someone do that? What trauma could have turned the shooter into a premeditated maniac?
As a writer, my fascination and drive to understand all characters, including villains, was piqued by the news of this atrocity. Being a writer allows us to have a little distance, and to try to imagine what drove him to this final act. Why does anyone knowingly do something evil?
This question has plagued writers from the first chip in the first stone tablet. What is our responsibility as writers to respond to this?
I have an answer to this question of why such horror can happen. The answer which was given to me when I was researching a project and was working with a psychiatrist, who worked with violent prisoners.
“Why,” I asked Bob, “Would people choose a violent interaction?”
He smiled sadly and said, ” Those who cease to hope for love, seek power.” Whoa. His words made so much sense! I did research and began to understand what hopelessness can do to people, and since then, I have never met an imaginary villain that I couldn’t humanize. This meant that I could write convincingly because we all need hope, and many of us had childhoods which affected our adult lives. There is no excuse here, but rather a single trope that seems to apply.
Why do people do evil? How can you be detached enough to hurt another person? The common denominator seems to be some form of early abuse in which they were victims, and were powerless to help themselves. The reaction is to switch roles and become the aggressor.
People who engage acts of violence where they control the other person’s experience do so because there was a time when they were in the submissive or helpless position and have not fully integrated the experience. How it translates into shooting people from a window is a longer discussion.
For us writers, it’s good practice to try to imagine a childhood that would lead someone to act out in a violent way. Ask yourself, what would it take for you to feel that way? Maybe google a couple of mass murderers and see what their lives were like.