I turned to crime about three years ago.
Luckily, I haven’t been caught yet. Here are the basics of crime writing that have helped me stay out of the long reach of the law.
1. You need a crime.
Pretty basic, I know. It could be any crime but the best is a nice, juicy murder, red in tooth and claw. Something for the reader to get their teeth, and their imagination, into.
2. You need a likeable criminal.
It sounds strange but if your criminal is totally evil, he becomes one dimensional. Readers like to empathise with characters, even killers. Hannibal Lector is the classic example of a truly evil man with whom one can imagine having a very pleasant dinner, including a bottle of Chianti and fava beans. I would avoid the liver though.
3. You need a hunter.
Crime novels often take one of the oldest themes known to man; the idea of the quest. Somebody has to want to bring your killer to justice. Remember ‘The Fugitive’. How many years was Dr Richard Kimble on the run?
4. You need motives.
Why is your killer killing people? Does he take pleasure from it? Is he seeking revenge? Or justice? Or money? Or just company? Murderers always have a reason. I spend a lot of time working out why my killer is killing. Again, it helps readers believe in my characters.
5. You need to be surprising/original/unexpected/deadly.
Keep people up late at night, turning your pages to find out what happens next. When I’m writing, I always ask myself, what would not happen now? And then I make it happen. Your readers may wake up grumpy and baggy-eyed in the morning, but they will feel much better.
6. You need to know forensics, poisons, weapons, police procedures.
It’s the CSI effect. Unless you get these details right, your reader will not believe you. I took three courses to get to know how police forces and forensics teams work. And I never stop learning. My latest is the effect of cold on the human body. Did you know your corneas can freeze? Now, there’s the start of a novel.
7. Lastly, you need to want to live crime.
Because you are going to be in the murderer’s head for a lot of the time. Or surrounded by the stench of death. Or stepping in blood. Or strangling a victim, living the moment through their eyes of those and of the killer.
You need to want to spend time in those places.
Which sounds a bit strange, but is actually an amazing journey to take one’s mind.