The cathartic experience revisited

You probably know what it’s like: you turn on the TV or open up a newspaper and the news is, predictably, savage and dreadful. Murder, torture, genocide, paedophile rings, famine and war – constant bedfellows of this thing we call life. It’s neverending. this mortal suffering…. our capacity, as a species, to visit destruction in all its manifold forms upon our fellow humans appears to be a part of our very genetic make-up, and boundless.

Most of us, it seems, have become desensitised to all the violence and grief that we see on our screens or read in our newpapers daily. And yet, sometimes, when an author, struggling to understand the motivations behind these atrocities, publishes a book or story using a similar theme or topic to a particular incident they’ve read about, they’re accused of being insensitive or exploitative. Perhaps accused of prolonging a family’s grief or, even worse, ‘glorifying the crime’.

That may appear to be the case, but only if you’re looking at the situation on a purely superficial level. Horror (and crime) writers are human, too, and are not immune to being affected by what they see, read or hear when it comes to the world around them. In fact, I would venture that the opposite is true; indeed, that’s their prime motivation for writing in the first place. It’s an act of catharsis and a way of trying to understand why these things happen; what aberrant psychology is at work if someone is convinced it’s okay to do that to a man, woman or child. Or, even further out on the scale, to attempt to justify their horrific actions to the world at large.

For instance, I have been fascinated by the mindset of serial stalkers. The ones who, no matter the restraints placed on them, are convinced that the object of their warped attention ‘loves’ them, despite vehement denials to the contrary. The people who then take that denial as meaning that they’re being tested just to see how much THEY love their target in turn. Or the stalker who is intent on splitting up a couple because they’re utterly convinced that THEY are the one who should be in the relationship, unaware (or uncaring perhaps) that the more they try, the more they get pushed away.

It appears that normal channels of thought don’t exist for these people. They are firmly of the belief that, at some point, whoever it is they’re fixated upon will see the strength of their feelings and capitulate. Forgetting, of course, to factor in just how their behaviour is seen by others, or could be interpreted in the eyes of the law. What filters have these people lost that prevents them from seeing the consequences of their actions and obsessions?

I know that I used to have an addictive personality (before I met my wife Liz), that I would focus on something to the exclusion of all else for six months or so. Then, once I’d had my fill or exhausted its novelty, I’d jump on to the next thing. Friends used to call me very ‘phase-y’. Now, to a certain degree, I can kind of understand the obsession angle – what I don’t understand, perhaps because (like most normal people) I have something which limits obsessional thinking, is how people then get so fixated that they cannot judge their own actions, and let completely rip.

I would love to write a story/novel involving a stalker (providing I find a particularly original plot/angle), as MY way of getting to grips with this aspect of human behaviour. A means of trying to understand. And, extrapolating from that, this is EXACTLY why a lot of horror and crime writers create the material they do. It has a dual purpose: to entertain (as well as to sell books), and to understand. Very often, their inspiration comes from the real world, from incidents that make the news. Specific incidents, even, that spark off an idea.

BUT it’s the general theme they’re dealing with, NOT the specific event itself. I see it not as exploitative, but simply as a struggle to understand the motivations and dynamics of what happened, through the medium of fiction. A lot of unpleasantness goes on out there and, if you’re a rational, thinking human being, then you’re bound to ponder the reasons why it’s that way. The answers are as complex as the human race itself is, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fathom it all out. Not all of us have the time or inclination to study a degree course, for instance, dealing in human psychology, normal OR aberrant. So we find our own way of dealing with issues.

In other words, that’s why many of us writers write what we do – it isn’t necessarily to sicken or disgust, it’s simply to understand.

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6 Responses to “The cathartic experience revisited”

  1. Has anyone written a book/story from the point of view of the stalker? Possibly. But maybe worth a shot?

  2. There are quite a few books which have covered this ground:

    Notes on a Scandal
    A Kind of Intimacy
    Dirty Weekend (stalker subplot)
    Enduring Love
    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (stalker subplot)
    The Not Knowing
    The End of Alice
    OUT (stalker subplot)
    Fatso

    The list above is just off the top of my head!

    I still think there are so many angles/hooks for this kind of novel. The stalker is a fascinating creature and I’m sure you could have a lot of fun exploring that character’s mindset (if you wrote it from s/he’s POV) its a very fertile area and I’d love to read more stories about psychosexual (or other) obsessions. I’ve always been fascinated by the criminal mind! Here is something worth contemplation: what if these individuals do think rationally, what if they are perfectly sane, what if they are just like us?

    • I think that last bit is the most frightening thing I could think of… a rational mind behaving, to all intents and purposes, irrationally…. and prhaps completely mindful of the consequences and having a specific aim in mind thorugh their actions… absolutely worth contemplation, Alan!!

  3. You say ‘what if they are perfectly sane, what if they are just like us?’ like we are the sane ones ;-).
    My favourite comment from a person I knew of years ago, who had learning difficulties was this: ‘People think I am mad, but I’m the only one in this town who has a certificate to prove that I am sane’.

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