SARAH BONNER: A Killer to Root For

Written by Sarah Bonner

My debut novel, Her Perfect Twin, isn’t a ‘WhoDunnit’; you know exactly who the killer is. It’s not a ‘HowDunnit’; you literally watch her swing that wine bottle. It’s not even a ‘WhyDunnit’; Megan reaches the end of her tether with her twin and lashes out. No, Her Perfect Twin is a ‘CanSheGetAwayWithIt’. 

As a writer this posed a significant challenge: how to create a character the reader will want to get away with murder.

When I realised this was at the heart of the book, I went on a hunt for literary examples. In Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay gave the titular serial killer a ‘dark passenger’ and an ingrained moral code. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite introduces a young woman who, while maybe she didn’t deal with her problems in the best way, you understand her actions. Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife focussed on a married couple trying to spice up their marriage with a murderous hobby which starts to escalate out of control. These three authors showed me that it was absolutely possible to pull off a sympathetic (or sympathetic enough) killer.

Although too late to inform Her Perfect Twin (which was written in 2020), 2021 bought a landscape dotted with new examples: including the brilliant How To Kill Your Family by Bella McKay. Perhaps the spate of lockdowns and close quarters living have made us all a little more accepting of people who snap? I think we’ve all muttered ‘if you do XYZ one more, I swear I kill you’ under our breath over the past two years!

So, how do to you make people root for a killer?


POV. I used a very close first-person point of view for Her Perfect Twin, making you feel as if you are sitting right there in Megan’s head. It’s basically like listening to your very best friend tell you a story as it unfolds, warts and all, no room for sugar-coating or pretty filters. I wanted the reader to become so fully invested in the story they wouldn’t stop to worry about the slightly grey morality of covering up a murder. Because, well, what if it was you? Or your best friend? Of course, you’d try to get away with it!

Surround them with evil. If you want to make a character seem more virtuous, surround them with people who go a lot further. Chris (Megan’s philandering, gaslighting husband) is vile, and I even switched to his POV for part of the novel to really showcase the true depths of his sociopathic tendencies. I also used flashbacks to bring to life the ways in which Leah had spent her whole life making Megan’s a misery. I’m not going to say that Leah deserved it, but perhaps Megan’s actions are understandable!

Save the cat. We’ve probably all heard the classic advice to ‘save the cat’ (and I often recommend the book to my writing friends). The idea is to make a character do something that is redemptive in the eyes of everyone; like rescuing a child, standing up for a good cause, or saving a cat from harm. In Her Perfect Twin I decided to take this advice literally and had Megan rehome Leah’s unwanted cat, ensuring Earl went to live with someone who would love him forever. This instantly made Megan more sympathetic (and Leah even less so – using a cat as an Instagram prop who is subsequently forgotten about is never a good look!).

Make the murderer relatable. Megan is ‘normal’, she worries about the same things we do: her job, her marriage, her sick mother in a nursing home. She likes to go for drinks with her friends after work and looks forward to a pub lunch on a Sunday. Megan is basically just like you and me. The inference being, of course, that you could end up in a situation similar to hers.

Flesh them out and bring them to life. The novel is littered with small moments and observances about Megan’s life, little ‘in-jokes’ to make you want to spend time with her. I chose to set the novel in the now, using flashbacks to tease out the backstory so the reader sees her journey with her. I also gave her some friends to bounce off, including a love interest in the handsome Tom. After all, if the ‘good’ people like her, she must be good too.

The past few years have seen the rise of the unlikable protagonist (a trope I personally love as a reader). But once I realised you must support her bid to get away with the murder, I made sure to change some of the less than appealing traits in Megan’s character. Ultimately, the trick in Her Perfect Twin was for you to like her enough to want her to get away with it!





Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
HBK £14.99

January 20, 2022

Read Amy Myer's review




Sarah Bonner

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