Profiling 101: Breeding Monsters Among Mankind

SMILE OR SMIRKI’m thrilled to have my buddy David Villalva here today. Some of you might know him from Story and Craft (now called www.davidvillalva.com). If you don’t follow his blog, I highly recommend it.

David has a fantastic way of making you laugh out loud as he teaches the craft of storytelling. This post is classic David. Enjoy!

I despise other people’s hands in my mouth.

Yet I’ve permitted countless fingers to pry open my jaws over the years. I’ve even allowed them to wield sharp objects beside my tongue. This oral horror continues as mirrors, strings and chemicals appear shortly thereafter.

What’s crazy is that during these approved intrusions, I’m supposed to help carry a conversation. The person grinding utensils against my teeth often asks, “How are you doing?” That’s the moment my shoulders constrict and my mind retreats to its safe place.

Of course, I’m describing a typical session with my dentist. I missed my last appointment. They’ve called three times to reschedule but I’m in no rush to gargle my own blood again.

CHARACTERS MUST LIVE BEYOND THE PAGE

I hate going to the dentist, and this contempt has prompted me to appoint every dentist with a criminal mind.

But can you really blame me? Haven’t you ever laid there flat on your back, baked under their bright lights, and wondered what drove that masked mortal to pursue a career in professional mouth probing?

All it takes is a quick online search to solidify their disturbing intentions, too. These quotes were gathered from forums after googling, “Why did you become a dentist?”

  • “I like carving, sculpting, etc.”
  • “I want to save the world one tooth at a time.”
  • “I enjoy tinkering with things.”
  • “Dentistry is like arts and crafts for adults.”
  • “Money money money money”

If those words don’t read like the motives of a villain, I don’t know what does.

EDITING THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE

Whether you’re a storyteller or simply love to get inside criminal minds, we’re all constantly using our imaginations to position people as heroes, villains and more. This activity helps us develop entertaining characters on the page, and also flexes our creative muscles (along with transforming the bland everyday into something enjoyable).

So instead of looking at my own issues with teeth cleaning, I opt to create monsters with fang fetishes. Yep, I basically edit the story of my life and rewrite it to read like fiction.

For instance, the cashier at my local grocery store who rarely smiles also loves to lick the Fuji Apples when no one’s looking. My waiter with the nose ring from last night couldn’t wait to get off work and treat their spouse to laser tag using my credit card number. The first-degree acquaintance in Costco was thankful I hid behind a palette of Kleenex to avoid a stop and chat engagement.

It’s amazing what’s happening all around when you observe beyond the obvious.

I recommend everyone gives this approach a shot. Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re a storyteller or reader because we’re all equipped with powerful imaginations.

In fact, I bet you’ve wondered the same thing I have about Sue and this website. Wouldn’t crime writing about serial killers be the perfect cover for an actual serial killer? At least her hard drive search results would have a reasonable alibi come court time.

PRACTICE CREATING YOUR OWN WORLD

Here’s just a few sample scenarios and exercises to jumpstart your own fictive universe:

  1. Next time you’re pumping gas: Watch the person closest to you. Ask yourself where they’re coming from? Is Marvin from Pulp Fiction in the trunk? Where are they going? Does the body farm await their arrival?
  2. Next time your dentist patrols your mouthpiece: Ask yourself what it is they love so much about saliva? Or imagine asking them to lay down so you can play doctor inside their mouth. Or visualize an empowering conversation that ends with you being asked to find a new orthodontist.
  3. Next time your boss says something twisted: Look inside your boss’s mind and recognize he/she is daring you to quit. Then picture how you could use your very particular set of skills to better your life and conquer your bad boss a la Taken style. Hey, sometimes tangent thoughts can become a tangible life…

The point is to use your fictive mind to thrive in the real world. This mental workout should help your writing if you’re a storyteller. Better yet, it should help everyone balance the ordinary with the bizarre and breed monsters among men.

Going back to monsters, I’ve got a feeling my dentist thinks I’m one. You see, I listen to music during my teeth cleanings. It’s a great defense against conversation, keeps me caught up on podcasts, and drowns out any potential grinding sounds.

It’s just that I’ve never seen anyone else using headphones. I’m sure there are others but I’m worried. Because I just started imagining what happened to them…

Guest Post PhotoDavid Villalva helps novelists craft stories that connect with readers. His free visual guides, The Storytelling Blueprint and The Scene Building Blueprint, illustrate the plot and scene structures used in novels and screenplays.

Get them free at DavidVillalva.com

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is a multi-published author in numerous anthologies, and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue’s a radio show host—check out "Partners In Crime" in the menu bar—the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter.

46 Comments

  1. I watch people and make up stories all the time.

    They’re all sweet friendly family stories.

    This has got to stop, Joel. What kind of research is that for a mystery writer?

    Between the two of you, Sue and David, I wonder how many lost souls have been dragged over to the dark side of people-watching?

  2. Writing the “monsters” in a novel is hard, especially if the character is a very complex one. That’s why I make sure to read books with very interesting characters.
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  3. Great post! It reminds how much fun it is to people watch, and use those meandering moments for character fodder. Hero or villain, characters drive stories and need to be memorable. I love David’s way of imagining!
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  4. People watching is one of my favourite times…you never know what you can get and what story you can come up with. Great post!
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  5. Great piece, David. I spend time each day at a university which is a great place to people watch – the exchange students are from all over the world. I was thinking about your article a couple hours ago and put it in action. The first guy I laid eyes on had a brow on him that’d make Cro Magnon Man jealous.

    Speaking of dentists – Did you know there’s a disproportionately high suicide rate in the dentistry profession? I think if I had to spend my working time digging in slimy mouths (live ones, that is 😉 I might be tempted to take a suck on my exhaust pipe, too.

    • Oh my gravy, a university would offer countless options for people watching.

      Also, I had no idea about the crazy high suicide rate. Bizarre and I’m not going to discover why. Better to leave that to my imagination.

      Thanks for coming by Sue’s blog even when it’s not her blogging. 😉

      • David, Garry left out the part of a bomb scare and an alleged shooter on school grounds, and both incidents happened within 24 hours of each other! We had a conversation about Garry gleaning great dialogue from frightened students. 😉

    • “A brow that would make Cro Magnon Man jealous.” You crack me up, Garry.

  6. Hmm, now I’m wondering all sorts of things about the people who sat around me at the movie today…

    I like to listen to music when I get a dental procedure too. Only I use my own headphones and iPhone. Some of their music selections are more nauseating than the drilling.

  7. Hi Sue… I have to agree with David – Writer or serial killer ? You are a little scary ! It does make one wonder !

  8. While I didn’t expect hygiene and dental health, the seemingly absurd topic is actually an underestimated science and art indeed!

    Smiles are crucial in socializing. Writing smiles, and concluding properly about teeth, belong to the skills authors usually underestimate.

    Even more important is that David Villalva combines a humorous and positive attitude with factual knowledge and competences. I think that combination is what makes his articles stand-out far above average!

  9. This is all very fine and good, lol, but if the practice of imagining things about the people all around us sound kind of paranoid – then the explanation of it to people who DON’T write, would have them pulling away quickly… (joking).
    I have to state that observing people, (listening for snipets of usable conversation, and the constant ‘wondering’ about them, their motives, and their secrets…) can be a little annoying. I mean you can’t go anywhere without being bombarded with possible story or character fodder. Your mind is always taking in and categorizing things and people -from their expressions to playing with turns of their phrases, or how that little moment you just witnessed would fit into certain scenarios, or work for you in a scene – to close it or to open it…. the list of possibilities is endless and the pursuit of the fodder endless.
    And then because memory sucks… there’s that little notebook we need to keep on hand 24/7/365 so we don’t forget the snipet or observation and the thing we want it to relate to…
    Worst of all, the efforts of “writer brain” to observe, cannot be turned off at will.

    • I don’t find it annoying. Writers see the world differently than anyone else. It’s a wonderful thing, if you ask me. About explaining to others: no one understands unless they’re either a writer or married to one. 🙂

    • Hey Illoura. Thanks for the feedback here.

      You know, sometimes I wish I could switch my mind to idle mode because a constant spin cycle becomes exhausting. I guess I’m just not wired that way.

      Also, I actually prefer the least amount of human contact possible so in the rare instances that I do go into public, I make the most of it in this weird way.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful feedback. I appreciate it.

  10. This is such a good post. I catch myself doing this all the time. I give in and let my mind flow. There is actually a bit of creative dentistry in my next release,

  11. I think it’s really important to create not just a character, but a person. That means a context for that person, a whole constellation of likes/dislikes, background, physical details and more. And with that context goes a set of other characters, each with her or his own background and so on. And there you have – a fictional world. Thanks for making me think about this.

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