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Friday, 10 July 2015

My Top Ten Tips for Writing Crime Fiction

Please excuse my tardiness dear readers, this post was due on Wednesday but I have been ill with flu. My comparison of Cluedo and Crime Fiction will now be posted tomorrow and then I will be back on track in time for my second story instalment on Sunday.

Okay so I don't claim to be an expert in Crime Fiction.  Although I love writing Crime and did when in relation to my creative writing degree in which my final dissertation/portfolio was a crime piece, I haven't been published by a company in this but I have had pieces published online on other blogs.

I read and watch crime and I do have a love of the genre.  From my point of view of a reader, here are my top ten tips of what I think crime fiction needs in order to be successful.

1#  Crime fiction needs to be believable so write what you know
So I might be stating the obvious here but crime fiction needs to be believable.  I will go more in depth here when I talk about the other points I have made.  If someone is murdered, the way that they are murdered, the scene and setting, the investigation - everything needs to be believable so that you suck in your reader.  Describe places you know, or write a profile on your town/city and research what you don't know.

2# Setting a Coherent Scene
Not only does the place and setting need to be real to life, the actual scene needs to be believable.  If you are going to suggest that the victim was killed in her bedroom then you need to carefully describe your murder scene and give clues that the police get there and then.  It's no good adding a clue towards the end that you haven't mentioned earlier and this is because the reader will feel cheater.  All avid readers of crime fiction like to put the clues together and try to guess who the killer is.

3# Ensure you Research Facts
What you don't know, research.  There will always be someone who reads your story and thinks, well that's not how the police conduct an investigation, or well that doesn't sound quite right.  Especially if you are writing from the point of view of a detective or police officer, you need to get your facts right, so research.  Maybe you can research online, get a book out of the library, maybe you have a friend who works for the police or within the legal sector who can shed some light, or you could even contact an establishment and ask if anyone would be interested in an interview for research purposes.  Whatever you decide, ensure you gather the facts as facts all link into ensuring the believability or your piece.

4# Have a strong Detective Character
I am classing the detective as the person who solves the murder/s in your story.  This doesn't have to be an actual police or detective but more often than not it is otherwise you endanger leaving the crime fiction genre.  Your detective needs to be thorough, and they need to be able to piece together clues logically.  They need a reason or motive to be so hell-bent on catching the killer and sometimes it helps if there is a sub-plot that relates to their background or gives an impression of what sort of person they are.  I would suggest that your character is not flat, that they are rounded and solving the murder for them will change them - for instance, maybe they couldn't find a killer on their last case, or maybe this is their last case before they retire, maybe they know the victim or their family, maybe if they catch one more killer they will be promoted - either way they need to be motivated and determined in their persuit of the killer.

5# Have several suspects and create a profile for each
Every crime story needs subject and a decent amount of them at that.  There needs to be several people who could or have motive to be responsible for this murder.  I like the idea of Red Herring too and not one that is too obvious because often, I read crime fiction and say 'no it's not them, that would be too obvious.'  A good pointer here is to write a profile of suspects listing the name, age, profession, address of the subject. Try five at first, if possible and write who they are, how they knew the victim, and what their motive would be.  Even if they have no motive as such - some people are psycho's, others are jealous, some are hot headed and it was an accident.  Whatever the reason they were motivated enough to keep quiet and not report the murder so ask, why?

6# Always have a strong motive
OK, I don't deny that some killers are psychotic and just kill for the sake of it but this type of killer is in danger of falling into the horror genre.  Killers in crime often kill for a reason - and maybe this isn't a rational reason but still, a reason.  Sometimes people kill for self preservation purposes - to protect themselves or others and more often than not there is a secret which is in danger of being exposed that could ruin them.  A premeditate murder takes planning but an accidental murderer is often a bit more sloppy as they haven't planned in their head what they have to deal with so ensure your motive fits the type of murder that has taken place.  For example if you poison someone, it's most likely to be planned, whereas bashing someones brains out is an anger/heat of the moment type of action.  Maybe a wife would poison a husband for cheating on them or mistreating them if it happened on numerous occasions and she was growing sick of his lies.  If she found him in bed with her best friend unexpectedly, then maybe she would bash out their brains.

7# Ensure your writing is consistent
Another factor that contributes to your crime fiction being realistic and believable is consistency.  If you are planning on writing in an accent, ensure you are consistent and that you don't start writing in standard English mid conversation.  You can't suddenly give a character an accent and then take it away, or vice-versa as alarm bells start ringing in the head of the reader and it can be confusing.  If someone is a strong willed person, but then starts to be submissive then again, that wont ring true, so just be consistent with your writing, your characters, your setting, and the language used.  Always read through your piece and ask yourself - is it in the same tone?  Would this character really say this?  Would the character really do this?

8#  Giving clues but then distract your reader
You do need to give clues to your reader as to who the killer is.  Remember if you are writing from the detective's mind set then your reader will know what the detective knows.  The reader can however, be distracted by a sub-plot that relates to the detective.  For instance, maybe the detective is suffering a relationship breakdown that nobody at work knows about, which leads to the odd error being made.  Maybe they have an addiction issue or have financial issues.  Whatever the sub-plot make it a journey or a battle - not only is the detective battling to try and find a killer, they are also battling their personal issues and this helps to make your character 'real'.  For instance, if you think of the cuts that are currently looming - maybe they are being forced into retirement, fighting to keep their job, or have debt issues.  This will suck in your reader as a lot of people can relate to this position.  Literature often represents social anxiety issues or its time (the time it was written).

9# Start with a Murder
Starting your story can be difficult and some people feel like they want to give a back story.  It's worth knowing, especially with short stories, that one of the traits is to start with the murder scene after the murder has taken place.  I know with my story last week, Sordid Secret - part 1, I did get a very helpful twitter message that told me everything prior to the murder scene was redundant and I might as well have just begun from the bedroom scene, describing the body.  To be honest, this was a good piece of information and if I had completed my story at that point (as I am doing week by week instalments) I would have most likely gone back and took out the beginning.  The same happened to me at Uni last year.  I began my creative project portfolio piece and had 8000 words.  By the end I had 10000 so I went back to the beginning - deleted the beginning, made a couple of tweaks to ensure all characters were introduced and deleted her job (as that information had no bearing on the story whatsoever - it added no value), and started at the murder scene.  It made a huge difference to my story as you arrived straight at the action, and I got a great mark.  If you feel more comfortable writing a beginning then do so, but always consider going back and cutting the beginning as often that information is redundant and you can incorporate any key pieces of information within your story as you go along.

10#  Beware of boring Cliches
Another excellent comment I got on last week's story, Sordid Secret - part 1, is to be careful of cliches as I used the term 'cool as a cucumber'.  I think sometimes it's easy to get carried away with your story and you want something familiar to enable your readers to relate, right?  Well yes, that's right, but the person commenting was correct as cliches endanger your story of being boring.  Sometimes they can't be helped but they should be avoided when possible.  If I was re-writing my piece, I would certainly avoid that saying and aim to be more creative.

I was so pleased that people took the time to read and comment on my writing.  My lecturer at University always told me that every piece of writing is a working progress and what was meant by this was that it can always be developed and once you get that into your head, you appreciate the criticism and comments, and you learn by these.  This makes your writing better!  Of course, you do get the odd person who wants to be mean but constructive criticism in which people explain their point of view is a good thing.  A writer has to have thick skin because the writing business is a dog-eat-dog world.  Accept criticism, learn from criticism, improve, and move on!

Laters, Janet

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