By Guest Blogger, Morgen Bailey from the UK
P.S. Be sure to check out Morgen’s interview! In this guest post, Morgen shares some tips and advice for writing crime stories.
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When people ask me what genre I write, I say “dark and light”, which to me is crime and humour; my favourites to read. Writers should also be readers.
I’ve interviewed over 800 authors, including some crime writers, and most – I’d say 95% – have said that they are ‘pantsers’, that instead of plotting they get an idea and run with it. This is going to be harder when writing crime but there’s no reason why you can’t do the same, you’ll just have to then go back and add in clues, and of course red herrings. But then you’re going to edit and re-edit anyway, aren’t you.
[Image from Crime Stoppers]
Crime stories usually run two ways:
1. The reader shouldn’t guess who the murderer / thief is until the end, or as near to it as the writer can get, the last line if possible – and then you would want the reader to go “oh yes!” or “really” then go / think back and see why; or
2. The reader and detective know who the villain is then work out how they did it and of course find the proof. Having the reader one step ahead of the detective is also always deeply satisfying.
Unless you are a ‘pantser’, the best way to start writing crime is to come up with the crime, which must be established early on – there’s nothing wrong with the body appearing in the first few lines – so then the reader and the detective can work out how it happened and who did it. I would recommend coming up with as many variations of ‘how’ and ‘who’ as you can then go with the least obvious. And what could be more intriguing than a murder happening in a locked room. I recently came across this interesting BBC article entitled ‘Why locked room mysteries are so popular’.
One aspect of writing crime is subtlety. A crime can be anything from an old man stealing a Chelsea bun cake (as in my short story The Chelsea Bun) to a crime of passion (as in Weapon of Choice). In the first we just think the man is a customer whereas in the latter, we know from the beginning who the murderer is and what his intentions are. There is no graphic violence or gut-wrenching description in either story but the level of tension is undoubtedly greater in the second because we can anticipate what happens. So unless blood and guts are what you want to write, less is most definitely more.
If you go for the more ‘thrilling’, you might wonder the difference between a crime story and a thriller. There are of course also mysteries and suspense stories and they can have, and should have, all four aspects. If a crime story isn’t a mystery, you’ll have guessed the ending. It should be packed with suspense or you won’t turn the page. It should thrill you for the same reason. The main difference between a crime story and a thriller is usually area of location. By that I mean that a crime story usually takes place in a village, town
or section of a city, whereas a thriller can take you all over the world – James Bond is the classic example of a thriller but without there being a crime, either having taken place or about to take place, there wouldn’t be a plot, book or film.
[‘Bond’ Image from Filmaholics.net]
Fiction can be plot-lead or character-lead and in crime, most stories would be the former rather than the latter. Of course we need to have characters we care about, loathe, or any other emotion in between. If we feel nothing for him or her (whether a protagonist – the goodie – or antagonist – the guy (or girl) usually dressed in black) then the author has failed (in my opinion anyway).
Depending on what type of crime you’re writing varies how accurate you need to be. Of course there will always be ‘expert’ readers out there who will take great delight in telling you that a marathon is 26 miles and 365 yards not just 26 miles, so you need to do your homework, but if you have a theft of a cake you’re going to need less detail than a full-on multi-murder crime scene.
The crime genre has never been more popular. I had a face-to-face with three agents at the 2011 Winchester Writers’ Conference, all of whom told me that they were after more crime (and historical) – in fact one of them (who shall remain nameless but is revered within the industry) looked me in the eye and said “you’re a crime writer, you need to write crime” and it turns out that I do. I’ve been writing a story a day on my blog since 1st June 2012 and rarely a story goes by without a ‘body’ in it, in one form or another.
The best thing about writing crime is that we can ‘kill’ people legally and who hasn’t had a run-in with someone in our life that we would like to fictionalise and do horrible things to.
If you’re like me and love writing, then the chances are that you can’t ever imagine ever doing anything else. Isaac Asimov is quoted as saying “I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die” – a little dramatic perhaps but if we’re passionate about what we do, then hopefully it’ll transfer to our writing and onwards to our readers, and just maybe they’ll email us and tell us what they thought.
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Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, tutor, speaker, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), freelance author of numerous short stories, novels, articles, and dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary and she loves chatting with other writers and readers. Her email is email@example.com
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Thanks so much for those tips, Morgen:)!
– Jess C Scott / jessINK
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