Motives For Murder ~ Fiction vs. Real Life

When I’m creating what I call my basic plotline, or my simple (very simple) plot outline and need a motive for murder — I usually go for what I call my big threemoney, jealousy, and revenge — or a combination of those three.

I’m sure  you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that research shows in real life the number one reason for murder is a domestic argument. This includes one of my big three, jealousy, but also encompasses all the non-sexual infidelity reasons for the termination of a marriage. Still we most often term this type of killing a crime of passion.

The second motive most often listed in police reports is revenge. Of course people who commit revenge murders don’t think of they’ve really committed a crime. Oh, they know it’s against the law or they wouldn’t try to conceal their identity. They just don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. After all the bum had it coming, in the murderer’s view. Some think revenge would’ve been the first on the list, but I think most people who are revenge minded don’t want the victim dead, they want them alive and suffering.

Coming in at three is money. Frankly, I thought this one would’ve been numero uno. Perhaps that’s because most of the vitriol I’ve witness has occurred after the will was read in my own extended family and in the families of friends and associates. Of course nobody I know actually committed murder over it, so maybe that’s evidence it’s not such a pressing reason to kill.

The fourth motive most often sited in real police reports is alcohol/drug use. This is a scary motive because it often includes no motive at all, or scant motive. A guy gets blotto watching the game with his buddies comes home and finds his wife didn’t do the laundry and he wanted to wear his team’s tee shirt, so he kills her. In a great many drug/alcohol murder investigations detectives find the perpetrator often doesn’t know or can’t recall clearly what went through his/her mind before killing.

Coming in about fifth on the list, depending on the locale, is the mob hit. This can involve money, turf, but it also can involve personal power and/or disgracing a “made man.” A made man is someone who has formally been inducted into a crime family as a lieutenant. It’s not a wise thing to cross such a man. Power and disgracing the family name in non-mob circles don’t even make it on the real life law enforcement list — both of these big reason in the prime time soap operas of the 1980s like Dynasty and Dallas.

A motive that has recently been finding it’s way into police reports in urban areas as a motive for murder with the influx of foreign immigrants is ethnic customs. The so-called honor killing is not as uncommon as one might suppose. A young Muslim girl has not behaved as modestly as her older male relatives think she should’ve. She’s taken off her head scarf while at school, or allowed an American boy to walk her part way home, so her father and brothers kill her. Another scenario could be that a young man comes to live in the USA with missionaries who lived with his tribe in South America. He spends his teen years here and marries, but then suspects his wife of infidelity, so as is the custom in his tribe, when his wife gives birth, he kills the infant.

Serial Killers are growing in popularity in fiction as the perpetrator of gruesome murders, so much so that they’ve practically become their own sub-genre. It’s not surprising that in real life mental illness and sociopathology seem to be cropping up more often in crime reports. If you or someone you love discovers they are married to a bigamist, are involved with a professional gigolo, or a con-man defrauding women — RUN. There is great danger there, even potential for murder.

2 thoughts on “Motives For Murder ~ Fiction vs. Real Life

  1. A friend asked me how can I write from the criminal POV so well. I don't think I'm a genius or anything, but I do have a trick. It's kind of a paraphrase of a line I first heard in the movie "As Good As It Gets" (but is apparently originally by John Updike): “How do you write women so well? I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.”So I think – how would I react if there were no consequences, no accountability, and if I were completely and totally self-centered? From there, it's easy to write the criminal point of view and give him/her believable emotion and actions. Nike, you say for revenge murder the criminal often doesn't believe what they've done is wrong. I think this is true, to varying degrees, about other murders and a large # of criminal acts. No matter what they think they believe or what psychologists say, criminals are self-centered and their actions are self-serving.This concludes Professor I'm-Not-A-Psychologist-But-I-Play-One-When-I-Write's lecture for today 😀


  2. Tammy, Thx for your great comments.I think you are correct in saying the murderer almost thinks it's the victim's fault that they murderere had to kill them. They are usually devoid of any sense of self-responsibility. That is one thing we have to get across if we use the killer's pov…or in the killer's dialog.Indeed, they are self-centered and self-serving in the extreme.


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