Regardless of what adages may tell you, love is neither patient nor kind. Love has the fickle temperament of a child and the ability to breed insanity. In a best case scenario, love will manifest itself as an inextricable bond between husband and wife, but it's also just as likely to take the form of a stranger in a skeleton mask, circling your house waiting for you to fall asleep so it can smell your hair.
"Good morning. I left you a gift."
I know all this because I recently received many letters which I assume to be written out of full-blown, if somewhat misguided, affection. They are all beautiful and as unique as fingerprints, save the common theme of my torture/murder and their complete lack of literal fingerprints. And while I am touched by this visceral outpouring of emotion in each, the editor inside me couldn't help but notice a few flaws in the execution.
Now, there are guides available for writing letters with the intent of gradually earning the love of another person, but there are a limited few on writing letters threatening to take it. I have created a step by step tutorial to constructing the perfect death threat, coupled with helpful dos and don'ts selected right out of real letters I've received. It's time we stop thinking of love as a simple flame, when it is more apt to think of it is a raging tire fire that spits out toxic smoke, burns forever, and most importantly, threatens to kill anyone in proximity.
Soren Bowie's Guide to Writing a Memorable Death Threat:
Step 1: Make it Personal!
No one wants to be on the receiving end of a letter promising pain and misery that feels like it was mass-produced by Hallmark. Just writing cliches and horror movie scenarios will not suffice, the cost of good intentions is always significantly cheaper than the expense of personalization and your reader will know that. Don't cheapen the experience the two of you will share by making your threats cold or formulaic. Instead, think back to what made you fall furiously in love in the first place. Is the intended reader known for being beautiful? Then concentrate on the ways you will devastate that beauty. Does he/she have a wonderful voice? Why not threaten a trip deep into the woods where no one can hear it? Really allow yourself to get as intimate as possible, it will mean a lot more when the prosecuting attorney reads it aloud to the court.
The latter shows a clear understanding of my distaste for fire and my love of me. Or more specifically, my face. Also, notice the personalization of a hand written letter over a private message on a website. The implied dedication of finding my actual address is subtle but appreciated and I will treasure the second one forever, or at least until he burns me up in a fire.
Death threat writers constantly fall into the trap of assuming the reader understands exactly what he/she is trying to convey. Keep in mind that your person of interest doesn't necessarily share your interests. Even though it may seem self evident the devastation electricity can do to the inside of a human body, your reader my not have read the same websites as you. So it's worth explaining every detail.
You can be more detailed than this.
The first one is lazy. It vacillates between stabbing me and the hope that I die with no one around. Unless the author is proficient enough with knives to prolong my death, or fast enough to run away so that I'm guaranteed to die alone then he doesn't actually know what he wants. The second, however, offers some great imagery. I can really picture myself there, and I'm willing to admit that is sounds kind of scary. The particulars are important for any death threat to be taken seriously.
While none of the letters I've received offered this feature, I nevertheless think it would make a nice addition to any death threat. To truly show that you mean business, why not give a couple options for death/torture to your reader? Frankly, the idea of freezing to death in your meat locker doesn't do much for me, but the promise of drowning in your bathtub fills me with anxiety.
I don't want this, but in the right way.
Now, had you just offered the freezing by itself, I would have lost interest immediately. A willingness to compromise not only will encourage your reader to finish the whole letter, but it also demonstrates your determination to make this situation work. That's a valuable asset in any relationship.
I think you are extraordinary, so much so that I wish to kill you so that no one else can have you. Ideally I would like to lock you in a car and push it into a lake.
I am also willing to feed you poison. Please get back to me when you have the time. I've included my address and a picture of me so that if we ever run into one another, you will know who I am. Thanks for your time.
That reminds me, always include a return address and a picture of yourself as a keepsake. Nearly every recipient of a death threat would truly appreciate that.
Step 4: Turn Fear into a Weapon!
When writing a death threat you have more at your disposal than just a simple piece of paper and some blood on a stick. You have the entire history of your reader from which to draw, and assuming you can pluck out a few of his/her greatest fears you can be sure that your letter stands out from all the others. Phobias are a great area of concentration because they can be sharpened into tiny weapons that, if wielded properly, can pierce the heart of your intended recipient like arrows from Cupid's bow. Imagine an arachnophobic learning that you intend to plant spider eggs under her skin, or a hypochondriac discovering that you want to sneeze directly in his mouth. That's certain to get their heart rates up, and as we all know, a quickly beating heart can easily be mistaken for love.
"Alright, let's do this."
This one is tricky because the first one has some great specificity; it promises to, if I understand it correctly, offer my head to someone through a sack and then to introduce me to a closet so massive it has stairs. I for one have never seen a closet that large and I will admit that it piqued my curiosity. However, the whipping with wire does little for me; I don't understand how it appeared in the presented scenario or why it's important that it be electrical. What's more, I'm almost certain I would scream
The second letter, however, plays on my long-standing uneasiness with blood. There is a terrific attention to detail in just one line insinuating the possibility of being intentionally hemorrhaged over by a stranger. What's more, it doesn't include the actual promise of murder which brings us to another important aspect of any death threat...
Not every flirtation needs to end in sex, and not every threat needs to end in death. It's a common misconception that every death threat actually needs to mention how the death will occur, but in many ways, this can actually hurt a letter rather than help it. It turns out, for instance, that acknowledging the method of murder can a) tip off the reader to your plans and b) be used as hard evidence against you in a court of law. Instead, think of your letter as the plot of a romantic film; you might show the first few steps leading to fornication but explicitly showing the act in its entirety will only transform what could have been art into tactless porn. A letter that never blatantly promises a murder but maintains the tone of mortal threat throughout will go a lot further with the reader while simultaneously making it harder to incarcerate you on any legal grounds.
I can't stress enough how much that last one really freaked me out. After reading it, I have nothing but questions yet I'm almost certain I will not like the answers. Furthermore, if the author is willing to hurt herself in such a passive way, then I don't like my odds in that scenario. My only hope would be that I could withstand the horror for long enough that she bleed out and I could go home. But these hypotheticals I create in my mind are exactly why this form of a threat works so well. I am playing out different options in my mind trying to understand where the writer is coming from and I simply can't; there is too much crazy there for me to wade through. If you can write a letter that even comes close to this fragment of a sentence then you've got a special gift, and that celebrity, ex, teacher, or Internet comedy writer doesn't deserve you. You should probably just move on to something worthy of your affection. Please.
Next week, the hilarious Lindy West will be filling in for me. Should you fall in love with her over me, I am fully prepared to fight her for your admiration when I return.
Movies are never more unrealistic than when they're showing us exactly what a dollar can buy.