How Can You Write A Screenplay For A Serial Killer Film?

Are serial killers products of nature or nurture? Nobody knows. But, we all love violence, especially if it’s happening in our neighborhood. Decades passed while the stories about serial killers gained more impact than ever. Serial killing is a subject that has been the theme of theories and thesis. There has not been any such breakthrough that defines the killer or answers the most stupefying question of all time… why? Why does a killer kill? Why does anyone kill someone? What force drives us to take someone else’s life? Psychology has different reasoning for such questions, but in general, in the field of serial killing, the answers are yet to be discovered.


We who have the knack for watching serial killers’ stories are all pretty aware of the names in this business. “The Zodiac Killer,” “The Hitchhiker’s Killer,” “Jack the Ripper,” these names are well known. Today, we are going to discuss the making of a serial killer. How can we create a character who is a serial killer for a movie? Honestly, apart from supernatural beings, there is nothing scarier than a serial killer doing laundry right beside you. Fictional serial killers are the worst. If you are basing your research on an original story, it will definitely give the audience a chill, but when you are establishing a serial killer through your own language, that’s something challenging.

How Can You Write A Screenplay For A Serial Killer Film?

The first thing that you should always keep in mind is that this story can never only be about the killer. Serial killers are part of society. When you are crafting a character that would leave a mark inside the minds of the audience, you need to make sure that the audience must feel the atmosphere. For example, in Bong Joon Ho’s “Memories of Murder” (arguably one of the best movies ever made in this segment), the film starts with the regular life of a small town. You must not let the audience decide what they are going to see. They are expecting a murder, obviously, but the murder cannot be expected. Just like in David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” we always get the vibe of the killings, but after a period of time, we discover that it was a serial killing. How can we do this?


Establish Your Protagonist: As we said earlier, films regarding serial killing are never only about the killer. The protagonist of the film drives with an impenetrable force to catch the killer. Why is that? Robert Bruce’s story? Maybe. But, what’s the origin of his or her rigidity? Why does your protagonist want to catch the killer so bad? Does he or she have past trauma? What is his or her state of mind? If the protagonist directly approaches the killer, the story loses its grip. You must spend time writing a solid origin story for your protagonist because they are the ones who go through the most suffering. You need to establish this fact.

For example, in “Mare of Easttown,” the character of Mare is very well written. The audience gets to feel inside her, what she has gone through and why catching the killer becomes her obsession. The same goes with Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece “Memories of Murder”. There, the character named Detective Park went through a lot in his life and achieved nothing so far. Great filmmakers like David Fincher and Bong Joon Ho always treat their protagonist in a serial killing story with the utmost empathy. Because, at the end, the audience walks through the story from the protagonist’s point of view.


Establish the Crimes

After establishing the protagonist, you must focus on the crimes. The most common approach to a serial killing story would be a small town with fewer people, where everyone knows everyone, and then there were kidnappings and murders. These are the basic storylines of serial killing movies. But the mastery lies within the little details. The more detailed the structure you can put into the crimes, the more intense the story gets. You need to be realistic while keeping the drama of a thriller alive.

For example, in “Memories of Murder”, the crimes at first glance look very random. As we said earlier, in movies like these, the audience sees through the eyes of the protagonists. As the protagonist believes that there weren’t enough clues, the crimes become more interesting. Similarly, in “Hannibal,” the character Jack Crawford calls for help in unsolved murder cases. This particularly intensifies the plot and the audience gets thrilled as they are now driven to believe there will be a series of killings.


Develop Unrelated Subplots

This is a segment where it gets a bit tricky. This can be done while you are processing the origin story of the protagonist. Maybe he or she is going through a family dilemma or has children’s issues. Give the subplots the same amount of intensity else the audience might get the notion that it was forceful. Remember one thing very well: this particular sector of the audience can never be fooled. They always do their homework. So, to intensify your subplots you must write with unrelated notes to serial killing.

For example, in David Fincher’s “Seven,” the character David Mills was struggling to get settled in a new place. He tried to bond with his colleague, i.e., Detective Lieutenant William Somerset, who himself was not much fun. David Mills’ family somehow reflects upon William’s urge for a happy life, but as he has seen the worst side of society, he submits to denial. The subplots of “Seven” were so well established that the movie itself was a great drama, if not a serial killing masterpiece.


Creating the Perfect Atmosphere

You have finished establishing your characters for the story. Now is the time to establish the atmosphere. When a series of killings takes place, the town changes with its people. The friendly neighborhood becomes too cautious. They start blaming the system. Protests take place. Police are blamed for incompetence. This whole structure needs to be created with your own wit.

For example, in “Memories of Murder” or in “Zodiac” or “Seven”, there are several cases when the police are blamed for taking no action. The world around the characters changed drastically. Serial killers impact your mind directly. They play with your guts. This atmosphere must be established in front of the audience.


Signs and Riddles

We all know that serial killers are very keen on their own behavior. They tend to follow a set of rules while killing each victim. Establishing those patterns can be very challenging. But while you are creating a fictional serial killer, you must establish such a notion to make the audience believe that you have done your research.

For example, in “Seven,” the killer picked his victims following the seven flaws of humans. This is pure psychopathy. Psychopathy is very much related to serial killers, however, we can dig into that chapter some time.


There are so many things to be taken care of while writing a screenplay for a serial killer. This is the foundation we talked about. The atmosphere itself has so many floors to it. We can talk about the whole thing some other time. But, as of now, if you are making a low-budget serial killing movie, these are the basic things that need to be established. The budget is never the issue. “Memories of Murder” was a film made of less than 3 million dollars, yet it is arguably one of the most discussed and praised serial killing movies of all time. How Can You Write A Screenplay For A Serial Killer Film?

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Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy is a creative content writer. Formerly he used to write film reviews on an international film festival website named Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. He also interviewed global directors. He also interviewed one of the characters from the show 'Trailer Park Boys', Mr. Bernard Robichaud, platformed in Netflix. Shovan tends to write through the third person narrative and he loves to do psychoanalysis. He can't say that he has mastered it but that is some sort of hobby of his. Film is a platform where he loves to spend most of his time learning.

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