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QUESTION: I'm not good with psychology. This question is for a story I'm writing. Let's say there's this 8-Year old girl, who was raised in solitude, rarely goes into the outside world. She was raised to kill innocent people just for pleasure. She has vast knowledge of handguns and all that. Her name is Lily. She was raised buy this guy let's call him the Master, who taught her to kill people. She loves him more than anything, since he's the only person she knows.The Master doesn't care about her and uses her as a tool. But when authorities take her away, she is sent to therapy.

How do you think she will turn out when she is separated from her caretaker? How will she be around other children? What would a therapist do? What will she become when she's a teen?


Please note that this is for a work of fiction. I'm a writer. I'm not that great with psychology and when I try to look it up, I can't find anything

Please help!!!


Well I have a story written about the relationship with Lily and the Master. Well, it's her past. She lost her memory and ends up awake in someone's home. Now suddenly she's getting all these memories of Master. Her goal is to find the man who raised her, because he's the only one she knows. He will tell her who she is. But when she finally finds him, The master makes a deal with her. If she serves under him once more, he promises to restore her memories. If Lily joined the Master, would you have sympathy for her?

Thank you for your assistance. I just want to see if I have written this, my readers would sympathize with her.

ANSWER: Hi, Cindy!

Well, you've got two issues at play here. First you've got a young girl that kills for fun/pleasure. Second you've got the separation from the person who taught her this. That brings you into two different areas of psychology.

1.  Developmental psychology. One of the primary theories of developmental psychology is the concept of "nature versus nurture." A long list of famous psychologists and psychiatrists have opined on both sides of this debate. The basic concept of the "nature" theory is that a person is born with a "psychological blueprint" and no amount of training can alter what that person would naturally do. If a person is a born killer, no amount of rehabilitation will remove that instinct. If a person is a born pacifist, no amount of training or torture will make them kill.  If they like to play in mud, you'll never keep them clean. In the "nurture" theory, scientists claim that each baby is a blank slate and how the baby is raised defines them. This is one of the arguments (on both sides) with the concept of homosexuality. Some claim a person is BORN homosexual (nature) while others argue that the concept must be taught (nurture.) With your child, you'll have to pick one of these schools of psychology to follow, so if you look on the web for "nature vs. nurture" or "developmental psychology" you'll find out a lot more.

2.  Separation anxiety. The second kind of research you're looking for involves what happens when Lilly is separated from the Master. The condition often manifests by withdrawal from contact with others (except the person they miss), shyness, crying, or anger. While usually the child withdraws INWARD, it wouldn't be unreasonable for a reader to believe that her training would make her act OUTWARD---by killing more people, or making it HURT. It could be seen to her warped mind as punishment for "withholding" something from her . . . even if she doesn't remember what that something is. Again, the effects of separation can be researched online if you look for "separation anxiety in children."

You might try Wikipedia or even WebMD for some of the symptoms and "manifestations" (how the disorder looks to other people.) It'll be more believable if you give Lilly more than just the desire to kill. You'll have to give her hobbies that play into that, or nervous gestures or weird quirks that would also be caused by the mental disorders.

Now, will the reader empathize with Lilly or want her to succeed? I guess it depends on how you plan to conclude the story/book. Will Lilly be rehabilitated/redeemed? Will she become a serial killer, or a paid assassin? There are a lot of possibilities with a child, and a lot depends on your genre (on what shelf you'd expect the story to sit if it were in a bookstore---mystery, thriller, horror?)

Since one of the characters in our first book (Hunter's Moon) started out as a six year old killer, I understand what you're going through. Our Scotty found a way to channel his DESIRE to kill into a paid profession, so that as a teenager, he only killed a few, select people for a price, rather than becoming a serial killer. Basically, he turned it into a business instead of a hobby.  Can Lilly manage that transformation? Or does she want to give it up and be a "normal kid?" Only you, the author, knows. It's something that will take practice writing, or your reader won't buy it. As the main character (where our Scotty was a secondary character) it'll take more work on your part, because you'll have to create realistic THOUGHTS as she thinks them. It's tough, but can certainly be done.

Hope that helps get you started. Let me know if you have any other questions and good luck! :)


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Do you think there could be a way to make her change? She can still be a killer, but how can a therapist change her into a kinder person?  Thank you for your feedback!

Hi, again, Cindy!

Sure. She could go the "Dexter" route---become someone who CATCHES killers because she knows how they think. She can also do some sort of "transference" where she takes the desire to kill and channels it into a non-lethal hobby. Maybe becoming a WWF star, or a martial arts coach. That might be a really good path for her. If you could give her a "good mentor" to replace her bad one, it would make it more realistic. Think "Karate Kid," where Mr. Miagi teaches patience, inner peace and deliberate action, instead of out-and-out violence.

Does that help?


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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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