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View Full Version : Can someone who committed several murders have a conscience?



Menyanthana
06-11-2010, 08:00 PM
I have a problem with my villain. I don't want him to look like a heartless monster. But he has to commit murder. Several times. The plot would not work without it.


His self-esteem was crushed by some bullies, and he took revenge by killing them.

They weren't his only victims. To get the attention of his enemies (his evil plan required them to go and look for him), he set some monsters free, which cost the lives of quite a lot of people.

In the meantime, he found a friend. Only one. For whom he would do nearly anything.
Said friend is treated very badly by his employer (an employer he can't get rid of without much difficulties), and my villain decides to get rid of that problem.

Is it possible that this last murder actually makes him feel bad? (his friend does feel bad about it)
Could he have committed this murder in spite of already feeling bad about the previous murders?

And what exactly could happen? I could throw in some "Oh no, what have I done?" moments, but somehow I think that is not realistic.

Drachen Jager
06-11-2010, 08:30 PM
Of course you can have a conscience and commit murder. Most murderers are upset over what they've done.

Only people with anti social personality disorder (also known as psychopathy) have no conscience (or reduced conscience).

He could have a psychotic break, which would mean he'd coldheartedly kill but then once he recovered he'd feel bad about what he'd done. There's lots of reasons why your plotline could work. I'd do some research on psychotic breaks and the psychology of murderers if I were you. Hit the library, or at least get a basic grounding on Wikipedia.

"Oh no, what have I done?" is probably fairly realistic, but it's terribly melodramatic. I'd try to find a very subtle way of expressing it. There was a film in the '50s in black and white, I can't remember the title, where a murderer is forced to face what he'd done, I think he was to be executed soon, it was night and raining, the light was coming from outside the window and the rain running down the window made shadow-drops on his face, it was almost like he was crying but the character was too tough to actually cry. That kind of scene makes a much more powerful statement than any outward expression.

shadowwalker
06-11-2010, 09:17 PM
Conscience is subjective. People generally only feel bad about doing things they believe are wrong - if the killer felt justified in killing these people, why would he necessarily have to feel badly about it? Does he believe killing is wrong, period? Or that only killing for the wrong reason (such as greed) is wrong? If he ended up stealing someone's car to make his getaway, he might feel bad about that - the victim had done nothing to him, after all.

RJK
06-11-2010, 09:59 PM
Have you ever watched The Outlaw Jose Wales? Although he's the protagonist, he kill nearly everyone he meets, and feels justified in his actions.

Don't forget about all the places where the death penalty remains in force. In those cases, society finds justification in killing, even when the one killed is mentally deficient as in Texas.

icerose
06-11-2010, 10:31 PM
For a truly evil yet complex character I'm referring you to Hannibal Lecter. The way he interacts with Clarice. How in "Hannibal" at the end when she trapped him, he chose to cut off his own hand rather than harm her. It doesn't lesson how evil he is, but it does make him a very complex character. It gives us the sense that there's something human still in there. In Silence of the Lambs he attacked the next door cell prisoner who had offended Clarice, losing something personal to himself at the same time. His drawings. He also helped her solve the case, gave her extra clues with no real incentive to do so other than it would help Clarice. He also never came after her intending her to be a victim but rather to show her that he could take care of the people who were hurting her career.

These are the sorts of things that take characters to the next level.

Another complex evil character. Dexter. He kills people. He loves it. He lives for it. Yet he makes sure they are murderers. That burden of proof he takes on himself to somehow put his bad impulses to the greater good. He's still evil but he's complicated. He's vulnerable and scared at times, but also extremely dangerous.

virtue_summer
06-11-2010, 11:37 PM
It's not the simple fact of committing murder or not that denotes if you have a conscience. It's why you commit the murders and how you act during and react afterward. Plus, your conscience might be what's compelling you to commit the murder in the first place. Someone you love is in danger and you would need to kill someone in order to save them. Sure your conscience normally says murder is wrong but doesn't it also say letting someone else hurt your friend when you can stop them is wrong too? And if you do commit murder, there are a variety of reactions you could have, and for the most part none of them require you to get rid of your conscience. It's more a matter of what you believe about the morality or necessity of what you did. Think about soldiers. Most of them are not psychopaths. They have consciences, but they manage to kill people anyway. Now some of them do wrestle with those consciences later. Still, it doesn't stop them from doing their jobs in the first place. The motives you've described (revenge, desire to help/protect a friend) are understandable. Even if the reader doesn't agree with every action taken by your protagonist, if they can relate to their motives I think you're doing fine.

As for the "what have I done?" moments, it doesn't have to be as obvious as that. There's a short story by Ray Bradbury called "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" about a man who kills someone and then spends the entire story wiping away his fingerprints and then doing so again and again until the police find him still at the crime scene trying to clear up the evidence. The story gives a sense that the man's consciousness is tugging at him by showing his actions. In your story your character might hesitate before finally killing a victim, might have a strong reaction if they see or have to talk to a victim's family member, etc. They might spend some time justifying themselves either mentally or out loud to somebody else, explaining why they know what they did was right. They might be shown doing more nice things for other people in an unconscious gesture to make up for the murders. Or they may do none of this but something else. It all depends on your character.

Drachen Jager
06-12-2010, 01:06 AM
Don't forget about all the places where the death penalty remains in force. In those cases, society finds justification in killing, even when the one killed is mentally deficient as in Texas.

Yep, America and Somolia, the only two places on Earth where the mentally handicapped and children face the death penalty.

Smiling Ted
06-12-2010, 08:05 AM
Yep, America and Somolia, the only two places on Earth where the mentally handicapped and children face the death penalty.

Texas isn't America. They keep reminding the rest of us of it, and we keep saying we'll take 'em up on it.

Smish
06-12-2010, 08:22 AM
Yep, America and Somolia, the only two places on Earth where the mentally handicapped and children face the death penalty.

In the US, children do not face the death penalty (Roper v. Simmons), nor do the mentally disabled.

Now, I will concede that many mentally disabled people do face the death penalty in reality, since the measures for determining whether a person is mentally disabled can be inconsistent and inaccurate.

But whether someone is under the age of 18 is pretty easy to determine.

Lhun
06-12-2010, 03:21 PM
Heh, Roper v. Simmons was in 2005. Sure that wasn't a bit hasty, abolishing the death penalty for minors? Maybe should've given it another century or so.

Kathie Freeman
06-12-2010, 07:25 PM
The only problem I have with your plot is the part about setting monsters loose that will kill innocent people. He can tell himself all the other murders are justified, but that would be a lot harder.

Menyanthana
06-12-2010, 08:57 PM
The only problem I have with your plot is the part about setting monsters loose that will kill innocent people. He can tell himself all the other murders are justified, but that would be a lot harder.

Yes...I have a problem with that, too. I'm not sure how realistic it is that he thinks all people deserve it. He feels rejected by the society in general, no one was ever nice to him...but still.
Probably there is a way it could work, but I think I need to put in more background story.

@icerose: The character already does nice things for other people. His only friend is a kind of morality pet (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MoralityPet). It's cliche, but it should work.

I guess, Hannibal the cannibal is a bit too evil to be a model for my villain...I could never bring myself read the novels, because his deeds were too cruel.

@RJK: Killing seems to be easier if it is not done by one person alone. Taken to the extreme in one of Terry Pratchetts novels, where a trial has to take place to justify a "murder" after it has been committed.
(Thank you for reminding me of that. That was a really well done by Pratchett.)

Canotila
06-13-2010, 04:09 AM
From what you described about him I could see him not being remorseful so much for the murders, but maybe for causing his dear friend distress. Since the murder of the boss caused the distress, his remorse would be about the murder but not really....

No idea if I'm making sense, only running on two hours of sleep here.

backslashbaby
06-13-2010, 04:32 AM
I think there are many murderers who really, really wish that they'd had better impulse control. They really didn't mean it. They were just violently, horribly upset. It's no excuse, of course, but I believe that they have feelings. Even some serial killers seemed as if their compulsion really bothered them.

Maybe your character could have a really hard time controlling himself at times. He crosses the line and does regret it later.

veinglory
06-13-2010, 04:48 AM
One explanation is compartmentalisation, so the murderer comes up for a reason why the victims "deserve" to die.

frimble3
06-14-2010, 08:30 AM
The only problem I have with your plot is the part about setting monsters loose that will kill innocent people. He can tell himself all the other murders are justified, but that would be a lot harder. Maybe he doesn't realise the ramifications of setting the monsters loose? Maybe he had anticipated a little, limited, destruction, and then realised too late that things were out of hand?

benbradley
06-14-2010, 09:57 AM
I'd like to jump in on that derail, but I won't, it looks like a good P&CE thread...

I can see where someone would see others in a more or less black-and-white sense and some being "evil" and "must be disposed of," but then later learn more about them (and/or have "growth as a character in the story"), and see that even though the people he killed may have done very hurtful things, they're just human beings much like everyone else with their good points as well as bad, and that would lead directly to remorse.

Maybe he doesn't realise the ramifications of setting the monsters loose? Maybe he had anticipated a little, limited, destruction, and then realised too late that things were out of hand?
Or when he released them he was so filled with rage he really didn't care about, to use the military euphemism, "collateral damage." That would lead to remorse once the rage was over.

katiemac
06-14-2010, 09:13 PM
Read Crime and Punishment.

pandabot
06-22-2010, 05:45 PM
I agree with a lot that has been said already. On the other hand, people ignore their consciences all the time. It is very easy for people to ignore pain that they are causing. Whether it is taking something of your sisters 'she won't miss it', or buying clothes made in sweatshops. Most people know that the vast majority of clothes are made by workers in absolutely terrible conditions, but how many people buy fairtrade? How many people allow themselves to think about it when they go to the counter to buy it? It was convenient to him for his friends boss to go away, and so he made it happen while putting the information about the dead mans family, his hopes and ambitions into that place in the mind where the nasty things hide.