Friday, November 13, 2009

Numbing Time and the Missing's Silent Discovery

If you have not noticed by now, I have a love of many things in the way of dark fiction. However, that affection, or perhaps I should call it a morbid curiosity, carries over into real life. I suppose that is to be expected. Still, those horrifying true stories intrigue me. Yes, I share the same desire to unravel the serial killer's brain and figure out why they were so depraved as to commit the acts that they did. However, there is another layer here that often goes unmentioned in the hollow shell of a short news clipping.

When you start getting in depth, you start to consider more than the two parties involved - the guilty and the victim. Yes, perhaps these two are at the epicenter. The guilty must bear the consequences of his or her actions while the victim remains in whatever state they were left in, be it scarred or dead. What about the others, who may only be briefly mentioned in the sea of black and white print?

For example, take the interesting tale of a real life 17th century cold case. The body of a teenage boy was discovered during an ongoing project to unearth long forgotten settlements in Annapolis, Maryland. Further investigation determines that the boy was murdered. His real name may never be known and the guilty party is long dead and currently dealing with whatever otherworldly punishment his or her god sees fit.

On first glance, it is easy to separate yourself. Aside from age and gender, it is difficult to identify with the deceased. Time creates an enormous gap. That can be traversed with a little imagination.

Consider who may have known this young man. Surely he had friends or family. Someone must have missed him. In their world he just one day up and disappeared, never to return. Did they suspect or were they completely blind to the fact foul play was involved? We can only speculate. Once you begin to consider this, it closes the gap slightly. It makes the murder a little more real and less padded by centuries.

I often wonder, when an unidentified body is found, what is the story behind that person's life? Who is missing them? Will they ever know the truth? There are a vast number of remains discovered in past decades that may never be identified and appear to go forgotten by the world.

A little change of perspective can really shift the emotional aspect of a story. Would you feel as concerned for this boy as you would for a boy of the same age and race discovered murdered within the last year or five years? Even ten? Most people would not. Justify it however you want, but on first glance, how would you react if both stories were in the newspaper side by side? My guess is, the modern tale would garner more concern.

Perspective can act like an emotional magnifying glass. It helps readers and writers see history and draw it a little closer. Although this may sound quite dark and depressing, it can be a useful tool in writing.

I am not drawing any conclusions regarding the social state of today or humankind in general. I am merely pointing out the importance of perspective in both fiction and non-fiction. A little creative thought, even in a real life story, can go a long way.

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