Peter Swanson: Making It Up As I Go Along

Peter Swanson: Making It Up As I Go Along

I began to write the book, imagining where it might go. A bigger picture formed, and I even began to have some ideas about how the book might end, but I was really just writing by the seat of my pants. I gave the man a name—Ted Severson—and had him narrate the story. The woman in the seat next to him became Lily Kintner and she turned out to be a narrator, as well. I decided that they would tell the story in alternating chapters.

Then an interesting thing happened. Ted Severson was always going to be the lead of the story—he was the one who wanted to kill his wife, after all—and Lily was just going to be extra motivation for him to achieve that goal. But then Lily, who, as a narrator, starts her own story by recounting a murderous encounter when she was thirteen years old, began to take over the book.

It wasn’t just that she was more interesting than Ted—she is, I think—it was that she became more central to the ideas of the book. For one, she had spent a larger part of her life thinking about murder, not just as an instrument of revenge, but as a very practical survivor tool. Even though she’s villainous, she would never think of herself as a villain. She’s a protagonist, and I realized that she had staked that claim in my novel.

I worried a little bit that the protagonist of my new novel was a sociopathic murderer. There was that voice in my head that kept telling me that I needed to have someone to root for in this book, a hero, for lack of a better word. But Lily kept moving the plot along, so I decided to stick it out with her. If she was good enough for me, then hopefully she’d be good enough for a future reader.

Readers read to find out what happens next. And sometimes writers write to do the same thing. That was the case with The Kind Worth Killing—writing it kept surprising me, right up to the very end.