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Mark the Killer Diagram

This diagram based on Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep plots a technique called Mark the Killer. Look at those teeth at the opening and again at the ending. In Silence of the Lambs, Harris makes Lecter a polydactyl freak–six fingers on one hand–marking Lecter as a monster. When Hitchcock shot The 39 Steps he took liberties but he also marked the killer—his pinky is missing. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson goes all the way and turns his killer into an animal. It’s a very important technique for mystery writers. Mark your Killer.

© 2010  Jack Remick and Robert J. Ray.  All rights Reserved.

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4 Comments

  1. Pam wrote:

    Add to the list, from The Princess Bride, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Inigo knew how to identify his father’s killer–6 fingers on one hand.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  2. Jack Remick wrote:

    Excellent. A technique that reaches from novel to film, from detective story to fantasy. That’s one powerful booger…ain’t it?

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Neal wrote:

    Is there a danger in “marking your killer” to giving away the killer’s identity to the reader?
    I want my killer to be revealed in a closing scene.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink
  4. Jack Remick wrote:

    Is there a danger in “marking your killer” to giving away the killer’s identity to the reader?
    I want my killer to be revealed in a closing scene.

    Hello Neal: Thanks for dropping by the Blog. We appreciate your visit. Your question centers around “marking” versus “revealing”. Readers have no way to know what the mark means until you show them. You mark the killer with a trait that is particular but does not reveal what it means. In the Chandler example on our page, Carmen is revealed to be the killer only at the end of the novel but she’s marked early on. Also in The Big Sleep you’ll see that Chandler marked the secondary killer by name. He’s called Canino. We have to read that as “canine”. But right away, he reveals because the story depends on it.

    If you look at your killer that way, you can see that you’re doing what we call “laying pipe”. You plant or lay down little seeds that at the moment mean nothing but they will show up later and the reader will connect the dots. We cover this in talks by telling writers that “the writer has to know what the reader finds out” but you don’t want to cheat the way Christie does by hiding essentials.
    I hope this gives you the guidance you’re looking for. Keep writing.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

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