Character Building: Inside the Mind of a Burglar

by Andy Peloquin

As a dark fantasy author, there are two things I enjoy writing about most:

  1. The underside of society. This includes assassins, thieves, killers, brutes, thugs, mercenaries, and all the other seedy elements of a fantasy world.

  2. The dark side of human nature. I love delving into the psyche of my characters (antagonist and protagonists alike) to better understand the darker elements that make them tick.

In my latest series, I follow the adventures of a girl sold to the Thieves’ Guild of her city. She is raised as a thief—not just any thief, though. A burglar.

Burglars are a unique sort of thief. Pickpockets will steal while out in public. Muggers will threaten violence. But burglars tend to be much more artistic than other thieves. They look at architecture (buildings) and find ways to use the design elements to penetrate highly secure areas.

An article on Science Daily caught my attention as I was researching the character (Ilanna). It talked about a study done to understand the motivations and techniques of burglars. The researchers evaluated both male and female burglars to understand their mindsets, attitudes, and approaches. They found some truly fascinating things:

  • Factors considered – Before burglarizing a house, the burglars would evaluate proximity to people, police, traffic, and business. They would also evaluate escape routes (or the lack thereof), apparent security, surveillance, and the likelihood of being discovered.

  • Alarms matter – Up to 83% of the burglars looked for a security system before deciding whether or not to burglarize the home. 60% would choose another target if they discovered an alarm present. This was particularly true among the careful, planning type of burglars, rather than the “spur of the moment” burglars (the ones who tend to smash and grab).

  • Residential vs. commercial – Roughly 50% of burglars entered homes, while only 31% entered commercial residences.

  • Why? – Drugs were the most common motivation –51% of respondents. Money drove 37% of burglars. Oddly enough, only one burglar ever broke into homes to steal firearms.

  • Planned or not – 41% of burglars committed the crime on the spur of the moment, while only 12% planned all their burglaries in advance.

  • Male vs. female – Male burglars tend to be more deliberate and plan in advance, while female burglars tend to be more impulsive. Women entered homes in the late afternoon, while men entered in the evenings. Women were more likely to be dissuaded from their burglary by an alarm system than men.

I found this study a fascinating way to understand my burglar character. By understanding the mindset of a burglar, I was able to write a character that was realistic in her motivations, approach to the crime, and her decisions of whether or not to burgle homes.

To check out Andy’s books, click here.




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