How Criminals Use the Media for Gain

I’m back to the book The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker and deep in the chapter on how media fits in with violent offenders. I’ll admit, when I got to the section I’m covering today, I couldn’t figure out how to use it in my writing to create a believable antagonist. Then it came to me. Let me share.

Douglas shared several real cases of criminals, once convicted and jailed, of using the media to manipulate others. You may recall that most violent offenders are interested in the thrill of having power over someone else. They love to manipulate. Even when they’re caught, that love doesn’t slip away. So they use the media for whatever they can get out of it: writing articles for magazines about how the “mind” of a murderer works; contacting reporters for TV or magazine interviews; writing letters to the families of the victims. Douglas even cited one example of a murderer offering to disclose the location of his still-missing victims if he could have a cash reward for the information. Some convicted murderers enjoy being interviewed by police and FBI officials–just having someone to talk to about their crimes is satisfying.

NewImage(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)

What does this have to do with creating a believable antagonist? The key is their desire to manipulate, to seek the limelight, to see their “accomplishments” acknowledged by someone. This trait exists even before they’re caught. Your antagonist might not necessarily contact the media, but he’ll love to see newspaper articles about him (even if he’s not identified by name). He’ll love to watch police try to create a profile (thought he might not get to see the process going on inside police headquarters, he’ll get to see whatever the media covers regarding the profile). He will most like brag to someone about his crime, or portions of it–it’s just too exciting to not share. Granted, not all violent offenders will share what they’ve done–having a non-sharing antagonist is definitely believable–but many criminals are caught because they simply can’t keep their mouths shut. They brag to their girlfriend, their best friend, their greatest enemy (in an effort to appear “tougher”)… you could get creative and have your antagonist blabber to a homeless man, thinking no one would believe a homeless guy if he repeats the story. It’d be totally realistic.

So use this love of attention in your antagonist and see how it messes up his fine-tuned plans. Creating a self-centered, manipulative violent offender who loves to see his “handiwork” in the newspaper is definitely believable. Maybe its a sketch artists rendition of an eyewitness. Maybe its a TV report of the crime. Maybe its a detailed profile offered by the police. Whatever it is, your antagonist will love the attention. 

-Sonja

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